Country diary: Lake DistrictGuardian Unlimited | 10 Apr 2011
The Beaufort wind scale neared eight recently as a gale blew up briefly, without warning, across the Lake District. Umbrellas were blown inside out in Keswick, slates flew off a roof in Rydal and laden clothes-lines snapped in Grasmere. Over Great End, Skiddaw and Blencathra it hurtled, sending cat's-paws racing across the lakes of Bassenthwaite, Derwentwater, Windermere, Coniston Water and fjord-like Ullswater.
Why Britain's woodlands are so preciousGuardian Unlimited | 08 Apr 2011
Britain's woodlands are more than places of weekend refuge. Jeanette Winterson untangles the enduring appeal of the forest. A woodcutter had three sons. One could chop down an oak tree in a day. One could plank the timber in a week. The third was so small that he just gathered acorns. "And what is the use of that?" demanded his father. "You never know when you might need a forest," said the boy.
Country diary: South UistGuardian Unlimited | 07 Apr 2011
The first wheatears have returned to the islands, and chiffchaffs and willow warblers are beginning to pass through on their spring journeys. A bright and sunny morning seems the perfect time to look for the newly arrived travellers. A short car tour and a lengthy walk turn up not even a fleeting...
Country Diary: StrathnairnGuardian Unlimited | 06 Apr 2011
It seemed I needed more signs of spring as they are slow in showing this far north. So I climbed up through the birch and rowan woodland above the house and on to the main badger setts. The scene did not augur well as the gaunt, twisted, fallen and hanging branches of the birch trees seemed everywhere, forming a crazy pattern. No birds were calling, let alone singing, as I sat on a fallen tree overlooking the setts.
Country diary: St Dominic, Tamar ValleyGuardian Unlimited | 05 Apr 2011
Rain has darkened the earth of arable fields sown with barley and refreshed pastures occupied by ewes with lambs or suckler cows just turned out of winter quarters with their calves. Primroses deck the sides of lanes towards riverside quays and grow thickly on steep slopes untouched by agricultural...
Country diary: South-east SomersetGuardian Unlimited | 04 Apr 2011
The new community magazine in our village, Horsington, says that the mothers and toddlers group has had to close because of a local shortage of toddlers. But three miles away at the supermarket checkout, I still see plenty of young mothers struggling to keep several lively offspring at bay while manipulating a pushchair, shopping trolley and handbag without losing their car keys.
Country diary: NorthamptonshireGuardian Unlimited | 30 Mar 2011
Seaton Meadows are dominated by the 82 spans of the Welland viaduct. Stretching a kilometre across the broad, shallow valley, the 18-metre-high, smoky black brickwork is a colossal Victorian engineering statement that screams of steam engines. Once these wet meadows were just a typical flowery idyll, now they are one of the last patches of unimproved flood meadow left in the county.
Country diary: Wenlock EdgeGuardian Unlimited | 29 Mar 2011
Morning scattered a glitter of dew around white violets in a hedge bank. The flowers seemed even more vibrant for being imperfect. Just as a Zen potter might chip an otherwise perfect vase, so a slug had bitten through clear white petals of the violet, leaving holes. Natural beauty lies in the...
Country diary: Grasmere, Lake DistrictGuardian Unlimited | 27 Mar 2011
My son phoned to say he was climbing Helm Crag with two of his children, on a quest to see the Lion and the Lamb rocks. I left my computer desk and drove the three-some miles to Grasmere, hoping to surprise them by clambering some way up this famous fell, then as they descended popping out from behind a boulder. I had, however, forgotten that Helm Crag has steep ramparts. Consequently, I set off inadvisedly, minus trekking poles and in my shoes with Velcro straps and smooth soles.
Plantwatch: Welcome warmth brings spring blossomGuardian Unlimited | 23 Mar 2011
Spring is coming in fits and starts, but has been spurred on over the past few days with some glorious warm weather. The bright yellow coltsfoot bloom that looks like a dandelion is underway, and is all the more striking as it flowers before its leaves appear, which may be how it got its other name...
