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Journey into Spring (1957)


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The cycle of the seasons in the land around Selborne in Hampshire, home town of Gilbert White (1720-1793), country parson and naturalist. Two centuries on, the parish is still very much as he knew it, complete with the same flora and fauna.

In March, the living year begins. Coots, moorhens and dabchicks begin their breeding cycle, looking for mates and building nests. Frogs spawn in the rivers, and pussy-willows and catkins bloom. Grey wagtails, harvest mice, ants and hedgehogs take up residence for the year.

April is characterised by an abundance of nests: the skylark's, the coot's, the hedge-sparrow's, the long-tailed tit's, the rook's and the dabchick's. The latter's nest looks like driftwood, designed to fool predators. In the ponds, tadpoles hatch, and grey wagtails make their nest in the walled bank of the shallow stream.

May is when everything comes alive. Green grass and leaves change the dominant colour, and birds look after their now-hatched young. Bank voles search for green shoots and leaves. Oak trees blossom, as do blackthorns, hawthorns, crabapples, plums and white wild cherry. Slow-worms seek the sun. In a hedge-sparrow's nest, a cuckoo chick hatches and dominates its adopted 'siblings'. Sticklebacks flit through the stream, and moles burrow underground. Swallows arrive from Africa, and sand martens from Spain. Bees keep the cycle of nature turning. House martins fearlessly build nests under the eaves of cottages.

These sights have been common currency in Selborne for two centuries, but are also characteristic of the entire English countryside, for those who care to look for it.