Fabulous fungi lurk amid the fallen leaves

IT’S the month of first frosts and stormy nights when the sights, smells and sounds of autumn really bring the countryside to life.

RICH PALETTE: colour contrasts in Penn Woods PICTURE: Gel Murphy

The rapidly-changing colours and glorious textures of October make it a favourite with photographers, especially deep in the woods where the yellow, green and russet hues contrast so beautifully with the rugged outlines of ancient trees.

LEAF MAGIC: striking outlines at Penn PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

It’s also a month of ripe berries and falling fruit, with trees and bushes bursting with tasty treats for birds, insects and mammals alike and a huge array of startling fungi hiding beneath the fallen leaves.

FIERY FLAME: the yellow stagshorn PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

From the foul-smelling stinkhorns to poisonous toadstools, it’s thought there are more than six million species of fungi in the world, and we’re only really beginning to fully appreciate what an impact they have on our lives.

MUSHROOM MAGIC: fungi come in all colours PICTURE: Ken Law

They can change our minds, heal our bodies and even help us to avoid environmental disaster, as Merlin Sheldrake showed us in his fascinating 2020 book Entangled Life.

DELICATE OUTLINE: a saffrondrop bonnet PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But although we may have only formally identified around 150,000 of the millions of fungi out there, they are a source of fascination for photographers and nature lovers alike.

FASCINATING: texture contrasts at Hughenden PICTURE: Ken Law

The colours and shapes fascinate us, even though we know their beauty can be deceptive and that there could be deadly consequences of dabbling with the most poisonous of them.

SUBTLE TONES: an amethyst deceiver PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

They vary in size from the microscopic to the largest organisms on earth and boast the most intriguing array of sinister-sounding names, from gelatinous jelly ears to toxic beechwood sickeners.

SPINY OUTLINE: a puffball in Bisham Woods PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The glorious array of shapes and textures is a reminder that it’s now three years since we first asked local photographers to share some of their favourite pictures of the local landscape and wildlife in our monthly calendar feature: and what a joy those pictures have been.

MORNING LIGHT: Raans Farm, Amersham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

Back in October 2020, with half the country still in lockdown, the natural world was providing a vital escape from the stresses and strains of mask wearing and social distancing – and for many, offering an absolutely essential boost to mental health.

IN THE PINK: a bench at Penn Wood in 2020 PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Three years on, there may not be quite as many families exploring the local woods any more, but the natural world is still a lifeline to millions, an escape from the stresses and strains of frantic modern living and the all-pervasive hubbub of social media.

TOXIC TOADSTOOL: fly agarics in Penn Wood PICTURE: Andrew Knight

As Peak District photographer Suzanne Howard – better known as @peaklass on her social media feeds – recently posted: “Sometimes, when the world is too noisy and sad, it helps to walk into the kaleidoscope of an autumn country lane. To hear nothing but your footsteps and the leaves falling, and to feel the solidity of old trees arching their boughs over you. I hope everyone can find their lane.”

MOMENT OF CALM: leaves falling at Penn PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Nature writer Melissa Harrison picks up on the theme of sound in her book The Stubborn Light of Things. She writes: “Sound is such a vital part of our relationship with nature, and yet – apart from birdsong – it’s so easily overlooked.”


Marvelling at the silence surrounding her country cottage in rural Suffolk, she wrote: “For most of our history, total silence – and total darkness – would have been nothing unusual at all.

PEACEFUL SPOT: mushrooms at Penn PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

“This new quietness has made me more aware of sound , from the mysterious creature which processes across my roof each night to the rain gurgling relentlessly in the gutters and the noise the wind makes as it rushes through the last of the ash leaves, tattered and yellowing.”

SENSE OF CONNECTION: footpaths at Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

For Chris Packham, society’s increasing physical and cultural separation from nature is a crisis of disconnection that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, as he outlined in his book Back To nature, co-authored with stepdaughter Megan McCubbin.

RUTTING SEASON: Windsor Great Park PICTURE: Leslie Tilson

Not that Beyonder readers need any reminder of the importance of maintaining our familiarity with the great outdoors, but that’s not to say it’s always easy. Life gets in the way and health problems or work commitments may make it harder to get out and about on a rainy day, and easier to procrastinate when dusk starts falling fast and the temperatures drop.

SUNSET SILHOUETTE: stags at Grangelands in 2020 PICTURE: Anne Rixon

But making the extra effort is always worth it, and our photographers have been braving the elements at all times of the day over the past three years.

We’ve included a couple of our favourite shots from our October post in 2020 along with links to some of our regular contributors, but we are always on the lookout for new members who can help expand our coverage of the local area.

INTRICATE PATTERN: a spider’s web PICTURE: Gel Murphy

By the end of October, houses across the Chilterns are bedecked with cobwebs, witches and carved pumpkin lanterns to welcome the little parties of ghouls and ghosts trotting round to see their neighbours, a prelude to the noisy parties of Bonfire Night.

PARTY SEASON: getting in the Halloween spirit PICTURE: Nicole Burrell

But away from the welcoming lights and lanterns, from the banks of the Thames to Ivinghoe Beacon, this is an ancient and fascinating landscape with thousands of hidden pathways, Roman roads and drovers’ routes to explore – and we’re grateful, as always, to those hardy souls who are out and about in all weathers capturing the beauty of the local countryside in all its glory.

If you have a picture or two you would like us to feature in a future post, drop us a line by email to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk, join us in our Facebook group or contact us on Twitter @TheBeyonderUK or Instagram at thebeyonderuk.

Woods offered refuge to families in exile

IT’S EASY to get lost in Hodgemoor Woods.

Even armed with the handy downloadable map produced by the Hodgemoor Riding Association, once you stray off their network of bridleways, it’s likely to be only a matter of time before you lose your bearings.

Hodgemoor Wood map
HANDY MAP: the Hodgemoor bridleways

Perhaps that’s why many dog walkers stick to circular routes from the main car park on Bottrells Lane.

It’s not that the wood is huge: at 250 acres, it’s a good bit smaller than nearby Black Park or sprawling Burnham Beeches. But then there’s no easy grid system to keep you on track and in the densest parts, all the paths tend to look the same.

Hodgemoor Wood car park
CAR PARK: the main entrance from Bottrells Lane

Owned by Bucks County Council but run by Forestry England, Hodgemoor lies sandwiched between the historic villages of Chalfont St Giles and Seer Green, bordered by farms, stables and almost deserted country lanes.

DESERTED: Bottom House Farm Lane

A natural heritage area designated a site of special scientific interest by Natural England, it’s sufficiently remote to remain unspoilt and is well maintained by riding association members as part of an impressive 20-year project to improve access for all users.

Hodgemoor Woods
IMPROVED ACCESS: main paths are well maintained

Among the oaks, birches, beeches and hornbeams are elusive foxes and badgers, though it’s much more likely that walkers will stumble across a startled deer or scurrying squirrel.

At night the hoots of owls can provide an atmospheric soundtrack, but there are times when the trails feel almost eerily silent and near deserted, both by humans and wildlife.

Hodgemoor Woods
EERIE SILENCE: some areas feel deserted

It’s pretty hard to believe that for 15 years the woods were home to more than 150 Polish families, and that these hidden paths must have echoed to the sounds of children playing as that post-war generation grew up.

It was in 1946 that Buckinghamshire County Council built and managed a reception and billeting camp for Polish soldiers and there are many families who remember Hodgemoor as providing a safe home after the war, with the camp’s population reaching more than 600 at its peak in the 1950s.

SAFE REFUGE: a plaque recalls the Polish camp

Few remnants remain of those prefabricated barracks buildings and Nissen huts that offered a refuge among the trees here until 1962, mainly to families of servicemen from the Third Carpathian division in Italy who could not safely return to Poland, where the country had fallen under the totalitarian regime of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Hodgemoor Wood
LAST REMNANTS: few traces remain of buildings

They were among some 120,000 Polish servicemen and women who had fought alongside the allies and accepted the British Government’s offer to settle in this country, initially housed in dozens of similar ‘temporary’ camps.

Conditions may have been primitive but those who lived there recall a real sense of community, complete with a church, infant school, post office, cinema, shop and an entertainment hall boasting a dance team, theatre group, choir and sports club.

Hodgemoor Woods
‘LITTLE POLAND’: families grew up in the woods

Locals referred to Hodgemoor as ‘Little Poland’, although it wasn’t until 2017 that the first formal reunion took place at the General Bor-Komorowski Club in Amersham, itself built by former Hodgemoor residents and opened in 1974.

Today a commemmorative plaque recalls the days of the camp, though for the most part it’s hard to imagine just how busy the place would have been in the 1950s, with its own resident priest performing mass every day and with adults picking up jobs in Slough, Amersham and High Wycombe, where many would later settle.

Hodgemoor Wood
ANCIENT CORE: some trees date back centuries

Deep in the heart of Hodgemoor much of the central area is ancient in origin, with records of its existence dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, though the ancient core is surrounded by semi-natural woodland dating from the 18th century to the present day, one of the largest such tracts remaining in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns.

Hodgemoor Woods
AUTUMN COLOURS: fungi among the fallen leaves

Generations of children recall riding their bikes up and down the slopes of its mysterious dells, some perhaps marking the remains of diggings for clay to be used in the local brick kilns.

PLAYGROUND: generations of children have enjoyed Hodgemoor

With a wide range of soil types and mixed history of planting, the woods boast an extensive array of trees, shrubs and insects.

Hodgemoore bluebells
SPRING DISPLAY: a bluebell path

Bluebells and foxgloves provide splashes of colour in the spring, while mosses, lichens and an assortment of fungi help to add texture and intrigue to the woodland palette.

STAGING POST: the Red Lion at Coleshill

To the north, more serious ramblers on the Chiltern Way may bypass the woods on their way down from Winchmore Hill and the Red Lion at Coleshill towards Chalfont St Giles, preferring open outlooks over the Misbourne Valley to an unfamiliar detour into the depths of Hodgemoor, perhaps.

Chiltern Way
OPEN OUTLOOK: the Chiltern Way skirts Hodgemoor

Likewise casual visitors to the farm shops which flank the woods – the Hatchery on the main Amersham road and Stockings Farm on Bottrells Lane – may be unaware of the extended network of woodland walks which surround them.

Hodgemoor Woods
SNATCHED GLIMPSES: sheep in a farmer’s field

On the edges of the woods, those glimpses of sheep, cattle, pigs and horses are a reminder that civilisation isn’t very far away, and it’s always nice to see members of the riding association cheerily trotting along the bridleways, families building an Eeyore house or inquisitve spaniels nosing among the autumn leaves.

Hodgemoor Wood
HORSE SENSE: the bridleways are well used

But some of the deeper recesses can feel almost silent, and frozen in time…sometimes a little too quiet for comfort. It’s a reminder of just how overgrown parts of the wood had become back in the 1960s and the extent to which they have been transformed in recent years.

DARK CORNER: a ruined building

Research carried out by the author and amateur sleuth Monica Weller in 2016 reveals a very different place, with charcoal burners who worked in the woods from the 1950s recalling how dense and impenetrable it had become by the time a brutal murder in 1966 focused the nation’s attention on Hodgemoor.

DIFFERENT PLACE: Hodgemoor was overgrown in the 1960s

Weller probes the killing of popular Amersham GP Dr Helen Davidson in her book Injured Parties, and in the process recalls a complex legal battle between the Forestry Commission and local residents over the future management of the woodland.

LEGAL BATTLE: how should the woods be managed?

Thankfully those early wrangles paved the way for what has become something of a model for private-public co-operation, with the horse-riding association members getting the right to use the trails in return for maintaining them.

