You know the good weather has arrived when the cattle are let out of the barns and back into the fields. After calving, the mothers will be out grazing with their young calves. Initially, they will be in the fields near the old dairy, but gradually the herd will begin to move from one small area to the next following the practice of mob grazing. Once they have worked their way around the fields near East Hall, they will cross over to the fields around St. Paul’s Walden Bury and Stagenhoe. Each day they will be moved on to new grass, and after they have finished in a field, it will be allowed to rest and grow for a few weeks until they return. This practice is good for the cattle, and the grassland. We are now part of a research project lead by ADAS seeking to quantify the benefits of mob grazing. Some of our fields will be divided into two, mob grazed on one side, and set stocked (ie a smaller number of animals, who remain in that field for a longer period) on the other, to compare the impact of the different grazing practices on soil biodiversity (earthworms and other soil biota). You will also see smaller groups of cows in other fields: the bulls are kept apart until needed, and the young heifers (teenage girls) are kept separate until they are old enough to mix with the bulls. Please remember to keep to footpaths and public rights of way, and to keep dogs on leads near stock.

If you are walking around the local footpaths, you may also notice that we are resowing a number of field margins and corners with specific plans and wild flowers which have been chosen to support bees, butterflies, farmland birds and small mammals.

When the first lockdown started last year, many people started noticing nature more, especially bird calls. May is the height of the bird mating season and birds sing to defend their territories and attract a mate. Many birds can be heard in gardens or on your walks around Whitwell.

The earliest birds to sing for a mate are Robin, Song Thrush, Dunnock and Great Tit who often start singing as early as late February/March.  The louder and stronger the song the more interested the female bird is.  She wants a partner who is in their prime to help raise her brood.  Those lonely songsters late in the season are probably the remaining bachelors.

Tawny Owls can call even earlier establishing territories and attracting mates. The male’s huhuhooo.. is responded to by the female’s kewik and this is happening in late autumn/winter as they are early breeders. Barn Owls on the other hand are more subtle with a long drawn out grainy, hissing screech when attracting a female.

Some birds sing their name like Chiff Chaff and Cuckoo. The Yellowhammer sings a lilting ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ emphasising the no cheese at the end. One of our smallest birds the Wren has one of the shrillest calls for such a tiny bird with long trills and peeps delivered at high speed.

It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between two birds that appear to be singing the same song like the Blackcap and the Garden Warbler.  The Blackcap arrives first so you will hear his song in late March/ early April but when the Garden Warbler arrives in mid to late April it is very tricky to tell the difference from then on.

Why not get up early for World Dawn Chorus day which this year is Sunday May 3rd, the peak of the chorus is half an hour before and half an hour after sunrise? If you can’t get up early enough for the dawn chorus the singing at dusk can be equally impressive.

Julie Wise and Frances Harris