Country diary: Wenlock EdgeGuardian Unlimited | 23 Mar 2011
Strange omens, strange times. What happened to the moon, swapped for some fat baby in a veil? After dark, and rising from rolling ground between high trees and rooftops here, the full moon came closer than it had been to Earth for many years. But it seemed odd, unfamiliar: a huge face, white and...
Country diary: Mendip, SomersetGuardian Unlimited | 22 Mar 2011
On the cold day when we went up into the Mendip district, there were only faint hints of green in the trees, so that views that were soon to be blocked out by masses of foliage were still open. You could look across the brook that runs through Nunney, and see a view of the castle's great round...
Country diary: Claxton, NorfolkGuardian Unlimited | 21 Mar 2011
Despite the grey heavens and bitter northerlies there is something decorative, even festive about the way the catkins tremble in the alder trees on Ducan's Marsh. I must confess they don't really suggest the tails of spring lambs; in length they're more like those of small rats. Yet their inner...
Country diary: NorthumberlandGuardian Unlimited | 18 Mar 2011
Many wild birds that have been silent all winter are beginning to sing again. Blackbirds and thrushes will sing even when it is raining. The mistle thrush's song is louder than the more common song thrush, but it is a shy bird which usually nests in trees rather than bushes.The mistle thrush builds a comfortable nest of leaves, grass and moss where she will usually lay four eggs.
Country diary: Durham cityGuardian Unlimited | 17 Mar 2011
Ecologists, contemplating the future, sometimes talk of "no-analogue ecosystems", meaning combinations of plant species brought together by centuries of human interference and now subjected to a changing climate. It's an interesting concept, raising questions about how plant species that never met during millions of years of evolution will interact with each other and with animals that live among them as the world gets warmer.
Country diary: St Dominic, Tamar ValleyGuardian Unlimited | 16 Mar 2011
Sprigs of Burcombe, Fice, Upright, Birchenhayes and Smutts were all grafted on to special dwarfing rootstock two years ago. Now, after the wet and cold winter months, we have eased these cherries out of their pots and planted them into a small plot of land fenced against damage by sheep, rabbits, deer and squirrels. The brown earth has been enriched with compost, and posts have been driven into the stony ground and strung with wires.
Country diary: Staffordshire MoorlandsGuardian Unlimited | 15 Mar 2011
A soft breeze punctuated recent chill easterlies - March many weathers indeed! We aimed for the grassy crest of the Weaver Hills. Here is the last gasp of the southernmost Pennines that gives such a breathtaking viewpoint when conditions are clear. There are vistas out to the south, south-west and back into Peakland northwards.
Country diary: Lake DistrictGuardian Unlimited | 14 Mar 2011
How well the great groundsman in the sky has readied the fells for the year ahead, thanks to the deprivations of this long, cold winter. Tennis Court Wall may be a humble "pitch" in the maw of Moss Ghyll's cavernous cleft in Scafell Crag, but to rock climbers approaching its challenge, it is now pristine again.The "tramlines" of its sundry cracks and the "net" of its rough rock that so effectively bars the way, are now, I am told, scoured clean by the elements.
Country diary: Ruthven, HighlandsGuardian Unlimited | 10 Mar 2011
The plan was to look for wild goats on the moorland and scattered juniper woodland on the slopes adjoining the river Findhorn to see if the tribe of wild goats had any kids. The goats have their kids in late February or March so there was the possibility of seeing some despite the prolonged snow and ice of the past winter. The river looked in a sombre mood and seemed quieter than usual as if awaiting something to happen.
Country Diary: Wenlock EdgeGuardian Unlimited | 09 Mar 2011
It took a while for the sun to haul itself over the wooden wall of the Edge. When it did, light splashed through larch and ash, sliding across tree trunks and falling into tangles of dark, leafless brash. Sunlight also lifted the voices of lambs, buzzards, ravens and robins, bouncing off the...