MANAGED NETWORK: association members look after the trails

It’s an arrangement that’s worked well and for the most part helps to protect the area, with a network of riders and dog walkers on the lookout for any anti-social behaviour and the local parish councils working hard to discourage “unsavoury” activities of the sort that has brought one small area of nearby woodland some notoriety over the years as an alleged hotspot for casual sex.

Hodgemoor Wood
DAPPLED LIGHT: sunlight falling on ferns

Back in the heart of Hodgemoor, the changing seasons provide a constantly shifting backdrop of different colours and textures, from spring greens to autumn leaves, from frost glittering in the dawn light to evening rays shining through the trees.

Hodgemoor Wood
EVENING LIGHT: sunset through the trees

The variety is startling, altering with the time of day and the seasons, from those crisp frosty mornings of winter to muggy summer nights where the air is still and listless.

Hodgemoor Woods
CHANGING LANDSCAPE: colours alter with the seasons

It’s 60 years since the Polish camp shut and those families moved out, but the woods still echo to the sound of children playing, the rustle of inquisitive dogs and hooves of horses on the bridlepaths.

Hodgemoor Woods
OPEN OUTLOOK: fields north of Hodgemoor

These days, a new generation of ramblers, riders and dog walkers are disappearing into the maze of paths which make it so easy to feel you are alone, even when know other people are close at hand.

Hodgemoor Woods
TIMELESS FEEL: the woods in autumn

In so many ways it’s a very different landscape from that which housed the postwar camp, yet often the place feels timeless: and for villagers in Seer Green and Chalfont St Giles, it remains a wonderful playground on the doorstep where the appeal of a walk in the woods never grows old.

Hodgemoor Woods
ON THE DOORSTEP: time for a walk in the woods

Wintry wanders through a frozen landscape

AFTER a positively springlike November that contributed to 2022 being the UK’s warmest year on record, December was a very different story.

COLD OUTLOOK: temperatures plummeted in December PICTURE: Gel Murphy

The first two weeks of the month saw the coldest start to meteorological winter since 2010, with high pressure and a cool northerly airflow resulting in a prolonged spell of low temperatures, bringing snow and icy conditions at times.

THIN ICE: winter arrives witha vengeance PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But the plummeting temperatures were accompanied by drier than average days with plenty of sunshine, allowing The Beyonder’s photographers to get out and about to make the most of the frosty mornings and chilly afternoons.

CHILL IN THE AIR: sunlight provides little warmth PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Bare branches and frozen berries provide striking patterns on early morning rambles, while the weak winter sunshine can create dramatic light effects.

ICY SNACK: frozen berries PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Yes, there’s always fog and mist to contend with, not to mention torrential downpours and muddy footpaths where on some days it seems impossible to find any glimpse of colour to lift the mood.

DELICATE PATTERN: a spider’s web encased in ice PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But on crisper days when the ice forms delicate filigree patterns on spiders’ webs and animals’ breath hangs in the cold air, such rambles can still be a delight.

WATCHFUL EYES: sheep near Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

It’s a time of year when the past feels very close at hand in our ancient Chilterns landscape, where small villages sit clustered round their ancient churches as they have done for centuries, spirals of woodsmoke curling into the air as dusk falls and the inviting glow of lamps and lanterns lighting up the cottage windows.

IN TOUCH WITH THE PAST: the Chilterns in winter PICTURE: Gel Murphy

Here, even those hallmarks of our industrial past, the railway bridges and canal towpaths, feel wholly immersed in the natural world, their weathered bricks polished and aged by time and the elements until it feels as if they must have always been here.

WEATHERED BRICKS: the canal at Wendover PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

After two winters of pandemic worries, families were on the move at last, undeterred by the icy conditions and rail strikes from planning long-awaited reunions and travelling a little further afield than they could contemplate in 2020 or 2021.

MUTED COLOURS: a frosted tree outside Amersham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

Closer to home, if many winter walks had a slightly monochrome feel, there were always those marvellous days when the skies clear to allow a spectacular splash of colour, as they did back in 2020 when windmill enthusiast Siddharth Upadhya managed to capture the beauty of the magnificent post mill at Brill.

CLEAR SKIES: Brill Windmill in 2020 PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

Meanwhile widllife photographers were looking to the trees, the sparse foliage making it easier to pick out our feathered friends, a perfect opportunity for first-time birdwatchers to begin recognising the different shapes and colours.

TAKEAWAY TREAT: a hungry chaffinch PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

For those wanting to identify birds by the sounds they make, there couldn’t be a better starting point than Mark Avery’s guides to different types of birdsong, worth exploring in plenty of time ahead of the spring, when the dawn chorus starts to grow in volume and variety.

EVERGREEN APPEAL: a mistle thrush at Cliveden PICTURE: Nick Bell

Early in the month, clear skies and the almost perfect alignment of the sun, Earth, moon and Mars allowed from some striking views of the month’s appropriately named “Cold Moon”.

For ancient civilisations, the cycles of the lunar phases helped to track the changing seasons, with different Native American peoples naming the months after features they associated with the northern hemisphere seasons (including howling wolves, which give us January’s Wolf Moon).

COLD MOON: the final full moon of the year PICTURE: Anne Rixon

Wrapped up warm against the elements, a woodland wander on a winter’s evening can make it much easier to imagine how much more familiar early civilisations were with those night skies and glorious constellations.

FESTIVE FEEL: Christmas lights in Chesham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But at this time of year even our towns have a magical festive feel, the sparkle of Christmas lights helping to lift the spirits now that the winter solstice is behind us, and nature lovers can start relishing the way that the days start getting longer from here on.

SHORTEST DAY: a winter solstice sunset captured in 2021 PICTURE: Anne Rixon

For many, this is a difficult time of year, when even nature lovers can struggle with winter depression on those short days when the sun is obscured and the landscape full of greys and browns.

FROZEN TRACKS: leaves crackle underfoot in the woods PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But that’s when those snatched snapshots can provide a welcome foretaste of the excitement of spring, when a ray of sunlight falls perfectly on a leaf or the mist clears to suddenly leave the landscape awash with colour.

DAWN TO DUSK: the sky glows outside Amersham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

For winter ramblers, dusk and dawn are favourite times to brave the elements, not just in the hope of a spectacular sunrise or sunset but because those quiet times are also often the most promising for catching wildlife unawares.

WINTER SHOWER: a cold bath PICTURE: Nick Bell

Even when nature is looking at its lowest ebb and many creatures are dormant or hibernating, the hoot of a tawny owl, whistle of a red kite or bark of a fox or muntjac reminds us that our local wildlife is never too far away, even if we can’t always see it.

SMALL WONDER: the humble blue tit PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Furtive and fast-moving, or sleepy and nocturnal, our stoats and weasels, dormice and badgers are not easy to spot, but tracks in the snow and rustles in the hedgerows may give away their presence – and even our most common garden birds like robins, blackbirds and tits are all individually beautiful.

WINTRY WANDER: a path through the trees PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Come rain, hail or shine, our photographers are out in all weathers capturing the beauty of the Chilterns countryside, and we are enormously grateful for their evocative portraits of our local flora and fauna this December.

FROSTED BERRIES: icy treats for hungry birds PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

A big thank you to all the kind local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month, and throughout 2022. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for the coming year, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Rustles of life beneath the ancient branches

IT’S a chilly November night in the heart of the woods, with the star-studded sky casting a ghostly glow through the ancient branches.

Only an hour ago, the place was awash with autumn colour, the last afternoon rays of sunlight lighting up the russets and browns of the fallen leaves.

BROWN CARPET: leaf litter at Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Now, although it’s not late, there’s little stirring among the frost-tipped leaves. The dog walkers have long headed home and most creatures with any sense have burrowed down for the night.

AUTUMN CHILL: temperatures drop as the sun fades PICTURE: Andrew Knight

The call of an owl pierces the cold night air and the occasional explosive flurry of a startled pigeon or muntjac is enough to get the heart beating a little faster, but for the most part these dark woods seem deserted.

That’s something of an illusion, of course. It may be quiet, but this is still a refuge for wildlife of which we often catch only tantalising glimpses.

IMPOSING FIGURE: a stag in Windsor Great Park PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

How often have we spotted a weasel or dormouse, for example? The occasional rustle among the leaf litter reveals we are not alone, and the reassuring hoots of the owls are a reminder that food is plentiful if you know where to look for it.

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: otters have been spotted on the Thames PICTURE: Nick Bell

But although a fortunate wild swimmer might bump into an otter in the Thames, or spot a bank vole preening its whiskers, you have to get up with the lark or mooch silently around at dusk to stand a chance of catching a glimpse of our more elusive mammals.

CUTE CUSTOMER: a bank vole PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

On night walks like these, it’s easy to have a sense of time standing still: of past generations sharing the same sounds and emotions as they trudged along the local drovers’ roads and ridgeways on just such a wintry evening in a past century.

FAMILIAR ROAD: time stands still on old footpaths PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Chilterns woodlands reek of history – of charcoal burners and iron age forts, of lurking highwaymen and wartime military camps.

PICTURESQUE: Finch Lane in Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Amid this picture postcard landscape, Romans built their ancient roads out from London, stagecoaches swept past on their way to Oxford or Amersham, and displaced Polish families lived for years among the trees after the Second World War…

IF TREES COULD TALK: ancient boughs at Burnham Beeches PICTURE: Andrew Knight

If the trees could talk, they could tell countless tales of past generations, of royal parks and medieval manors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, poachers and politicians.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: autumn puddles PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

November is the month of woodsmoke and fireworks, of first frosts and misty mornings, of fading fungi and a fabulous fortnight of burnished golds, yellows and russet hues as nature puts on its own glorious fireworks display before the trees get stripped bare for winter.

IN MEMORIAM: silhouettes at Waddesdon Manor PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

It’s a season of remembrance too: of poppies and memorials, of wreath-laying ceremonies and sombre thoughts of past battles and lost loved ones.

COLD BATH: swirling waters outside Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

As temperatures fall, this is that bleak, sullen fortnight or so before winter properly sets in that, we learned in 2020 from author and friend Alan Cleaver (better known in the Lake District as @thelonningsguy and for writing about the corpse roads” of Cumbria), Cumbrian farmers identify as “back end”.

WELCOME GUEST: a blue tit seeks out a snack PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The landscape may start feeling somewhat bleak and unwelcoming, but it’s a time when our bird tables come alive with tiny visitors and crisper mornings reveal gloriously intricate spiders’ webs and colourful mosses and lichens carpeting old tree stumps.

PLUSH PLUMAGE: a male bullfinch PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Some less familiar faces may join the native birds feasting on the hawthorn, holly and juniper berries, while hedgehogs and badgers are seeking out comfortable spots for a wintry snooze – and there might even be a chance to catch sight of a stoat in its winter coat of ermine…a camouflage tactic that offers somewhat less protection now that our winters are becoming less and less snowy.

RAY OF HOPE: sunlight over Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Chilly it may be, but our timeless Chilterns landscape has not lost all its colour yet, tempting us out in our scarves and mittens in the hope of hearing the whistle of a kite or hoot of an owl, watching the wildfowl squabbling at the local quarry or the bats coming out to hunt as darkness falls.

Here, where the buried flints and pots beneath our feet remind us that this landscape has been home to people like us for thousands of years, we can smell the woodsmoke rising from ancient chimneys, watch the silvery Thames slicing through the fields and feel just a little more connected with the natural world around us.

