A Springtime Walk: Exploring our Natural Environment

Curator of Natural Sciences Rebecca Machin takes us on a walking tour to explore the delicate balance of springtime, in light of the “For All Seasons” exhibition at Leeds City Museum.

Working with dead things for much of my time, it’s particularly lovely to enjoy a walk in the spring sunshine. On Sunday I found myself alone for the day, and in warm sunshine, so I went for a walk in the woods and hills of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.

A colleague teases me that I live in a fairyland of lambs, flowers and bunnies, and today this was the case! Within ten minutes of setting off from home, I had seen rabbits nibbling grass in the meadows along Colden Clough, walked through a field of spring lambs and their wary mothers, and watched a jay gathering nesting material. I also saw male pheasants fighting with each other in the hope of mating with the local hen pheasant, and heard the haunting call of a curlew flying over the other side of the valley.

A rainbow display of spring flowers was also on show. I passed Green Alkanet (confusingly, this has blue flowers similar to Forget-me-nots), sunshine-like Celendines, and the white stars of Wood Anemone. Delicate Wood Sorrel was also flowering among moss and on the tree bark in the shadier areas, and swathes of the Wild Garlic, not yet flowering, were already lending their scent to the woods. Even the Bluebells were just starting to flower.

The previous weekend we saw frogs and toads mating in the mill ponds at Gibson Mill in Hardcastle Crags, the next valley along, as well as the bubbly frogspawn and shoelaces of toad spawn starting to gather. I love the way that spring can seem so sudden, the way flowers burst open and animals of so many types start singing, meeting, breeding, as if it was an unexpected surprise rather than the passing of the seasons that we see each year.

Somehow when the human world feels upside down, it reassures me to find that the flowers still bloom, the birds still make nests and the lambs still lickety-split around the fields.

I’m currently working on our nest collection, in preparation for next year’s Made in Nature exhibition at Leeds City Museum, celebrating some of the beautiful objects, music and light that animals create in the world. Here is one of my favourites: a tiny nest camouflaged beautifully with fragments of lichen.

A small brown ball covered in leaves - you can just see the inside, which looks soft and fluffy.
Small nest from the collection, camouflaged with Lichen.

Of course, a closer look at museum specimens and the data they hold about the past, and data from a myriad of other sources, tells us that while spring is still springing this year, we cannot assume it is inevitable. We change the environment around us in so many ways, whether through farming practices, patterns of consumption or energy use. A slight change in climate or pollution can be enough to upset the balance. The balance of spring time is so delicate. Birds need caterpillars to feed their chicks; frogs need healthy ponds to breed successfully; plants need healthy environments to grow. And we need spring nature to lift our spirits.

By Rebecca Machin, Natural Sciences Curator.

To find out more about the For All Seasons exhibition, click here.

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