JENNY STEEL   The Countryside in May




How to Create a Wildlife Friendly Garden - BBC Easy Gardening

Growing the 10 Best Plants for Wildlife in your Garden - BBC Gardens Illustrated

A Flavour of April in your Wildlife Friendly Garden - Country and Border Life

The Rural Craft of Hedgelaying in Dorset - The Countryman

Managing your Garden in October  - Country and Border Life

The Historic Welsh Gardens of Plas Tan y Bwlch - The Countryman

Looking after the Bees in your Garden - Daily Express

Making Wildlife Ponds the Easy Way - Daily Express

Wings over Mull - a Centre for Birds of Prey - The Countryman

A New Garden for Wildlife with Butterflies in Mind - Butterfly Conservation

The Extraordinary Wildlife Art of Ian and Richard Lewington - Limited Edition Magazine

'I went to Noke and Nobody Spoke' - Fascinating Otmoor - Limited Edition Magazine

Gardening on the Wild Side of Town - New Consumer Magazine

Peter Parks and the Great Rainforest Project - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in January - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in May - Limited Edition Magazine

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Contact Jenny to find out more about her freelance writing




May sees the start of a wonderful period in the countryside when plants are growing at a rapid pace and the roadsides and hedgerows are lush and green.  Bird activity is at a peak as young birds are exploring their surroundings or adults are tending to second broods.  Hedgehogs are courting and mating (often very noisily!) and spring butterflies such as orange tip, small tortoiseshell and peacock overlap with early summer species including common blue, small copper and green veined white at the end of the month.  All in all it is a time of great wildlife activity with plenty to see and do in the countryside. 

Gathering Nuts in May  May is one month about which there is a wealth of country lore, some of it quite perplexing.  ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May’, a very confusing saying, refers to the plant called pignut or earth nut, a species of white flowered umbellifer and a relation of the wild carrot.  It was a common practice to dig up the small tubers that formed beneath the plant, which when eaten raw tasted of unripe hazelnuts.  ‘Ne’er caste a clout ‘til May be out’ refers to may blossom (hawthorn) rather than the month of May. The advice of country folk in this saying was to make sure to keep your vest on (clout meaning a vest or undergarment) until the may blossom was on the hedgerows, usually sometime in April. This would indicate that the weather had really warmed up!

Cow Parsley and Bluebells  One wildflower that is very much in evidence this month is cow parsley or Queen Anne’s lace.  Its delicate ferny foliage can be seen along almost any roadside in the countryside in May, crowned with a froth of small white flowers with a slightly sickly scent.  Country lore tells us that this is a plant, along with many others, that brings bad luck – children were told that to pick it could bring about the death of their mother.  Indeed, Mother Die was a well known country name for cow parsley.  Bluebells will also be flowering this month.  We are famed the world over for our bluebell woods and a swathe of azure blue beneath hazel coppice or elegant beech trees is a sight not to be missed.  It is apparently our climate that produces such spectacular bluebell woods, which are of international importance.  Britain has 20 per cent of the world’s bluebells which are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.   If you do get a chance to walk through a woodland with these stunning flowers, keep strictly to footpaths to avoid any damage to the delicate bulbs.

Moth Night  This month we celebrate several special days with countryside connotations including May Day (May 1st), a festive holy day which originated with the ancient Celts and Saxons in pagan Europe to celebrate the first spring planting of crops.   Oak Apple Day on May 29th commemorates the return of Charles II to London in 1660.  And more recently a designated national day often occurs in May - National Moth Night.  All over the country, professional and amateur entomologists will be setting up light traps in gardens, meadows and woodland to attract these beautiful insects, often considered to be the poor relations of the more familiar butterflies.  Light traps can attract moths from some distance around.  They are harmless to the moths which shelter inside the trap until they can be identified and released the next day.  Some enthusiasts will sit up all night with their traps, expecting a haul of several hundred insects on a night with good weather conditions.  Species with descriptive names such as buff ermine, cream wave, heart and dart and blood vein may turn up.  The first of the huge hawk moths – lime hawkmoth and poplar hawkmoth – could also put in an appearance.  These insects are a fascinating and important part of our wildlife that go largely unnoticed.  They and their larvae provide food for many other creatures, including bats, hedgehogs and birds.  Try leaving an outside light on for a few hours in May.  You may be amazed at the beautiful insects that turn up.

Bugs in May  As the evenings get warmer other insects are also attracted to the lights around our dwellings, as well as to light traps for moths.  At this time of year the huge, aptly named maybug or cockchafer may crash against your lighted windows.  This large beetle spends three or four years underground as a large white larva, eating the roots of grasses.  A pet hate of gardeners, these larvae are relished by rooks and are sometimes known as rook worms.  The beetles themselves are shiny and brown and slightly alarming as their brisk buzzing flight makes them appear even larger than they actually are.  You may come across another species of cockchafer which is sometimes discovered sitting in flower blossoms.  The rose chafer is considerably smaller than its maybug cousin, and is often green or gold rather than brown.  Being considerably smaller, it is distinctly less frightening.

 © Copyright Jenny Steel 2017