Spring is here!

April 2, 2024

Panshanger Park is 1,000 acres of countryside situated between Welwyn Garden City and Hertford. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust is working with the park’s owners, Tarmac, to manage the park for both people and wildlife. 

The last few weeks have definitely started to feel a bit more like Spring, with longer daylight hours, trees starting to bud with leaves and birds heralding this season change with song. 

The transition from Winter into Spring seems one of the biggest changes between seasons, with the clocks going forward and lots of creatures also on the move. Some of them will only travel relatively small distances, but others can have monumental journeys across continents. 

By March, the majority of our Winter bird migrants will have quietly set off back to their Summer breeding grounds, to establish their territories and find a mate. This means that areas of Panshanger Park, such as the lakes, have become quieter, with many of the duck species heading back to Northern and Eastern Europe. 

However, as our Winter migrants leave, others are on their way to the UK to their own Summer breeding sites. Reed warblers, amongst other warbler species, are one such bird species. They tend to be found in lowland wetland areas, such as the dragonfly ponds at Panshanger Park. An unexpected challenge for these little birds is parasitism of their nests by cuckoos – also a Summer migrant to the UK. A cuckoo will often lay its eggs in a warbler’s nest, tricking them into raising their young. Both these species spend the Winter in Africa, as far South as below the Sahara Desert, and each year make the long journey up to the UK to breed.

The reed warbler usually visits in the UK in Summer. ©Tim Hill. 

In Panshanger, with the milder weather over the last week or so, bumblebees have been emerging and starting to look for a home to start their colony for this year. You may have seen the large queen bees investigating holes in the ground, tussocky grass and even bird boxes for this purpose. 

Also making their way through Panshanger now are the amphibians. Having spent the Winter nicely sheltered in the woods under a handy log pile or similar, they are now moving steadily towards the water to lay eggs and breed. With only little legs, the great crested newt can move a surprising distance on land if required to. Generally, they move more elegantly in water, but are known to have travelled 1.3km overland! However, for the smooth newt this would be on average under 400m.

Smooth newts leave the woods in springtime. ©Margaret Holland. 

When visiting Panshanger Park this month, why not spare a thought for all the busy creatures on their journeys this Spring. You might even see evidence of their journeys by spotting frogspawn in the ponds or perhaps hearing the vibrant sounds of one of our Summer visitors. 

Don’t forget to email in any photos of your journey through the park and what you see, to [email protected]. Follow our accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more on the park – just search for ‘PanshangerPark’ to find us. 

This is the last article from Jo Whitaker, former Panshanger Park people and wildlife officer. She worked for Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and her role was funded by Tarmac. She’s since left for pastures new, but we wish Jo all the best for the future.