Mike Newby is Estate Warden at The Dartington Hall Trust. He oversees Dartington’s numerous conservation programmes, often working closely with our volunteers to help nature flourish across the estate.
May is a great time to observe nature. The summer migrant birds have now have arrived back to these shores like the swift and the swallow.
About now you are likely to see blackbirds, blue tits, great tits and robins in a feeding frenzy along the grass verges and in the gardens, trying to feed the ravenous appetite of their young back in the nest.
The blackthorn flowers have now gone over and turned a shade of brown and have been in flower since early March. However the white hawthorn flowers have now replaced them, which is a pleasant sight travelling around the country lanes.
Around the end of the month you are likely to see the elderflower blossoming in the hedgerows and likely to see people picking the flower to make elderflower cordial or wine. If you decide to pick some elderflowers, make sure you do not pick it near a busy road as it will be covered with pollution from the traffic.
The ash tree is one of the last trees to come into leaf, emerging through its hard black buds. At this time of year the meadows will be awash with buttercups, cuckoo flowers, ox-eye daisies, dandelions and yellow rattle. It is where nature has escaped modern intensified agriculture and is void of pesticides.
On the woodland floor you are likely to see bluebells, which are mainly hybridised with the invasive Spanish bluebell, and ramsons – more commonly known as wild garlic – which give off a pungent odour once trampled upon.
You may also come across dog’s mercury (a poisonous plant pollinated by gnats) and yellow archangel – which tends to grow by light deciduous woodland edges as it prefers dappled shade – and which can be easily be confused with yellow rattle, which grows mainly in meadows.
Make the most of this time of year with summer approaching – when the tree canopy starts to close, the green foliage blocking the sunlight reaching the woodland floor which prevents photosynthesis and the flowers die back.