CALL OF THE WILD: a stag bellows at Windsor PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

A big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for December, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Fungus foray reveals the secrets of survival

SOARING temperatures and flash floods marked a summer where climate change concerns were never far from people’s minds.

BLAZE OF COLOUR: sunflowers at Chesham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

So after an unseasonally mild October, perhaps it’s a relief to finally feel the chill in the air on a starry Chilterns November night.

SEPTEMBER SKIES: birds on the wing outside Amersham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

Back in the hot, dry summer, temperatures soared to a new UK record temperature of 40.3C in Lincolnshire and much of the local countryside looked brown and parched, with hosepipe bans in place across large areas.

EARLY START: morning mist creates an inviting haze PICTURE: Gel Murphy

The joint warmest summer on record for England, and the fourth driest, it meant wildlife enthusiasts having to rise early to catch the countryside at its best before the searing heat of the midday sun.

FEELING CHIRPY: a stonechat at Widbrook Common PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

It takes patience and perseverance at the best of times to capture our native species on camera, but all the more so when they are taking refuge from such unpleasant heat.

POLLEN COUNT: hundreds of insect species pollinate plants PICTURE: Gel Murphy

What a delight, then, to savour the mellower temperatures of autumn and watch the sights, sounds and smells slowly switching to a different pace and palette.

AUTUMN HUES: trees start to lose their leaves PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Suddenly it’s crisper and colder in the mornings and darker evenings, though the woods are ablaze with colour as families look out their scarves and winter coats to make the most of the seasonal spectacle.

SILENT SWOOP: a short-eared owl in Oxfordshire PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

With Autumnwatch back on our screens and pumpkins suddenly swamping the shelves of local farm shops, a host of animals and birds are stocking up for the winter months.

SEASONAL SPECTACLE: woods are awash with colour PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

And from the banks of the Thames to Ivinghoe Beacon, there’s no better time of year to venture outdoors to smell the ripening fruits and admire the beauty of the leaves as they change colour. 

SUNNY FACES: sunflowers ready for picking PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

In just a few short weeks, the landscape has been transformed: from the August fields of sunflowers ripe for the picking, we have seen the dust of the combine harvesters blowing across the land and subtle changes in the light deeper in the surrounding woods.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS: autumn brings a change of light PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

In the grounds of Windsor’s Great Park the autumn rutting season may have had an extra resonance for visitors this year following the death of the Queen.

POLLEN COUNT: deer at Windsor PICTURE: Nick Bell

After so many thousands swamped the town to pay their final respects, many returning ramblers might be only too keenly aware of the monarch’s absence from her beloved castle, with the current herd all descendants of 40 hinds and two stags introduced in 1979 by the Duke of Edinburgh.

FINAL FLOURISH: ferns capture the sunlight before dying back PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

And from the historic Ridgeway to the depths of Burnham Beeches, a myriad other changes are taking place in this ancient and fascinating landscape, most noticeably the sudden golden glow as nature puts on its most spectacular fireworks display of the year.

SNAZZY DRESSER: the colourful jay PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The autumnal leaf fall is a clever form of self-protection, allowing deciduous trees to drop thin leaves that would otherwise rupture during the winter, making them useless for photosynthesis, giving the tree a fresh start in the spring while the nutrients from the decaying leaves are recycled to help grow the next generation.

RECYCLING PLANT: fallen leaves and fungi in Hodgemoor Wood PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Amid all the leaf mulch, autumn is also one of the best times to head out foraging, with woods and hedgerows filled with a feast of delights from hazelnuts and rosehips to blackberries, sweet chestnuts and crab apples.

FORMIDABLE: the woods are home to a huge variety of fungi PICTURE: Gel Murphy

The woods play host to a formidable array of mosses, lichens and fungi too, but not all of the intriguing range of shapes and colours to be found among the soaking foliage are safe to eat, as their spine-tingling names might suggest.

FRIEND OR FOE?: many fungi are poisonous PICTURE: Gel Murphy

If you can’t tell a tasty morsel from a destroying angel, funeral bell or death cap, it’s perhaps best to give those colourful mushrooms and toadstools a wide berth.

ANCIENT TABOOS: not all mushrooms are magical PICTURE: Gel Murphy

Widely regarded as magical and equally frequently mistrusted, toadstools and mushrooms are associated with ancient taboos, dung, death and decomposition.

SUPPORT NETWORK: many species rely on fungi PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But as the Woodland Trust explains, trees and many other species rely on fungi and we’re only just starting to fully understand how close this relationship is: great woodland networks that link and support life.

PLUSH PLUMAGE: a little egret PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As Gillian Burke explained in a previous Autumnwatch series: “90 per cent of our plants are utterly reliant on fungi for survival. By breaking down dead wood, cleaning the soil and recycling nutrients by the most intimate relationship with living plants, fungi are vital to life on Earth.”

VITAL RELATIONSHIP: fungi play a vital role PICTURE: Gel Murphy

At this time of year, those forest floors and woodland glades are full of colourful and intriguing characters, from puffballs and stinkhorns to earthstars and jelly fungi – and while many of them could be poisonous for us to touch and eat, it’s fascinating just how important they may be for our survival.

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work.

If you have a picture or two you would like us to feature, drop us a line by email to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk, join us in our Facebook group or contact us on Twitter @TheBeyonderUK.

Season of renewal overshadowed by war

FEBRUARY. It might be one of the coldest, bleakest months of the year, but it’s also the shortest – and a time when families out on muddy wintry walks are eagerly on the lookout for the first signs of spring.

Not this year. This year, come February 24 and everyone’s eyes are on the other side of Europe and the shock Russian invasion of Ukraine.

LILAC WINE: a February sky outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Suddenly it seems a little trite to be chatting blithely about the Chilterns countryside awakening after winter. Instead, we are all glued to the television and the unthinkable images of war engulfing Europe.

As days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, whole streets and towns are turned into rubble, sparking the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

PALE HUES: dramatic colours over Coombe Hill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

The devastation is already reminiscent of the streets of Syria and Iraq, and with families streaming over the border to Poland and other neighbouring countries, the fear is palpable and the threat is real.

How ironic then, that in the same week that war broke out we are visiting the Polish resettlement camp at Northwick Park in Gloucestershire and recalling how a previous Russian invasion more than 80 years ago changed the course of world history.

WARTIME ECHOES: Northwick Park camp PICTURE: Olivia Rzadkiewicz

It’s one of many reminders around the UK of those terrible events from the spring of 1940, made all the more painful by history being repeated so many years later.

Marysia, the wonderful woman we are visiting with, lived briefly in this camp when she first came to England as a teenager after the war – like so many others after a long and arduous journey via Russia, Persia and Africa.

LIVES IN TRANSIT: the monument at Northwick Park PICTURE: Olivia Rzadkiewicz

She was seven when the Russian soldiers arrived and her family was deported from their forest home to the icy wastes of Siberia.

After the war, Northwick Park was a brief stopping-off point before she was moved on to Herefordshire, but with many of the Nissen huts used to house families then still in use today for local businesses, in many ways the place looks very like it did more than 70 years ago, bringing memories flooding back.

FOREST CAMP: Polish families lived in Hodgemoor Woods until 1962 PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Many of the Polish families relocated to the UK lived in camps like this for years – including those in Hodgemoor Woods beside Chalfont St Giles, where the camp remained open until 1962.

Indeed by October 1946, around 120,000 Polish troops were quartered in more than 200 such camps across the UK.

All of which is an all-too-vivid reminder that the events being played out in the towns and cities of Ukraine today will have an impact on people’s lives for decades to come.

SHEPHERD’S DELIGHT?: a Chesham sunset PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

As the pale skies and dramatic sunsets of February give way to the brighter weather of March, we stumble across a young woman looking a little lost in local woods at sunset.

She has no dog and seems a little disorientated as dusk falls, but when we ask if she is OK she assures us that she is. She’s from Ukraine and adjusting to a new life in the Chilterns, insisting that she is fine.

FLYING HIGH: on the wing outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

But as she wanders back to the village, we’re left wondering just how many families will be torn apart by the current conflict – and how many decades it will be before the shockwaves stop reverberating across Europe.

Here, the dawn chorus is beginning to pick up volume as the branches begin to look a little less bare and the first flowers poke through the frost: snowdrops and primroses, later to be followed by the daffodils and bluebells.

SPRING DANCE: daffodils brighten the hedgerows PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Once more photographers across the Chilterns are up with the lark, capturing the sights and sounds of the changing months as hungry badgers and foxes get braver in their hunt for an easy snack and insects and reptiles emerge from their slumbers.

There may still be a chill in the morning air, but the morning dog walk is no longer a battle against the elements.

THE EYES HAVE IT: a hare pauses for the camera PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Beyonder stalwarts Nick Bell and Graham Parkinson are on the hunt for less usual sights, tiptoeing through the undergrowth on the trail of an elusive hare, fox cub or cautious deer.

Regular contributors Sue Craigs Erwin and Lesley Tilson also have their eyes peeled for those spectacular sunsets or rare moments when a bird or insect stays long enough on a twig for the perfect shot.

FIRST FLUTTER: a peacock butterfly PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Deep in the forest, there’s new growth everywhere, with fluffy lichen and moss coating tree barks and warmer weather tempting walkers back out onto footpaths no longer submerged in a sea of mud.

As the weather warms, there’s more time to study the colourful plumage of regular garden visitors, enjoy the first butterflies or spot a muntjac foraging in the woods or a fox returning proudly to its den with breakfast for the family.

EVENING LIGHT: a grazing muntjac PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

We are so lucky to live here: only an hour from central London, yet a haven for wildlife, with a network of thousands of miles of footpaths stretching across the 320 square miles designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Suddenly, after long grey days of eager anticipation, the natural world seems alive with activity with something new to spot every day, the green shoots and bursting buds a welcome reminder that spring has once again returned with a vengeance.

WARMER DAYS: Chess Valley reflections PICTURE: Andrew Knight

From historic market towns to sleepy hamlets, this is a landscape dotted with quintessentially English coaching inns, ancient churches and picturesque chalk streams.

It many no longer boast charcoal burners or “bodgers” in the woods, or an abundance of watercress farms and cherry orchards, but it’s still a world of muddy boots and excited dogs, log fires and historic pubs.

ANCIENT LANDSCAPE: St Nicholas’ church at Hedsor PICTURE: Andrew Knight

In the spring, the air is thick with birdsong in morning and early evening, robins, blackbirds and wrens shouting about territory while the local wood pigeons strut and coo.

There’s frogspawn aplenty in local ponds and nest-building is under way in earnest, though it’s still hard to fully concentrate on all the intimate daily changes in quite the same way it was before the war started to dominate the news agenda.

FURRY FRIEND: a holly blue butterfly PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

After the anxieties and distractions of lockdown we are once again free to explore the local landscape fully, yet it feels almost insensitive to be savouring that freedom against the backdrop of the apocalyptic pictures and real-world horror stories emerging from Ukraine.

Pandemic, climate change, war – no wonder our teenagers are worried about the world and find it hard to concentrate in class.

NESTING TIME: a long-tailed tit PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But then just as lockdown gave us time to re-examine our relationship with the natural world, we know too just what an important role nature can play is maintaining or re-establishing our mental health.

Yes, we must do what we can to provide practical help to those fleeing the war, but it’s no bad thing for us to be immersing ourselves in nature again too.

SUMMER STORM: an ominous sky PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

It’s easy to get depressed by the pointlessness, chaos and destruction of war, but perhaps it’s even more important that we celebrate beauty at such a time and remind ourselves of the importance of those small daily delights that still matter so much.

