I work as a freelance photographer, wildlife tour guide and speaker. Normally at this time of year I’d be diving into my busiest period with tours and events scheduled on my calendar long in advance, travels to various countries booked and organised, and no sign of more than a few days at home in between until the end of July. This year was no different until in February the news of Coronavirus started to worsen, and in March it became apparent that my working year would be far from normal when the first of my tours for the season was cancelled.
To top things off, the day lockdown was introduced I managed to sprain my ankle in a clumsy moment. I decided there and then that I needed some positivity, and that I’d like to share that feeling with others. My best option would be to spend more time investigating my own garden and local patch with my macro lens and photographing what I found.
We are fortunate to live in rural Cambridgeshire being the last house in a small village surrounded by fields on 3 sides and with a plot of around quarter of an acre bounded mostly by thick Leylandii hedge. The first thing to draw my attention was the profusion of insects nectaring on the flowers of the Wood Spurge that grows rampant at the far end of the garden where it spills into the margin of the field beyond. I spent several evenings out here over the next couple of weeks as, when the sun dipped low in the sky these were some of the last flowers to benefit from its warmth and there was always plenty to see.
Whilst spending time watching the comings and goings of the invertebrate world out here, I noticed other things too: a Blue-tit scoping out one of several nest boxes in the garden; the first Painted Lady arriving from the continent (which would turn out to be the first record for the county this year); Hare droppings on a small mound in the shadow of our hedge.
By mid-April my ankle was sufficiently healed to walk further and so I took the ten minute stroll down to our nearest nature reserve, a Coronation meadow that feels like my own personal haven of tranquility. The meadow is unimproved ridge and furrow meaning that it was last ploughed in the middle ages and has never been treated with synthetic fertilisers.
This allows for the most wonderful diversity of wildflowers and here that is manifested with swathes of nodding yellow bonnets of Cowslips, upright but demure Green-winged Orchids, dainty Cuckoo Flower and carpets of the strange looking Adder’s Tongue fern. Spring warblers sing from the hedgerows and an Orange-tip butterfly flits between the flowers. There’s a small pond here too and as I pass, a Grass Snake slips almost silently into the water.
I wandered on to the woodland beyond, it is arguably one of Cambridgeshire’s finest Bluebell woods and I have arrived in the peak of the flowering period. The birdsong here seems louder and more soul-penetrating than I’ve ever known it and I suddenly realise that it is the only sound I can hear; no traffic, no planes, no people or dogs, no farm machinery… pure, unadulterated natural music. The Chiffchaff, for me the ultimate harbinger of Spring, its song synonymous with lengthening days, bursting buds and burgeoning warmth, is joined by Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Blackbird and Song Thrush.
The carpet of blue beneath the canopy was almost unbroken save the odd white star of Stitchwort and the sweet scent hangs heavy and honeyed in the still air. There are butterflies on the wing, blinking their flight through the dappled light; Green-veined White and Speckled Wood.
A few days later the House Martins returned to our eaves for the second time. They had been back briefly one warm evening, but left us again for a week or so to refuel after their long journey and reaffirm their pair bond before coming back to the nest for the summer. My heart soars with them as they hawk for insects over the garden.
The following week I returned to the woods. The deep purplish blue carpet has been replaced by a convincing starry sky underfoot, the Stitchwort is now in its element though the bluebells have faded. The tree canopy has thickened overhead too to give the feeling of having crept beneath a great green duvet.
Now that lockdown is easing, I have taken a single excursion further from home to another small nature reserve a couple of miles away. This is another habitat, a chalk fragment with ant hills and scrubby edges that borders the railway line. Here in the sunshine I find butterflies enjoying the blue Speedwell, golden Buttercups, and Yellow Rattle. Grizzled Skipper and Small Heath are joined by Common Blue and Green-veined White.
My garden has yielded other discoveries too, a micro moth that I’ve never seen before, dunnocks nesting in the hedge, a wren nesting in one of our bird boxes, solitary bees making their homes in a patch of cleared earth and wildflowers creeping into the lawn.
Lockdown has been a strange experience; there have been highs and lows, joys and disappointments for many of us, but there has been one constant to which I’ve turned - nature. I have always found that time outdoors, be it spent gardening, walking, photographing or just sitting and absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the world around me has been beneficial to my mental health, and never has that been more true.
Summer is on its way and while my freelance work may have all but disappeared for this year, despite the uncertainty I’ll be at home to enjoy it for the first time since we moved here. I can’t wait to see what other treasures await me.
Alice is a Nature, wildlife & landscape photographer. Tour leader for
Occasional writer & artist.