Nature Highlights in May

Dazzling display of bluebells carpets Cam Peak with hawthorn bushes looking like iced wedding cakes. Credit: C Aistrop

May is bursting out all over – literally. You’re probably puzzled, thinking the old adage surely refered to June but, believe you me, May is the month when nature explodes onto the scene. After months of grey lifelessness when winter seems set to never end, nature accelerates from full stop to warp factor 10.

Nature’s activities in May remind me of the Rupert Bear story (which I loved reading to my daughter) about the ‘imps of spring’ – tiny, elf-like people who slept underground during winter and then, woken by their alarm clock, come above ground with their bottles of magic potion. They spray everything in sight and suddenly trees come into leaf, flowers bloom, grass grows and the animal and bird life appears from nowhere. There’s such a sudden profusion of life this month that part of me suspects the imps and their potion really do exist.

May is the month of the floral spectacles. Obviously, wildflowers do appear during summer but not in the density and intensity we see now: bluebell and wild garlic carpet woodlands; cowslips, buttercups and orchids colour the limestone grasslands; the white of Queen Anne’s lace and the hawthorn’s may blossom make the roadside verges and hedgerows look like iced wedding cakes; and the birds are creating a vocal cacophony, singing their hearts out to attract a mate. Hundreds of thousands of migrant birds arrive here after their long, perilous journeys from Africa and other far flung places.

We are sooo blessed with all this in Stroud, we have masses of nature reserves and places to see wildlife which are easy to get to and where the wildlife can be relatively easily seen. Here’s a summary of the best places to go in May and you’ll find articles with more detailed information about them in this section of the blog. Just keep scrolling down! All the timings quoted below are dependent upon the spring weather – a cold spring will see the flowers appear later and a warm spring brings them all forward.

  • Standish woods, Cam Peak & Long Down, and Siccaridge nature reserve are fantasic bluebell woods, flowering during the first two weeks of May
  • Visit Siccaridge nature reserve later in May and you’ll find swathes of wild lily of the valley, that popular garden plant which really is part of our natural flora
  • the mid-two weeks see the wild garlic’s white pom-pom flowers smother the woodland floor in Congyre woods and Box wood. Stratford Park obligingly mixes the wild garlic spectacle with an arboretum and leisure centre, making it an ideal place for a family trip out
  • Rodborough, Selsley and Minchinhampton Commons are carpeted with cowslips from the end of April until late May, with early purple orchids mingling amongst the yellow cowslips from early May for a couple of weeks. Selsley and Minchinhampton are also home to green-winged orchids. As well as temperature, orchids seem to be affected by rainfall during March and April – I’ve noticed when it’s a dry spring, there are far fewer orchids around and they’re much smaller than when there’s been plenty of rain. This isn’t surprising – orchids are well known to botanists as being the temperamental divas of the plant world.
  • Birds aren’t as affected by the weather and their timetable is more reliable. The first Sunday in May is International Dawn Chorus Day (yes, really) when we’re invited to get up like a lark at dawn and immerse ourselves in the sound pool of bird song. The maestro of song is generally accepted as the nightingale and Frampton Pools is the best place (and easy to get to) to hear the male singing his heart out. He’s clearing his throat and tuning up during late April, and launches into full song througout May. As he only sings until a female thinks he’s irresistable, it’s best to visit during the first half of May for the best chance of hearing one
  • Cuckoos are probably everyone’s iconic bird of spring and the Cotswold Water Park, although a little distance away from Stroud, is an almost dead cert for hearing this once common bird
  • Butterflies are starting to show off their finery as well – the orange tip and brimstone are the first ones to make an appearance, followed by the tortoisehell and peacock. The one which gets lepidopterists (butterfly geeks to the rest of us) excited is the Adonis Blue and its stunning electric blue colour makes a wander around Minchinhampton Common to see it definitely worth doing – look out for a post coming shortly with details about how to get close to this one

May is definately not the month to be sitting at home with a box set (unless it’s miserable weather and then you have my permission as I will be, too). I often think that wildlife fans and ecologists should be given May off work as there’s so much wildlife to experience. Who needs a BBC nature programme when you can be walking through your own wildlife spectacle. OK, so a pride of lions is not included but what do you want, David Attenborough?

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