Whether it’s the sounds of woodland creatures stirring in the early morning sunshine, country lanes awash with spring colour, the screech of an owl as dusk falls, the spring lambs gambolling in the fields or a family of little ducklings learning to swim, the Chilterns landscape has the power to soothe our fears and revitalise us to face new challenges.

RUNNING FOR COVER: red-legged partridges PICTURE: Nick Bell

Our timeless landscape has witnessed its fair share of bloodshed and conflict across the centuries, but the froth of hawthorn blossom in the hedgerows, dancing bluebells in the woods, and nodding poppies in the cornfields remind us that life must go on, and sustain us at times when our spirits are low.

When the news feels overwhelming, there could be no better way of keeping a grip on reality, clearing away the cobwebs and banishing our own fears and anxiety among the bluebell woods and country paths of the Chilterns.

FIELD OF DREAMS: a deer among the poppies PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

As Melissa Harrison says in her nature diary The Stubborn Light of Things: “It’s the oldest story: the earth coming back to life after its long winter sleep. Yet spring always feels like a miracle when at last it arrives.”

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

New year puts a fresh spring in our step

AFTER those drab, dull days of December, the New Year brought us a crisp chill in the air and a sense of new beginnings.

SEA OF MIST: dramatic colours at Coombe Hill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

After almost two years of pandemic restrictions and more than 140,000 deaths, could the UK finally envisage an end to most lockdown restrictions?

SPRING FEVER: a brown hare PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Against a backdrop of fresh concerns about distant rumblings of war in Ukraine and with many families still trying to heal the scars caused by isolation and loss, the timeless landscape of the Chilterns continues to provide a breathtaking backdrop to our daily lives and a source of solace to many.

EVENING GLOW: a glorious sunset PICTURE: Paula Western

Those lucky enough to have the countryside on the doorstep and willing to brave the storms, frost and freezing winds have been rewarded with some spectacular early morning walks, stunning vistas and glorious sunsets.

SHADES OF GREY: muted colours at Coombe Hill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

The bare branches of January make it easier to spot birds in the trees and after the relative silence of winter, the dawn chorus will steadily grow between now and May.

Mosses, lichens and fungi provide splashes of colour and an array of intriguing patterns and shapes amid the soggy leaf litter.

FILLING THE GAP: bracket fungus on a tree bark PICTURE: Carol Ann Finch

The skeletal vegetation allows new vistas to open up too, however, exposing the earthworks, trails, mileposts and ditches so often hidden amid the undergrowth.

WELL TROD PATH: a mossy holloway PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Many footpaths are still muddy and forlorn, and our busier roadsides are still scarred by litter and fly-tipping, all the more visible now that the foliage is stripped bare for all to see the terrible impact of humans on the natural environment.

SMALL WONDER: the agile bank vole PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But if there are days when nature appears to be under siege, there are plenty of small glimpses of light in the darkness promising happier times to come.

LOCAL LANDMARK: Brill windmill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Those obliging early snowdrops, for example, have been a powerful symbol of hope since biblical times, these Candlemas bells which once decorated the windowsills of monasteries, abbeys and churches marking an important Christian holy day when the dark interior of a medieval church would become a sea of flickering candles.

SYMBOL OF HOPE: early snowdrops PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Feathered friends in the garden have provided a welcome ray of sunshine too, in the run-up to the RSPB’s Great Garden Birdwatch 2022.

SILENT HUNTER: a barn owl hunting PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

This is the month where the dawn chorus really begins to grow in volume, and various Beyonder features have highlighted the chance to catch those first wintry warbles, the growing popularity of feeding the birds and how to recognise the different songs that make up the most spectacular natural orchestra on earth.

ON THE WATER: a male pochard at Spade Oak PICTURE: Nick Bell

Photographers prepared to get up with the lark have been treated to some of the most impressive sights, not just gorgeous sunsets but in the array of wildlife they have been able to capture on camera.

FISHING TRIP: a heron on the lookout for breakfast PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Their early morning forays to local woods and beauty spots provide a vivid reminder of just how much wildlife is around us, even if many animals are still sheltering from the wintry blast or are quick to disappear at the sound of an approaching footstep.

NESTING SEASON: a heron at Spade Oak PICTURE: Nick Bell

From the sounds of barking deer and fox mating calls in those first daylight hours to the thrum of a woodpecker or whistle of a red kite, there are plenty of audible clues to the wealth of wildlife around us, even if it sometimes requires a sharp eye, zoom lens and early morning start to spot that heron, egret or well camouflaged owl.

WHO GOES THERE?: deer at Bushy Park PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

If the ancient wings of the heron make the bird look positively Jurassic, the owl has long been a symbol of wisdom in literature and mythology. Their hunting prowess and night vision, in particular, impressed the Ancient Greeks, who believed that this vision was a result of a mystical inner light and associated the owl with the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena.

WELL HIDDEN: an owl at Cassiobury Park PICTURE: Carol Ann Finch

The late American poet Mary Jane Oliver expressed it in a rather different way in her poem Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard:

His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
Blake, maybe,
or the Book of Revelation.

WOLF MOON RISING: January’s full moon PICTURE: Anne Rixon

The skies have been obliging too, Anne Rixon‘s stunning shot of this month’s Wolf Moon perfectly capturing the timeless wonder of that striking vision when the moon shows its “face” to the earth.

Wolf moons and snow moons, blood moons and strawberry moons, harvest moons and worm moons…long before calendars were invented, ancient societies kept track of the months and seasons by studying the moon.

MORNING GLORY: horses at Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

All year round, our photographers are out and about in all weathers to capture that moment when the sun breaks through the clouds and the rain stops, or a startled animal looks up at the sound of a broken twig.

Our Birds & Beasts page includes a special focus the work of our incredible specialist wildlife photographers.

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our next calendar entry, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk by email or via our Facebook group page.

Feast of light in the darkness

WRITING in The Independent a few years ago, then environment editor Michael McCarthy pondered on how many people today know what Candlemas is all about.

One in a hundred, perhaps? Maybe even fewer than that. But as well as explaining the background to the Christian holy day he also painted a marvellously evocative picture of what this day would have looked and felt like in the Middle Ages, when everyone in the parish brought their candles to church to be blessed by the priest.

HOLY DAY: candles were taken to church PICTURE: Simon Godfrey, Unsplash

On that gloomy February day the dark interior of a medieval church would become a sea of light when the candles were lit and set before the statue of the Virgin Mary – making it literally the brightest day of the year and a welcome reprieve after the gloom of January.

SEA OF LIGHT: Candlemas contrasts PICTURE: Mike Labrum, Unsplash

February 2 is also the day of snowdrops, with windowsills of monasteries, abbeys and churches decorated with the pure white flowers, or Candlemas bells as they were once called.

As flawless symbols of purity, they were the perfect flowers for the feast, and even today many of the country’s best snowdrop displays are clustered around churchyards and ancient religious foundations, ruined abbeys and priories, where they were planted with Candlemas in mind.

CANDLEMAS BELLS: snowdrops in bloom PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

A warm January can mean plenty of snowdrops flower early, along with primroses, winter jasmine, gorse and other splashes of January colour, despite the old rhyme which says: “The snowdrop, in purest white array, first rears her head on Candlemas day.”

And there are numerous locations where sheets of the small white blooms provide dramatic displays for visitors braving the chill January air, including great houses like the National Trust gardens at Cliveden.

EARLY ARRIVALS: snowdrops at Cliveden PICTURE: National Trust/Hugh Mothersole

A powerful symbol of hope since biblical times, Galanthus nivalis means “milk flower” in Latin and the “drop” is not a drop of snow but a “drop” as in eardrop, the old word for earring – although legend has it that after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and Eve was despairing that the cold winters would never end, an angel appeared and transformed some of the snowflakes into snowdrop flowers to prove that even the harshest of winters eventually give way to spring.

Snowdrops are popular among gardeners and galanthophiles are avid collectors of different snowdrop varieties. But it’s not just the simple beauty of the snowdrop which appeals.

SYMBOL OF PURITY: Cliveden snowdrops PICTURE: National Trust/Hugh Mothersole

As McCarthy argues in his Independent article it’s the timing of the flowers’ appearance that is symbolic too: “They’re the very first sign of something else, the Candlemas bells, an undeniable signal that the warm days will come again; and I’m sure they fill me with elation because what I am looking at, against the dead tones of the winter earth, is Hope, suddenly and unmistakably manifest in white.”

For more information about snowdrops, check out Julia Stafford Allen’s wonderful blog entry.

PERFECT TIMING: a sign of warmer days to come PICTURE: Yoksel Zok, Unsplash

Seasonal toast to a happier year ahead

DREARY December bowed out in a pretty desultory fashion, paving the way for the warmest New Year’s Day on record.

IN THE PINK: birds silhouetted against a winter’s sky PICTURE: Paula Western

But after a year of debate about climate change, no one was really celebrating the unseasonal temperatures, thought to have been boosted by warm air wafting in from the Azores.

SHORTEST DAY: a winter solstice sunset PICTURE: Anne Rixon

It may not have helped that this was also the dullest December in 65 years, with only around 26.6 hours of sunshine across the UK, leaving many feeling dispirited – though it didn’t stop some lucky photographers snatching striking pictures of the shortest day of the year.

FIRE IN THE SKY: dawn and dusk provide dramatic contrasts PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

For some, seasonal affective disorder is a more serious type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, symptoms of which include a persistent low mood, loss of interest in everyday activities, an extreme lethargy and feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness.

SPLASH OF GREEN: near the River Thame in Aylesbury PICTURE: Ron Adams

Nature lovers can struggle with winter depression too on these short days when the sun is obscured and the landscape full of greys and browns.

AWASH WITH COLOUR: the countryside outside Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

But the more persistent photographers are up and about early and late to capture those brief dramatic moments when the sun breaks through to set the landscape awash with colour.

LONGEST NIGHT: December 21 PICTURE: Anne Rixon

On December 21, the winter solstice marks the time when the sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky, giving us shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year: after which it doesn’t seem unreasonable to start dreaming about spring.

SENSE OF OCCASION: Christmas trees at Blenheim Palace PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Perhaps it’s hardly surprising that around the world the day should have been seen as such a significant time of the year in many cultures, with midwinter festivals marking the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun, and with some ancient monuments like Stonehenge even aligned with the sunrise or sunset at solstice time.

THROUGH THE KEYHOLE: Durdle Door in Dorset PICTURE: Siddarth Upadhya

Down in Dorset, one of the UK’s most majestic natural landmarks comes into its own in December, when thanks to the way the Earth moves on its axis there is a rare opportunity to photograph the sun appearing on the horizon through Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast.

BLUE-SKY THINKING: a misty morning near Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Keen photographers arrive in darkness to snatch that holy grail “through the keyhole” shot of sunlight bursting through the famous rock arch, which only occurs for a few minutes each day from mid-December to early January.

CHILL IN THE AIR: beehives at Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

If the warm air from the Azores brought an unseasonal feel to New Year’s Eve, the month was not entirely devoid of chilly nights and frosty mornings.

SNOW ON SNOW: Brush Hill nature reserve PICTURE: Anne Rixon

It may have lacked the grim icy resonance of In The Bleak Midwinter, or the reassuring seasonal familiarity of one of John Charles Maggs’ stagecoach paintings, but there were still plenty of moments when the “frosty wind made moan”, bringing a touch of colour to children’s cheeks and a welcome crispness to the morning air.

STUCK IN THE SNOW: Stage Coach in a Snow Drift PICTURE: Benson Fine Art

Wildlife may be hard to spot on these short days, especially when the sun is obscured and the countryside can appear bleak, but snatched snapshots provide a welcome foretaste of the excitement of spring, like a juvenile great crested grebe surfacing amid water glinting like mercury.

