Wildlife column: Spring flowers, a fresh new beginning

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Spring is announced by two things – firstly the bursting to life of buds, fresh green leaves, and vernal flowers, and secondly the glorious birdsong resonating throughout town and countryside.

In gardens, but especially in woods and hedgerows, the new season moves quickly and flowers like celandine, wood anemone, greater stitchwort, and wild primrose suddenly appear as if by magic in woodland edge and along verges. This commonplace, everyday contact with nature is very special and provides, even for urban people, connection with time and place. This helps us realise who we are and indeed, where we are, in the bigger scheme of things. This is one major reason why nature, from the countryside into the heartlands of the city, is so vital; something hard-wired into our very evolution. Cut the connection and so many positive things are lost.

The down-side is that the everyday and the commonplace are easily taken for granted and therefore often lost. We only notice their presence when they go – like some of the wonderful old oak trees that have been lost for all time along Sheffield’s highways. The 450- year old oak at Deepcar for example, was just one such example that connected its place to the medieval past and should, all things being equal, have made the forward connection to the future for at least another two to three hundred years. Its genetic make-up was different and distinctive from anything which might be re-planted as a so-called ‘replacement’, its unique timeline and lineage lost for ever.

Our last ‘native’ primrose site, at Holbrook in south-east Sheffield, was lost, deliberately bulldozed around fifteen years ago. Yet where reintroduced, the plant now spreads in many areas and unlike the 450-year old oak, can make a decent stab at replacing the loss.

Even here though, this is not like-for- like when reintroduced forms are from imported, European cultivars. Does this matter? Maybe not and we have to get used to our future being a hotchpotch of natives and non-natives and learn to enjoy them all. Nevertheless, we must look out for and nurture the commonplace for all our sakes.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and

broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues