Nature Notes - March
The month of new life, names after Mars the Roman god of War. In Welsh, Mawrth; in Gaelic, Mart or Earrach Geamraidh, the winter spring and in Anglo Saxon, Hrethamonath, the month of the Goddess Hretha. If from fleas you would be free, on March the 1st let doors and windows closed be! Traditionally the month for hares, the most mysterious and sacred of British animals, when they may be seen “boxing” (usually a female seeing off an amorous male). There are many legends centred around hares including the idea that hares acting strangely are often shape-shifting witches! Twilight is the best time to see them and I have seen them around Croxley. Hares have the ability to remain very still, in fact, some countryman say that if you are unsure as to whether the brown shape in the middle of a field is a large stone or a hare the easiest way to tell is to watch and see if it moves. If it does, it is a stone! Towards the end of the month is a good time to spot the first badger cubs as they appear from underground. As many of us know, there are quite a few badgers around the area and perhaps someone will be fortunate enough to see the cubs. If so, please let us know. Birds are singing and nest building has been going on for a while now, although some have undoubtedly started early. I have seen fieldfares, a green woodpecker and jays in the Cherry Orchard along with blue, great and long tailed tit. The egret is down on the Chess and I was delighted to see a lapwing (or green plover or peewit) in the field leading to the Chess. However, it was with mixed feeling as when I first came to Croxley it was not unusual to see flocks of 50 and upwards in this area. However, the beautiful lapwing has suffered badly over the last twenty years or so and is becoming a rare sight in this area (and indeed, elsewhere). We have had fog over the last couple of days and weather lore states that there are as many mists in March as there are frosts in May. It is often claimed that Spring officially starts on the 21st of March but then some say that Spring does not start until you can put your foot on 12 daisies! In the hedgerows the May blossom clearly feel that it is now March blossom but it is a beautiful sight. There is much folklore connected with the hawthorn and interference with it is indeed reckless. I hope our Parish Rangers are suitably protected. Foraging becomes a little more profitable this month with back mustard leaves, common chickweed, common sorrel, fennel, wild garlic and pignut. Not a nut but actually a tuber it takes some finding. Raw it tastes rather like a hazelnut whilst cooked, it is similar to sweet chestnut. Culpeper tells us that it is a plant of Venus that “provokes lust exceedingly and stir up those sports she is mistress of.” Be warned (or advised). Some think that it is the pig nut referred to in the rhyme “Here we go gathering nuts in May”. The fresh tips of nettles are now appearing and can be eaten raw or cooked by sweating in a tiny amount of water and served with butter and black pepper. May I remind you NEVER to eat anything that you have not positively identified and never forget that one of the most deadly of plants, hemlock water-dropwart is abundant. If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb but, if it comes in like a lamb then it goes out like a lion!