MERCURY RISING: a young great crested grebe PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Cross-country walking is a lonely exercise at this time of year and the backdrop may look bleak at times, with trees dormant, flowers withered and much vegetation looking half-decayed.

SLIM PICKINGS: a red kite looks grumpy in the snow PICTURE: Anne Rixon

But even when nature is looking at its lowest ebb, there are already signs of bulbs pushing through the topsoil and it’s easier to see birds perching on the bare branches, hungry for a snack.

CHOCKS AWAY: a red kite launches into action PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The welcome whistle of red kites is familiar to anyone living in the Chilterns, while buzzards too are an increasing common sight above our woodlands once more, having quadrupled in number since 1970.

WILD EYED: a buzzard in the centre of Marlow PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Whether it’s the cry of a tawny owl or bark of a fox or muntjac, there are plenty of evening sounds to remind us that out local wildlife is never too far away, even if many creatures are dormant or hibernating at this time of year.

TASTY TREAT: winter berries PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

A timely expedition down the M25 to the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey is a reminder of just how elusive some of our native wild breeds actually are.

SMALL WONDER: a harvest mouse poses for a picture PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Furtive and fast-moving, or sleepy and nocturnal, our stoats and weasels, dormice and badgers are not easy to spot, which makes this centre an important place for education, given that so few children will have the chance to see such animals in the wild.

FROSTY OUTLOOK: Willow Wood, Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Back in the woods, our dog walkers and nature lovers are undeterred by cold hands and runny noses, and have been roaming across the Chilterns on the look-out for shots that capture the very best of the season.

CHILL IN THE AIR: a wintry walk near Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

2021 was an incredibly tough year for many, dominated by pandemic worries, lockdown restrictions and extreme weather events.

As Bill Gates reflected, it was also a year when we were reminded just how significantly something happening on the other side of the world could affect us at home – but also how change happens “because groups of people get together and decide to make things better”.

BRANCHING OUT: a snowy day in Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

We’re not there yet when it comes to avoiding a climate disaster. But we also know that we won’t get everyone agreeing on how to win the battle unless people care about the natural world and the impact we humans are having on it.

Our wonderful photographers are contributing to that awareness with their beautiful portraits of the flora and fauna to be found across the Chilterns landscape, and we are very grateful for their efforts to chronicle the passing year month by month.

A big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month, and throughout 2021. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for the coming year, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Close encounters of the furry kind

HAVE you ever seen a weasel or a stoat? A dormouse, perhaps, or an otter, badger or tawny owl?

So may of our wild creatures are fast-moving and furtive that it can be hard to catch more than the briefest glimpse of them disappearing into the undergrowth.

For city kids, the problem is even tougher. Other than an unwelcome house mouse or scruffy urban fox, many young people will have never encountered most of our iconic British wildlife – which is one of the reasons the British Wildlife Centre was founded back in 1997.

A dairy farmer for 30 years, David Mills had always been inspired by pioneering conservationists like Sir Peter Scott, Gerald Durrell and John Aspinall, who had started their own wildlife centres.

By the time he took the plunge to realise his own conservation dream and sold off his award-winning herd of pedigree Jersey cows, he had a very clear vision of the type of visitor attraction he wanted to create.

It took 18 months to get planning permission to transform Gatehouse Farm in the small Surrey hamlet of Newchapel, during which time David toured the country looking at the smaller collections of animals to see what people were doing and to make contacts.

Rather than opening a traditional zoo for rare or exotic species, he wanted to focus on British wildlife and the concept of “conservation through education”, teaching children to recognise, understand and appreciate Britain’s native wild species and encouraging them to develop a lifelong interest in their protection.

But when most of your collection is shy, small, nocturnal and elusive, how do you ensure that visitors are not just touring a series of apparently empty enclosures where snoozing animals are hidden from view?

It’s a problem that’s most obvious in the winter months, when many animals are hibernating. But it struck David that the secret to engaging visitors’ interest in his collection of fascinating but often reclusive native species lay in keeper talks.

The policy of actively encouraging keepers to form close bonds with animals is coupled with an extensive programme of breeding and release into the wild, helping to rebuild the country’s red squirrel population, for example.

Indeed, the appealing little animals played an important role in the conservationist’s personal life, too – he met his partner, the Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench, after inviting her to open a squirrel enclosure in 2010.

They have been together ever since, and in 2016 she was at Buckingham Palace to see the “elated” 73-year-old pick up an MBE for his conservation work.

Rather than attempting to maximise the centre’s footfall or income, the emphasis has been on becoming a non-commercial specialist attraction, remaining closed to the public on weekdays in term time so that school visits can take place.

“We can then focus on teaching children to appreciate and respect Britain’s own wonderful native wild species,” says David.

Building stimulating natural environments for the animals reflects growing concerns about seeing animals in captivity and encouraging close keeper-animal bonds of trust makes it easier to show the wildlife off to visitors without interrupting their natural daily rhythms.

Weekend visitors can learn about different species at half-hourly keeper talks, scheduled to coincide with feeding times or when the animals are at their most lively.

Here, animal welfare is the top priority, and visitors can’t expect wildlife to “perform” on cue. But even in winter, patient observers can be in just the right place at the right time to catch a particular resident popping their head out to see just what’s going on, or burrow into a darkened underground display where a bundle of cosy badgers can be found curled up asleep in their sett.

This is also not a place where healthy wild animals will be trapped behind bars for a lifetime, although the centre has occasionally offered a permanent home for rehabilitated animals that cannot be returned to the wild – for example those with a permanent injury or too used to human contact.

But wherever possible, animals will be reared and released, and the centre participates in a range of specific conservation projects dealing with everything from hazel dormice and Scottish wildcats to water voles and polecats.

A drizzly January day isn’t the ideal time to see the centre at its best, and two years of coronavirus restrictions have made life tough hard for visitor attractions across the country.

It’s also fair to say that Newchapel is hardly a wildlife wilderness. Thundering traffic on the adjoining main road or the roar of a jet from nearby Gatwick are reminders of just how much our natural habitat is under threat.

Information boards around the cente tell the now familiar story of mankind’s incursion on the natural environment, with a long list of animals hunted to extinction across the centuries or suffering overwhelming habitat loss.

Once bears, lynx and wolves stalked the landscape. Today it is much more humble creatures like hedgehogs, toads and butterflies, along with countless varieties of insects and birds, whose declining numbers are a cause for concern.

The British Wildlife Centre may not have all the answers to the problems of the modern age, but over the past two decades it has allowed generations of school pupils to get close to more than 40 different types of wild animals and birds, animal encounters which complement a range of national curriculum topics in science, history and geography.

The centre has also transformed 26 acres of former agricultural grazing land into a wetland nature reserve where a huge variety of wild birds, mammal and invertebrate species have set up home.

There’s also a field study centre for school nature trips, and the centre hosts a range of photography days and workshops for enthusiastic amateur photographers on days when the centre is closed to other guests.

For tickets, opening times and full details of other facilities, conservation work and special projects, see the centre’s website.

Step out into a world of fire and light

HARDLY had the shrill echoes of the little Halloween ghosts and ghouls died away before we were facing the noise and light explosion that is Bonfire Night.

SOFT EDGES: trees loom out of the mist near Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Dreaded by pet owners and nature lovers worried about the impact on local wildlife, the annual fireworks jamboree has become a more organised affair in modern times, with most November 5 celebrations run by local charities and other organisations.

CHILLY OUTLOOK: looking out over Aylesbury Vale from Coombe Hill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

But of course there’s a visceral delight in so many of those sights, sounds and smells of bonfire night, of toffee apples and burnt marshmallows, baked potatoes and warm chestnuts; hands stabbed by the sharp prickles of sparklers, cheeks red with the cold night air pinching our faces.

AUTUMN PALETTE: walking at Whiteleaf Hill PICTURE: Anne Rixon

Bathed in woodsmoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder, our caveman origins come to the fore as we draw closer to the flames and huddle together for warmth and light.

LEST WE FORGET: November is a time of remembrance PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

November is a month of remembrance too, of poppies and poppy-strewn memorials, of old soldiers and wreath-laying ceremonies, of sombre thoughts of past battles and lost loved ones.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: the Water Garden at Cliveden PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

It’s also the month that sees a fortnight-long firework display of natural colour as the falling leaves provide a spectacular backdrop for autumn rambles before the first winter storms strip the branches bare.

GATE EXPECTATIONS: perfect weather for a ramble PICTURE: Paula Western

The timeless Chilterns landscape offers such a wealth of different outings too, from ancient long-distance routes and drovers’ paths to simple circular strolls watching the red kites soar or catching a deer unawares.

WHO GOES THERE?: a fallow deer buck in Homefield Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

For some, it’s the small details which catch the eye, from veins on leaves, unfamiliar fungi or seed cases strewn among the leaf litter.

OUT ON A LIMB: leaf patterns catch the light PICTURE: Ron Adams

For others, it’s the chance to get close to the mammals, birds and insects which inhabit this wonderland, always in the hope of that rare moment when time stands still just long enough for the perfect close-up of a or a hungry sparrowhawk.

EAGLE EYED: a juvenile female sparrowhawk poses for the camera PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Speaking of one of her November rambles a couple of years ago, Melissa Harrison writes in The Stubborn Light Of Things: “Dusk is my favourite time to go out walking. As the light fades, the night shift clocks on: rabbits come our to feed, owls call from the copses and spinneys, and foxes, deer and bats begin hunting as darkness falls…”

AT THE CROSSROADS: a signpost at Ley Hill PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

She goes on: “But there’s another reason I love to be out of doors at day’s end. Here in Suffolk traces of the past are everywhere, from horse ponds glinting like mercury among the stubble fields to labourers’ cottages like mine with woodsmoke curling from brick chimneys hundreds of years old.

LOOKOUT POST: the stunning colours of a red kite PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“In the half-light of dusk, the old lanes empty of traffic, it’s possible to leave behind the present day with its frightening uncertainties and enter a world in which heavy horses worked the land, the seasons turned with comforting regularity and climate change was unheard of.”

GO WITH THE FLOW: the Thames at at Cliveden PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

Against the backdrop of the Thames, or those ancient woodlands and hidden holloways, the Chilterns is a similarly captivating landscape where time can frequently seem to stand still, especially at dusk and dawn.

LENGTHENING SHADOWS: in the woods near Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Under our feet are the hillforts, earthworks and buried flints and pots reminding us that this landscape has been a focal point for people for thousands of years, an ancient and beautiful place where the whistle of the kite or bark of a fox can still keep us in touch with the natural world around us.

A big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for December, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Autumn hues light up the countryside

ON A chilly morning down at the lido on Wycombe Rye, mist rises over the warm blue-lit water.

Barely distinguishable swimmers emerge from the half-light, as if in an advertisement for an Icelandic geothermal spring.

SKY HIGH: autumn silhouettes against a backdrop of clouds PICTURE: Sarah How

As dawn breaks, swimmers turning their eyes skywards may see fluffy clouds tinged with pink, or vapour trails slicing through the fabric of a clear blue sky.

PURPLE RAIN: berries are in plentiful supply for foraging wildlife PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

It’s crisp and cold and calm: October in the Chilterns, when the woods are ablaze with colour and families are searching out their scarves and winter coats to make the most of the seasonal spectacle.

AUTUMN SHADOWS: a path through the trees at Rushmere PICTURE: Steve West

Autumnwatch is back on our screens, the pumpkins are suddenly swamping the supermarket shelves and a host of animals and birds are stocking up for the winter months.

