I am so pleased to see the return of spring. The lighter mornings mean that I can now check on my stock before I go to work. Many commoners keep their ponies on their holdings during the bleaker months and these are now being returned to the Forest to join those that have over-wintered there. You’ll notice the difference between the two. The ponies that have been left to wander are now living on their bodily reserves, whilst their farm-kept counterparts look much better fed. The spring grass is on its way and it won’t be long before all the ponies will be looking sleek and healthy. There also seems to be more wildlife about too. I recently surprised a large herd of fallow deer that were grazing in the dawn mist. There was a pure white doe in their number and it made the whole scene rather ethereal. There is now plenty of birdsong in the morning, which is a wonderful musical accompaniment as I search the heaths and woods for my mares. I particularly like the trilling song of the skylark as it performs its overhead aerial display. For me this is a sound that is associated with spring, early summer and many happy days spent in the countryside. I also hear the peewit calls of some nesting lapwings, which is a sound I firmly associate with the New Forest. The early mornings have an amazing atmosphere and a pictorial texture that is lost to late risers. The dawn mists weave through the floors of the valleys like silver thread, whilst the radiance of the morning light make their peaks appear gradually lighter the further they are in the distance.
With the spring comes warmer weather. The snowdrops are virtually finished and the celandines, crocuses, primroses and daffodils are now taking precedence in gardens and hedgerows. As the temperatures increase hibernating insects begin to appear. Look out for red admiral and peacock butterflies, bumblebees, moths, and ladybirds on sunnier days. The increase in water temperature of the many Forest ponds will also mean that amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts will become active. Frogspawn on the water’s surface is a tell tale sign of amphibian activity. Reptiles will also emerge as spring establishes itself. All six species of British reptile can be found on the New Forest and already there have already been sightings of one of the New Forest’s more elusive residents and Britain’s only venomous snake – the adder, which likes to bask in the spring sunshine. Groups of wild ponies can also be seen sunning themselves on the heathland and pastures. After the cold, dark winter months they often lie on their sides, stretched out to soak up the suns rays. In fact many visitors report sightings of ‘dead’ ponies on the heaths when in fact they are just sunbathing.
During the warmer spring days it is possible to feel a damp heat rising from the heathland and bringing with it an earthy, peat-like fragrance. The areas of heathland that have been blackened by controlled burning during the winter months will often have a scent of charcoal in the warm spring air. But one of the best scents of spring has to be the perfume of the gorse. It’s yellow flowers fill the air with a coconut-like scent. No wonder that commoners would often use it to make a tea, cordial or wine. This is a magical time of year to experience the Forest, whether by the sights of the morning mists, the sounds of birdsong or the smell of the earth, and to awaken your senses as nature herself awakes from her long winter slumber.