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Eight signs of spring you may have never noticed

Spring is the season of hope and new life. We're sharing some lesser-known signs of spring so you can enjoy the changing seasons from anywhere.

Chiff Chaff courtesy of Jacob Spinks on Flickr

Our ecologists work hard to make sure our canals and rivers are home to a huge variety of flora and fauna. We've asked them for their favourite signs of spring and they've come back with all kinds of things you may never have noticed.


This is a strange plant with leaves shaped like a horse's foot. It produces flowers before its leaves come out. You're more likely to find it in the wetter edges along the canal towpath.

Coltsfoot courtesy of David J on Flickr

Whitlow grass

Take a look at this attractive plant, often found around lock brickwork. It looks like a miniature white carpet of flowers. It's common but easily over-looked.

Whitlow grass courtesy of Line Sabroe on Flickr


For most of the year these loners of the canals have a solitary existence, but come spring they join together to form breeding colonies in the crowns of tall trees close to water. Like many water birds they are early nesters, so early spring is a great opportunity to see them nest building and pair bonding before the leaves emerge on the trees and conceal the young as they fledge.

Heron stood in long grass with its mouth wide open.

Returning birds

Many birds returning from warmer climates are small with big voices, especially the warblers. Their songs are often beautiful and complex, and quite difficult to identify. However, one that is very distinctive is the chiff-chaff. Its name describes its song, 'chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff'.

Chiff Chaff courtesy of Jacob Spinks on Flickr

Blackthorn blossom

A 'blackthorn winter' describes when we get cold weather in spring, when the blackthorn is in bloom. Its pale blossoms are often matched by frost-whitened grass or snow-covered fields.

Blackthorn blossom courtesy of Richard Adams on flickr


Many trees along the canal sprout catkins in the spring. Take a local walk and see how many different types of catkin you can spot.

Catkins courtesy of Rob Mitchell on flickr


This plant has pink bottle-brush flowers that are later replaced by huge umbrella leaves. Each year we get plenty of enquiries about what these strange looking plants are.

Butterbur courtesy of Paul Albertella on flickr


Any warm sunny days through the spring may bring a variety of insects out from their winter hibernation. Look out for bumble bees and some of our larger butterflies, as red admirals and yellow brimstones can often be seen.

Bumblebee, Courtesy of Pieter Zeeman

Last Edited: 04 February 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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