GREEN LIGHT: exploring the banks of the River Misbourne PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

It’s a year since we started asking our readers which sights, sounds and smells best sum up the spirit of each month, and pictures have flooded in for our online Chilterns calendar chronicling the changing seasons.

SUNSET SONG: evening light PICTURE: Sarah How

From an astonishing array of fascinating fungi to the night-time cry of the fox or muntjac, different aspects of the month have grabbed our attention, from swirling leaves and colourful toadstools to the glorious colours of ripe berries and falling fruit, or the cries of honking geese and calling owls.

RUTTING SEASON: a striking shot of a stag at Grangelands PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

This is the rutting season, where the roar of a stag can be heard from afar, and free-roaming red and fallow deer in parks across the area may be exhibiting some unusual behaviour, as well as physical changes.

It’s a month of eager foraging for humans and rich pickings for birds, insects and mammals alike, with trees and bushes bursting with tasty treats.

EAGLE EYE: sparrowhawks prey on finches, sparrows and tits PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

In kitchens across the Chilterns, pots and pans have been bubbling with jams and jellies, crumbles and preserves. Windows have been steamed up as cooks have dusted off their recipes for rosehip syrup, sweet chestnut stuffing or crab apple jelly.

The rich, rapidly-changing colours and glorious textures of October make it a favourite with photographers, especially deep in the woods where the green, yellow and russet hues contrast so beautifully with the rugged outlines of ancient trees and when the sky can contain so many surprises, especially at dawn and dusk.

EVENING GLOW: a spectacular Chilterns sunset PICTURE: Carol Ann Finch

And after so many months of pandemic worries, there’s a renewed enthusiasm for socialising as the end of the month approaches, houses bedecked with cobwebs, witches and carved pumpkin lanterns to welcome the little parties of ghouls and ghosts trotting round to see neighbours after a painful and difficult year.

So many of the pictures were striking that it offered a chance to highlight the stories of regular contributors – joining Sue Craigs Erwin on her walks between Amersham and Little Chalfont with her mischievous rambling companion Ted, an inquisitive four-year-old spaniel, for example.

REGULAR ROUTE: a favourite footpath for mischievous spaniel Ted PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Lesley Tilson is another walker eager to escape her frontline NHS job as a midwife and nurse and finding an opportunity for reflection and peace in the Chilterns countryside.

WORTH THE WAIT: a kingfisher (finally) poses for a picture PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

For wildlife photographers like Graham Parkinson, patience is a virtue – but worth those long cold waits when a bird, insect or mammal lands in just the right place at the right time.

STUDY IN SCARLET: a green woodpecker PICTURE: Nick Bell

From cute goslings to fast-moving dragonflies, Maidenhead photographer Nick Bell’s broad range of subjects have also provided a lot of pleasure on local wildlife forums, as well as a vital opportunity to get outside with nature and away from the pressures of living through a pandemic.

GARDEN AMBUSH: a sparrowhawk on the lookout for food PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But from the banks of the Thames to Ivinghoe Beacon, from the historic Ridgeway to the depths of Burnham Beeches, this is an ancient and fascinating landscape, with thousands of hidden pathways, Roman roads and drovers’ routes to explore – and we’re grateful, as always, to those hardy souls who are out and about in all weathers capturing the beauty of the local countryside in all its glory.

If you have a picture or two you would like us to feature, drop us a line by email to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk, join us in our Facebook group or contact us on Twitter @TheBeyonderUK.

Magic of a midsummer night’s dream

THE magic and mystery of midsummer day is already behind us, but July was a month of scorching days and sultry evenings, packed beaches and dramatic sunsets.

Last month we featured a brief quote from Laurie Lee about the wonders of summer, but it’s a subject that really highlights the poetry of his prose – as well as recalling a lost boyhood world from an age before the Second World War and the invasion of the petrol engine.

SCENTS OF SUMMER: hay bales outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Lee’s portrait of the country lanes of sleepy Gloucestershire at the tail end of the First World War was already a history lesson by the time his famous Cider With Rosie was published in 1959, yet there is an easy familiarity to many of his images that still manages to bring the countryside vividly to life.

He wrote: “Summer was also the time of these: of sudden plenty, of slow hours and actions, of diamond haze and dust on the eyes, of the valley in post-vernal slumber; of burying birds out of seething corruption; of Mother sleeping heavily at noon; of jazzing wasps and dragonflies, haystooks and thistle-seeds, snows of white butterflies, skylarks’ eggs, bee-orchids, and frantic ants; of wolf-cub parades and boy scouts’ bugles; of sweat running down the legs; of boiling potatoes on bramble fires, of flames glass-blue in the sun; of lying naked in the hill-cold stream; begging pennies for bottles of pop; of girls’ bare arms and unripe cherries, green apples and liquid walnuts; of fights and falls and new-scabbed knees, sobbing pursuits and flights; of picnics high up in the crumbling quarries, of butter running like oil, of sunstroke, fever and cucumber peel stuck cool to one’s burning brow.

SUNSET SONG: dusk over Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

“All this, and the feeling that it would never end, that such days had come for ever…”

Of course the whole thrust of Lee’s memoir is that change was just round the corner: a way of life which had survived for hundreds of years would be altered forever by the arrival of motor cars and electricity, the death of the local squire and the declining influence of the church.

But he manages to freeze a moment in time for us with his mesmerising descriptions, not least that of his unforgettable encounter with the bewitching Rosie of the book’s title: “She was yellow and dusty with buttercups and seemed to be purring in the gloom; her hair was as rich as a wild bee’s nest and her eyes were full of stings.”

COLOURFUL CROP: poppies outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

The “real” Rosie, Lee’s cousin Rosalind Buckland, died in 2014 just days before her 100th birthday. But for generations of readers, she will always be remembered as the intoxicating Rosie Burdock, sharing a stone jar of cider under a hay wagon in the Cotswolds all those decades ago.


We may not live in Gloucestershire but Lee’s portrait of summer still resonates in the Chilterns, especially after a month of warmer temperatures and long golden evenings.

MAKING HAY: out on the farm PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Arable farmers are out and about haymaking and collecting silage which will be used to feed sheep and cattle during the winter months. July is the start of the combine season for cereal crops, so larger machines are an increasingly common sight in fields and on country roads.

For nature lovers, it’s the season to enjoy the antics of baby birds and squirrels, and probably the best month of the year for butterflies and moths.

BUTTERFLY SEASON: a dark green fritillary PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Butterflies that usually fill meadows and woods this month include the ringlet, marbled white, dark green fritillary and silver-washed fritillary.

Last year was hailed as the best summer for butterflies for 25 years, so there’s a lot to live up to, but a survey in 2015 found 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterflies had declined in abundance, occurrence or both over the last four decades, so there is little room for complacency.

MOTH MAGIC: the six-spot burnet PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The UK has 59 species of butterflies – 57 resident species and two regular migrants (the painted lady and clouded yellow). Moths are much more numerous, as our recent post explained – and they can be equally colourful.

It’s not only moths which are colourful, either. The distinctive striped cinnabar caterpillars turn into equally colourful pinkish-red and black moths, and they’ve been seen in abundance across the Chilterns this month as ragwort has flourished across the countryside.

TASTY TREAT: cinnabar moth caterpillars PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Detested by horse and pony owners for its poisonous attributes, the “toxic weed” has many supporters among conservationists as a native wildflower vital for pollinating insects, as our post from Stoke Common last summer explained.

But then July is the month of plenty, from beetles to baby hedgehogs, spiders to hairy caterpillars, all popping up against the glorious backdrop of a countryside in full bloom, where meadows are full of wildflowers, the woods are rustling with baby squirrels and the skies resound to the whistles of red kites.

HAIRY HORROR: a vapourer moth caterpillar PICTURE: Roy Middleton

Poppy fields are still pulsating with colour across the Chilterns, the fields of red heralding the arrival of summer across western Europe, as we highlighted last month.

STUDY IN SCARLET: a field of poppies at Pednor PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

But away from those startling reds, a short drive might replace the colour scheme with the rich blue of linseed, or flax – the stems of which yield one of the oldest fibre crops in the world, linen. The flowers would have been familiar to the ancient Egyptians, and the trade played a pivotal role in the social and economic development of Belfast, for example.

BLUE CARPET: linseed flowers outside Chesham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Or stray into north Hertfordshire and on the rolling slopes of Wilbury Hills, the family flower farm at Hitchin Lavender has become something of a local landmark over the past 20 years, providing a pick-your-own experience over 30 acres of lavender where visitors can also find sunflowers, take photographs and enjoy a family picnic.

PURPLE HAZE: lavender fields outside Hitchin PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Away from the woods and meadows, there’s the Thames and its tributaries to explore too, or a quiet stretch of canal towpath providing a welcome change of pace from the hustle and bustle of busy high streets.

GO WITH THE FLOW: the Thames at Bourne End PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Mind you, you may not need to go far to come face to face with an exotic visitor: it could be that a glance out of the window reveals a young parakeet struggling to work out how to use the bird feeders.

TABLE MANNERS: a young parakeet struggles with the feeder PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

And of course nature has the habit of springing surprises on us in the most unlikely places…even when you think you’ve managed to find a safe, quiet corner to park the car.

ROOF WITH A VIEW: a heron at Wycombe Rye lido PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Ah, glorious summer, with the whole world “unlocked and seething”, as Laurie Lee put it. Or, to quote another famous author, this time Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited: “If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe…”

RAY OF SUNSHINE: a peaceful moment in Homefield Wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for August, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Misunderstood moths are little marvels

MOTHS get a bit of a bad press, it seems, at least in comparison with their colourful butterfly cousins.

But that’s more based on myths and misunderstandings than any hard facts.

Drab, furry and stupid, they fly at candles, eat your clothes and lack the apparent grace, colour and beauty that we associate with butterflies. Or at least, that’s the perception.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: the six-spot burnet moth PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But what about the delicate pale yellow colouring of the swallow-tailed moth, the gaudy attire of tiger moths, the unmistakeable markings of the cinnabar moth, or the six-spot burnet moth?

Some moths do have subtle colourings, but there are plenty which are every bit as beautiful as butterflies. There are some which fly by day and, of the 2,500 moths that live in Britain, only a few species eat clothes.

Some even have secret talents – like the death’s-head hawk-moth, which can squeak like a mouse or the Mother Shipton moth, which has a witch’s face on its wing. Spooky.

SHOW OF STRENGTH: an elephant hawk-moth in flight PICTURE: Roy Battell

One man with more than a passing interest in moths is Mark Scott, whose naturalistweekly.com website was launched in April 2021.

Based in America, the site seeks to build a community focused around engaging and connecting with the natural world through prose and poetry.

Says Mark: “From paranormal podcasts to poems by Virginia Woolf, the site seeks to blend research with personal observation in order to create opportunities for the reader to connect with the natural world.”

His starting point for a series of four blog posts about moths was a celebration of National Moth Week, which began in 2012 in New Jersey and stemmed from an initiative in New Jersey that has grown into a global event that seeks “to promote the understanding and enjoyment of moths and to raise awareness about biodiversity.”

There are some 11,000 moth species in America, and they are important pollinators and provide food for many animals, birds, bats and spiders.

ON THE WING: a barred sallow moth PICTURE: Roy Battell

Mark goes on to examine The Poetry of Moths in a separate blog post, before focusing in more detail on The Death of a Moth, a 1942 essay in which the author observes a moth as it moves about her window.

