As I stepped out along an urban street in the early evening yesterday, the clouds were clearing after hours of heavy rain, and the dusk was full of birds: goldfinches and great tits flitting and dipping from tree to tree; gulls passing overhead; and all along the road, blackbirds and robins, in high branches silhouetted against the sky, pouring out their music, so that the air was thick with song. I was on a simple errand to pick up some groceries after a day’s work, but I felt my heart lifting, and the advent of spring working its old magic on me. As George Orwell memorably argued in his 1946 essay, ‘Some Thoughts on the Common Toad’, ‘Life is frequently more worth living because of a Blackbird’s song’. This is all the more the case when that song is accompanied by longer days and the promise of new life all around us.
These are anxious times, of course, not only in light of concerns about climate change and species extinction, which the recent Australian bush fires brought home to us so urgently, but also in relation to the current global spread of COVID-19. It is in such difficult circumstances that the return of the light, and the resurgence of our flora and fauna as the winter reaches its end, become all the more important to us – as symbols of hope and regeneration, and as a source of the pure, elemental joy that they inspire in each of us.
On March 20th – the official first day of spring this year – the National Trust, in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Land Lines nature writing project at the University of Leeds, are inviting you to join an online community of nature lovers all over the UK. We would like you to submit a piece of nature writing – of no more than 150 words, in prose or poetry – that captures the first day of spring wherever you are, whether you live in a rural, urban, or suburban location. It could celebrate your first sighting this year of a brimstone butterfly, or wood anemones, or tadpoles wriggling in your garden pond. It could record the moment you notice that the horse chestnut trees in your local park are coming into leaf, or see dunnocks busying themselves in the hedges, or hear the curlew calling in one of the UK’s wilder places.
Your submissions will form part of a growing, living archive, recording the arrival of spring across the UK each year, and building on last year’s inaugural crowd-sourced spring nature diary. You’ll be contributing to a centuries-long tradition of nature diarists who have combined citizen science with creativity, to tell us about the natural world and what it means to them. We can’t wait to read your entries and share them.
Dr Pippa Marland is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow and Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded -funded ‘Tipping Points: Cultural Responses to Wilding and Land Sharing in the North of England’
You can follow Pippa, who is based at the University of Leeds on twitter, via @PippaMarland