As she ponders the moth’s movements, she begins to draw parallels between the moth’s life and the human experience – a little moth who is the embodiment of life, can “show us the true nature of life”, but at the same time help us also to contemplate the prospect of death.

DUSK DELIGHT: a clouded silver moth on cherry leaves PICTURE: Roy Battell

Mark’s final post takes us to the role of moths at the movies, from the sinister Silence of the Lambs to The Mothman Prophecies.

In the UK, moth species outnumber butterflies by more than 40 to 1. They are closely related and, despite those myths, some moths are every bit as large and colourful as butterflies, the most dramatic being the hawk-moths: large, slow and fabulously patterned.

Some moths fly by day, some by night, and many use mimicry to protect themselves – around the world, moths resemble everything from wood slivers and broken twigs to bird droppings.

MELLOW YELLOW: a brimstone moth in flight PICTURE: Roy Battell

Their imaginative names, coined by Victorian naturalists, conjure up images of life in the ‘big house’, from satins, ermines and brocades to footmen and wainscots. But their numbers have been in sharp decline in some areas, sparking fears about collapsing eco-systems.

Back in 2013, Patrick Barkham highlighted concerns about declining numbers in southern England, with broadcaster Chris Packham, the vice-president of Butterfly Conservation, voicing concerns about habitat loss, light pollution and agricultural practices.

For more information about moths, see Butterfly Conservation’s website.

Shy lizard enjoys life in the slow lane

IT’S not a worm, it’s not a snake – and to be fair, it’s not particularly slow, either.

So what exactly IS the amiable slow worm, the glossy wriggler cheerfully slipping across a path at Littleworth Common and quickly disappearing into the undergrowth?

It’s actually a legless lizard, it turns out, this shy, elusive burrowing reptile (Anguis fragilis) also known as a deaf adder or blindworm (because of its small eyes), which spends much of its time hiding underneath things.

It has smooth skin, is marked out as a lizard by its ability to shed its tail and blink with its eyelids, and hibernates from October to March.

Found in heathland, gardens, allotments and on woodland edges where they can find pests to eat and a sunny spot where they can bask in the sun, slow worms are much smaller than snakes and come in a range of polished silvers, golds and browns depending on age and gender.

Amazingly, they can live up to 30 years and feast on slugs, snails and insects, though in turn they are preyed on by various birds, as well as badgers, hedgehogs and, in suburban areas, domestic cats.

All six of the UK’s native reptile species – the others are the common European adder (Vipera berus), grass snake (Natrix natrix), smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), common lizard (Lacerta vivipara) and sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) – slow worms are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

They have a number of ways of escaping predators. Sometimes they freeze, while at other times they will flee. moving pretty quickly when they want to, in spite of their name. But if they can’t get away easily, defecation could be the answer: their poo smells nasty enough to deter some predators.

The mating season kicks off in May and is quite a serious business, it seems. Males become aggressive towards each other and, during courtship, the male takes hold of the female by biting her head or neck, and they intertwine their bodies.

Courtship may last for as long as 10 hours, with females incubating the eggs internally and “giving birth” to live young in late summer.

For more information, see the Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, Natural History Museum and the Guardian.

Nature rolls out the red carpet for summer

POPPIES. If there’s one iconic image of what the Chilterns landscape should look like in June, it’s that vibrant splash of colour we see when the corn poppies come into bloom.

STUDY IN SCARLET: a deer hides among the poppies PICTURE: Carlene O’Rourke

Of course, those scarlet fields herald the coming of summer across western Europe and have long been associated with the terrible sacrifices made by the millions who fought in past wars.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: a poppy among linseed flowers PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

The poppies – papaver rhoeas – spring up naturally in conditions where soil has been disturbed, and just as the destruction brought by the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century transformed bare land into fields of blood-red poppies growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were ripped open again in late 1914.

SUMMER BLOOMS: an array of wild flowers at Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

During the war they bloomed between the trench lines on the Western Front and after the war ended, they were one of the few plants to flourish on the barren battlefields of the Somme where so many men had died in one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

POETIC INSPIRATION: John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

As Mary Tebje recalls in her 2017 Chilterns blog post, the sight of those poppies inspired Canadian surgeon John McCrae to write In Flanders Fields, a poem which would come to cement the poppy as a potent symbol of remembrance:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

POTENT SYMBOL: poppies are associated with remembrance PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

The poppy quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in World War One and later conflicts. It was adopted by The Royal British Legion as the symbol for their Poppy Appeal, in aid of those serving in the British Armed Forces.

RIPENING CROPS: fields of barley outside Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

This distinctive red flower is not the only June highlight in the great outdoors, though. Along with poppies, this is the month of the intense blue of linseed, of brambles and bee orchids, dog and field roses, towering woodland ferns and ripening crops.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote in his fairy tale The Flax: “The flax was in full bloom; it had pretty little blue flowers as delicate as the wings of a moth, or even more so.”  Certainly the striking blue of a field of flax in full flower is a remarkable sight – and the stem of the linseed yields one of the oldest fibre crops in the world: linen.

ANCIENT CROP: linseed flowers near Chesham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Like wheat and barley, the crop is believed to have originated in the fertile valleys of west Asia, including Jordan, Syria and Iraq, and was certainly being made in ancient Egypt, with drawings on tombs and temples on the River Nile showing flax plants flowering.

Linseed oil is also traditionally used in putty, paints and for oiling wood, especially cricket bats, and the flower even features in the emblem of the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in Parliament Square, representing Northern Ireland, in recognition of the fact that Belfast was the linen capital of the world by the end of the 19th century.

PUTTING ON A SHOW: daisies at Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

And yet one of the strangest features of flax is the fact the flowers open only in full sunlight and usually close shortly after noon, the petals normally dropping off the same day if there is the slightest breeze.

PURPLE PYRAMIDS: orchids at Great Missenden PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

It’s not just the floral displays grabbing our attention in June, though, as Laurie Lee recalled in Cider With Rosie. We may live at a faster pace today, but we can still relate to many of his images of rural life from almost a century ago, even if the wildlife is less plentiful and chance of hearing a cuckoo much more remote.

SUNSET SILHOUETTE: dusk outside Chesham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Summer, June summer, with the green back on earth and the whole world unlocked and seething,” he wrote, “with cuckoos and pigeons hollowing the woods since daylight and the chipping of the tits in the pear-blossom.”

FEATHERED FRIEND: a long-tailed tit PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

From baby birds leaving their nests for the first time to millions of tiny baby frogs and toads emerging from lakes, ponds and ditches, this is the month when the countryside really springs to life, from baby bunnies lolloping around the fields in the warmer evenings, fox and badger cubs play-fighting in the woods and some dramatic-looking moths on the wing, like the large pink elephant hawk moth.

TINY TERROR: a bunny at Little Marlow PICTURE: Carlene O’Rourke

Colourful damselflies are flitting over the ponds and baby bats the size of 50p pieces can be spotted in the warm evening air over the river. Early risers can watch the mist rise over the water at Spade Oak, or down by the Thames.

DAWN CALL: an early morning study at Spade Oak PICTURE: Nick Bell

There may not be the same plethora of natural life Laurie Lee wrote about, but at times you may still have that peculiar sensation of which Melisssa Harrison writes: “…of the past coexisting with the present, the England that existed for so long and exists no longer haunting the modern landscape, almost close enough to touch”.

SWAN SONG: on the water at Spade Oak quarry PICTURE: Nick Bell

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for August, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Stolen snapshots in a drab, damp landscape

MAY may have ended in a bank holiday heatwave, but for most in the Chilterns it was a damp, drab and chilly month, with intermittent downpours and lower-than-average temperatures.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: buttercups brighten the Amersham landscape PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Gardeners, growers and farmers were glad to see the rain after the drier weather earlier in the spring, but the late cold caused other problems, with late-season frosts, chilly nights and thunderstorms contributing to the impression that summer was being temporarily put on hold.

CHILL IN THE AIR: rainclouds gather over Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

As walkers and riders found the dry earth of April transformed into muddy slippery morasses once more, fledging and flowering patterns were delayed compared with previous years.

SUNSET SONG: startling skies over Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

Photographers up and about early and later were still able to capture spectacular backdrops, but the delay in budding had a knock-on effect on the hatching of caterpillars, impacting on early brooding blue tit families, for example – though some bird species flourished despite the rain.

INTO THE BLUE: the colour palette changes over Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

As our April pictures showed, spring brought an explosion of life and colour into the Chilterns countryside, with swathes of bluebells from Ashridge to Cliveden surviving well into May, while the hedgerows and woods from Hedsor to Penn were awash with purple rhododendron flowers.

BLUEBELL WOODS: a dramatic display in the woods at Henley PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Back in May last year our slow emergence from lockdown at last allowed walkers to stray a little further along local byways at a time when interest in the natural world was at its height.

SPRING BLOSSOM: horse chestnut candles in Wooburn PICTURE: Andrew Knight

These were the weeks where the slower pace of lockdown life allowed many families extra time to savour those small precious sights around us that we so often overlook, from eye-catching hedgerow blossoms to unfamiliar wildflowers or insects emerging from winter hibernation.

NATURAL GLOW: wild clover is known for its medicinal properties PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

From the white surf of hawthorn to the pinks, whites and reds of the horse chestnut trees, there’s a welcome explosion of life in the meadows and woods alike, and the insects are making the most of the array of food on offer.

HAPPY FAMILIES: greylag goslings on the march PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

From fox cubs and goslings to woodpeckers and treecreepers, fresh life is emerging all around us, even if much of the fledging and migration is taking place a little later than in previous years.

GRUB’S UP: a treecreeper on chick-feeding duties PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Last year the timing of the crisis, coupled with some unseasonally warm spring weather, meant that the limited allowance of daily exercise was a perfect opportunity for many to watch the natural world unfolding outside.

FEEDING TIME: a hungry young starling asks for more PICTURE: Nick Bell

This May may have been colder and less welcoming for family rambles, but nature lovers on local wildlife forums have been sharing their queries and pictures again, and savouring the growing intensity of the dawn chorus as it reaches its seasonal peak.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: a common whitethroat PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Wildlife photographers have been out early and late, some covering impressive distances in their search for an unusual subject: the chance sighting of an adder or water vole, perhaps, or an opportunity to capture the exotic colours of a green orb weaver spider or fast-moving damselfly.

RIVER DANCE: a female azure damselfly at Dorney Wetlands PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Much of our wildlife can be quite elusive, making it hard to spot during a normal daytime walk in the woods but as always, our contributors have often managed to find the ideal spot to capture that perfect picture of an elusive butterfly, rare flower or striking sunset.

FLOWER POWER: a meadow by the River Misbourne PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Their pictures capture some of the brighter moments amid the May monsoon, but by the Spring Bank Holiday temperatures were rising again and families flocking to the seaside to take advantage of the sunshine.

PERFECT TIMING: another stunning sunset over Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

Back home the Chilterns basked in the warmer weather too, with the weather forecasters promising dryer and sunnier weeks to come.

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for July, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Hedgerows are rustling with new life

LAST April our wonderful bluebell woods provided one enduring positive image of life during 40 days of lockdown.

LIFE DURING LOCKDOWN: bluebells in a Chilterns wood PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As the pandemic swept the country and travel restrictions limited our movements to the byways around our homes, it was an emotional and confusing month for many.

OPEN ASPECT: walking near Coleshill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Thankfully one year on, those glorious vistas of dancing bluebells are not the only symbol of hope to cling onto.

GO WITH THE FLOW: the River Chess near Scotsbridge PICTURE: Debbie Chapman

They still may be the ultimate symbol of the Chilterns countryside, but other colours are also fighting for our attention: the swathes of cherry and apple blossom, the cowslips dotting local fields or wild garlic springing up by a country roadside.

SCENT OF SPRING: wild garlic PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Oil seed rape is beginning to flower, the creamy coloured leaves of the blackthorn have been joined by hawthorn blossom, and there’s a positive frenzy of activity among those colourful hedgerows.

TINY TITBITS: a mouse forages for food PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Between nest-building and feeding new families, our garden birds are frantically busy with their household chores.

HOME COMFORTS: a jay searches for nesting materials PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

There are all those young mouths to feed, tasty morsels to discover and take back home to deliver.

MOUTHS TO FEED: a robin picks up a tasty snack PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

It’s not just the birds who are on the lookout for food either: our resident mammals can also sometimes be spotted out and about on breakfast duty.

ON THE PROWL: a fox heads home with food for the family PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Living close to water we’re lucky enough to be treated to an array of delightful wildfowl too, all very individual characters.

DRESSED TO IMPRESS: a mandarin duck PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But the circle of life can be cruel at this time of year. One day a proud mother duck appears at the door with 15 delightful fluffy chicks waddling in her wake.

FLUFFY BROOD: greylag goslings PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But then we have to watch and wait as the family gradually gets whittled down in size by hungry herons and other local predators.

FISHING EXPEDITION: a pair of egrets PICTURE: Nick Bell

Soon there and nine…and then six…and then five. A week or two later and there are still a trio healthy looking ducklings snapping at insects on the pond, though their small size still makes them look a little too much like tasty snacks for mum to relax entirely.

CHEEKY CHARACTER: an inquisitive starling PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Close by, a cheeky starling has set up home in a neighbour’s eaves and has become a colourful and precocious addition to the characters round the feeders.

SMART PLUMAGE: a starling proves a confident new arrival PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Prone to strut about in his smart distinctive plumage like a Cockney costermonger donning their Pearly King outfit for the first time, he is disproportionately cocky for his size, elbowing the bulkier ducks and pigeons aside as if it is they who are intruding on his patch.

THRIVING: the speckled wood butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

April sees the emergence of a whole array of insects, reptiles and butterflies, like the striking orange tip butterflies which have spent the winter months as a chrysalis hidden among last year’s vegetation, or the speckled wood, which seem to have been thriving in both numbers and distribution over the past 40 years as a result of climate change.

DISTINCTIVE WINGS: the orange-tip butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Now they’re on the wing, feeding on spring flower nectar and looking for a mate, another welcome splash of colour in a landscape that has fully awoken from the drab, dreary days of winter.

FLORAL DISPLAY: the landscape wakes up after winter PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

If the colours provide splashes of detail worthy of close inspection on those backroad rambles and woodland wanders, they also provide a striking backdrop of hues for distant vistas too, the green shoots and bursting buds a welcome reminder that spring has once again returned with a vengeance.

SPRING IN THE AIR: the view near Coleshill PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

There may still be a chill in the morning air, but the morning dog walk is no longer a battle against the elements, and now there’s something new and exciting to discover at every turn in the path.

INTO THE WOODS: an early morning walk PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

For the earliest risers there are sneaky glimpses of the natural world preparing to meet the day…deer browsing in the woods or a fox returning proudly back to its den with its prey.

STRANGER DANGER: a muntjac senses an intruder PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

In April 2020 Melissa Harrison wrote movingly of the bittersweet emotions associated with witnessing spring at the height of lockdown, a theme echoed in her podcast of the same name.

COLOUR CONTRASTS: a peacock butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“For some, spring is making confinement feel worse,” she wrote. “But I find it immensely comforting to sense the seasons’ ancient rhythms, altered but as yet uininterrupted, pulsing slow beneath our human lives.

SWEET MELODY: linnets need seeds throughout the year PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“Onwards spring romps, as miraculous and dizzying as ever, whether humans are there to witness it or not.”

SNAPPY DRESSER: the colourful goldfinch PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Luckily, this year it is indeed possible to witness it again at close hand, not just in our own immediate corner of the woods, but with the freedom to travel a little further afield, even if our awareness of the pandemic dangers is as real as ever.

LITTLE BEAUTY: the holly blue butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Last year we could not stray far, and it helped to focus our minds on the beauty of the natural world that we so often take for granted.

LOCKDOWN LIMITS: the pandemic cast long shadows PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Once more offered the freedom to travel a little further in search of the natural wonders around us, it’s a time to appreciate the true wonder of that annual “miraculous” reawakening.

SPRING AWAKENING: the green-veined white butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

“There is a silent eloquence/In every wild bluebell,” wrote a 20-year-old Anne Bronte all those years ago – and from Ashridge to Cliveden, Hodgemoor woods to Watlington Hill, those vivid symbols of nature’s beauty that were so very precious 12 months ago remain as eloquent as ever, carpeting woodland floors across the Chilterns.

ELOQUENT SYMBOL: Chilterns bluebells PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for May, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

Finally, nature explodes into colour

AFTER those dull, muddy early weeks of the year, the world suddenly seems to explode into life in March.

Suddenly – and only after long grey days of eager anticipation – the natural world is alive with activity, with something new to spot every day.

CHILLY PROSPECT: wintry skies in Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

And with many families still finding their movements limited by lockdown restrictions, perhaps more of us than ever have been aware of those daily changes in the fortunes of our local flora and fauna, and have been watching them with fascination.

First it was the daffodils and primroses replacing the snowdrops and blackthorn hedges suddenly awash with abundant small white flowers.

EARLY PROMISE: a long-tailed tit at Dorney Wetlands PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But while the earliest hedgerow shrub to flower may herald the onset of spring, country folk warn of the so-called ‘Blackthorn Winter’, when the white blossoms can be matched in colour by frost-covered grass, icy temperatures and even late snow flurries.

EARLY RISER: a muntjac deer appears out of the mist PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Although depicted in fairy tales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen, blackthorn is given a rather magical reputational makeover by Dutch storyteller Els Baars, who suggests the “innocent” white flowers are the Lord’s way of telling the world that the blackthorn bush was not to blame for its twigs being used to make Christ’s crown of thorns.

And it’s far from being the only colour to catch the eye. Plumes of fragrant apple and cherry blossom appear all around too, a delight to bees and other pollinators before they start to shower to the ground like pink, white and red confetti.

SPECTACULAR SHOW: March blossoms in Willow Wood, Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Wonderful magnolia trees and glossy everygreen camellias and mahonias are fighting for attention in local gardens, while yellow gorse flowers have opened up across the heathland at Stoke Common and Black Park.

PRICKLY CUSTOMER: gorse flowers on Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

The air is thick with birdsong in morning and early evening, robins, blackbirds and wrens shouting about territory while the local wood pigeons strut and coo. There’s frogspawn aplenty in local ponds and nest-building is under way in earnest.

FRIENDLY FACE: a fluffy garden favourite PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Sometimes even the most familiar local residents are worth a much closer look. Living close to a river, we tend to take for granted the birds and animals we see every day: the squirrels, pigeons and the ducks who amiably wander through the garden or quack for food at the front door.

DRESSED TO IMPRESS: the distinctive green head of a drake PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But as Graham Parkinson’s remarkable portraits show, even the ubiquitous mallard is a remarkably handsome fellow, and while the female lacks such dramatic colours, she has a remarkable depth and subtlety to her plumage that is equally striking.

SAFETY FIRST: nesting female ducks blend into their surroundings PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

There’s an important advantage to not being so dramatically dressed, though – camouflage. Nesting alone means female ducks suffer a higher mortality rate than males, so it makes perfect sense to blend into the vegetation on their nesting areas.

UP FOR A FLUTTER: a peacock butterfly on the Thames Path PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Warmer days are encouraging the first butterflies out for a flutter, like the bright yellow brimstone, peacock, small tortoiseshell or red admiral.

Many beetles have been waking up after their winter hibernation too, most noticeably the bright red seven-spot ladybirds, glistening like little red jewels as they warm their bodies in the morning sunshine.

The warmer daytime temperatures also lure adders out of hibernation, but they can hard to spot, even when sitting motionless in the sun. 

ON THE MOVE: clouds scudding across the sky in Chesham PICTURE: Leigh Richardson

Early morning is the best time to see them while they’re still cold from the previous night and a little slower on the move – once warmed up they can wriggle with remarkable alacrity.

Those early mornings and sunny evenings are the best time for photography, as well as catching the sounds of woodland creatures stirring – the yaffle of a woodpecker, perhaps, or the agitated chittering of argumentative squirrels.

ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: on the Berkshire Loop of the Chiltern Way PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Country lanes are beginning to look a little more welcoming, with splashes of colour to offset the brown: the cowslips and coltsfoot, dandelions and winter aconites providing welcome dots of yellow against an increasingly green backcloth.

Although many think of wild flowers like dandelions as a nuisance, Brtiain’s wild flowers are increasingly being recognised as a valuable asset, with people rediscovering their ancient medicinal properties and old recipes being dusted off for salads, wines and health tonics.

OLD FAVOURITE: the common cowslip PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Spring lambs are gambolling in the fields and local farms are a hive of activity too, with chicks hatching, vegetables to plant and spring cleaning to organise as the earth begins to warm – even if there are still plenty of frosty mornings and chill clear nights to freeze the bones.

MOTHER’S DAY: sheep at Great Missenden PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Whichever aspect of spring gives you most enjoyment – those insects emerging from hibernation, early blooms, noisy rooks or natterjacks, frosty morning walks or the antics of playful baby goats, squirrels and lambs, it’s an extraordinary time of year.

As Melissa Harrison says in her nature diary The Stubborn Light of Things: “It’s the oldest story: the earth coming back to life after its long winter sleep. Yet spring always feels like a miracle when at last it arrives.”

MORNING CALL: a barn owl hunting at dawn PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for April, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk on email or via our Facebook group page.

After the chill, a first hint of spring

FLOODS, snow and sub-zero temperatures all helped to make February a month of contrasts in the Chilterns, but a welcome flurry of warmer days finally helped to herald the first true signs of spring.

HAZY DAYS: the view from West Wycombe Hill PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

With the country still in lockdown and wintry walks the only escape for many, footpaths that were not totally submerged soon became muddy quagmires.

BRIGHTER OUTLOOK: West Wycombe wakes up PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

But with tree branches bare and vegetation withered, it’s a good time of year to pick out birds as the dawn chorus begins to pick up volume – and equally good for that infuriating task of litter picking before the foliage really begins its resurgence.

MORNING CALL: birdsong is becoming gradually louder PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

As the first flowers poke through the soil crust, weekend wanderers are on the lookout for snowdrop displays and on crisper mornings there are some spectacular sunrises to capture, perhaps made all the more dramatic thanks to sand storms in the Sahara.

SKY HIGH: stunning cloud patterns outside Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Photographers across the Chilterns were up with the lark, the woods echoing to the rat-a-tat of wookpeckers and whistling of red kites, the mornings getting brighter after Candlemas Day and the dull greys and browns of winter beginning to be offset with hazel catkins twitching like lambs’ tails, and even the odd crocus or daffodil.

ON THE LOOKOUT: a kestrel hunts for food PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Ducks and wildfowl may have been enjoying the wet weather but as the big freeze arrived, the number of birds on the feeders dramatically increased and hungry badgers and foxes also got a little braver in their search for an easy snack.

WATERLOGGED: dusk falls on Stoke Common PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Over on the heathland at Stoke Common, the gorse has begun to provide a profuse and colourful backdrop of yellow flowers (recalling those glorious foraging recipes of Rachel Lambert), but elsewhere colours are still muted, at least until the last few days of the month.