This February the RSPB is encouraging everyone in Somerset to let nature be their Valentine – because by taking some time to reconnect with nature, you can help your physical and mental wellbeing and show yourself some much-needed love.

Great British Life: Glastonbury Tor overlooking reedbed and wetlands, RSPB Ham Wall Nature Reserve. Glastonbury Tor overlooking reedbed and wetlands, RSPB Ham Wall Nature Reserve. (Image: Colin Wilkinson)

A walk hand-in-hand

Winter’s cold can make us want to hibernate under a blanket with our favourite boxset or a good book. But February brings the promise of spring and beckons us to shed some layers and explore local greenspaces.

Where better to explore than one of Somerset’s finest nature reserves, RSPB Ham Wall near Glastonbury. Despite the chilly weather the reserve is alive with the calls of numerous wintering ducks such as Wigeon and Teal.

These are accompanied by the more familiar Mallard and Gadwall, along with Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck and the odd Pintail. Large groups of Lapwing add to the noise and action and perhaps you may see the wonderful Glossy Ibis – a frequent winter visitor.

Other winter visitors such as Fieldfare and Redwing are moving through the local area in the desperate search for food, while Siskins and Redpolls scour the tree lines in small flocks.

Although it feels like we are very much in the grip of winter, there are plenty of signs that spring is just around the corner with sunny spells bringing the first real bursts of bird song for the season.

Love is very much in the air already for some species. Great Crested Grebes can be spotted performing their elaborate courtship displays, mimicking each other’s head movements with a series of bobs and sways. You may even be lucky enough to witness “the weed dance” where both birds rise high in the water to present vegetation to each other as a gift to reinforce their pair bonds.

Elsewhere, Grey Herons can be seen carrying sticks and other vegetation to build their nesting platforms within the reedbeds. The very elegant Great White Egrets won’t be far behind.

Then comes the unmistakeable call of the male Bittern – the UK’s loudest bird. Known as a ‘boom’, the sound can travel up to 5km. It’s his way of attracting a female and it sounds like someone blowing over the top of a large milk bottle. Though there are only a few hundred Bitterns in the country, these secretive birds can be seen – and heard – in spring. Once heard, never forgotten.

Formerly a peat extraction site, RSPB Ham Wall was designed and built to become a brilliant home for these booming birds. In 1997 Bittern numbers in the UK had reached a low of only 11 booming males. Through dedicated research and conservation work by the RSPB, partners, and volunteers, by 2017, Bittern numbers across the whole of the Avalon Marshes reached 42 booming males. The RSPB Ham Wall bitterns are now spreading out and helping to populate other Bittern friendly reedbeds around the UK. It seems we’ve created a booming bittern factory in the heart of Somerset.

Marsh Harriers are also courting and beginning to pair off in readiness of a new breeding season – their sky dancing rituals are a sight to behold.

Find out more about RSPB Ham Wall at:

Great British Life: Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus, adult pair undertaking courtship display Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus, adult pair undertaking courtship display (Image: Ben Andrew)

Sweet serenade

Since medieval times, folklore has suggested that Valentine’s Day is the date when birds start to sing and attract a mate. By the end of February, the volume is amplified in the bird world as they start to defend their territories and pair up. Listening to birdsong can be incredibly uplifting, it can cut through the noise in our heads and ground us in a special connection with nature. It’s a chance to pause, take a deep breath, and savour a moment just for you.

Listen out in your neighbourhood for:

• Robin - gurgles and trickles, with a watery feel

• Great tit – sounds like ‘teacher teacher teacher’, see-sawing between two notes of the same pitch

• Chaffinch - ten notes dropping down the scale and finishing with a theatrical flourish

• Song thrush – Loud and confident, with a ‘repeat and move on’ structure that is so different from any other common bird

Because the trees are bare at this time of year it’s easier to identify the different songsters, so it’s a great opportunity to start learning birdsong. he RSPB have bird A-Z guides, books and CD's available online

Great British Life: Redwing Turdus iliacus are winter visitors to Ham Wall as they search for food this winter. Redwing Turdus iliacus are winter visitors to Ham Wall as they search for food this winter. (Image: Ben Andrew)

A cosy home for two

After nature has put all this effort into wooing you – long walks, live music, even flowers, show some green love in return and make a little space for nature in your heart and home by installing a nestbox.

National Nestbox Week runs from 14-21 February and it’s a fantastic way to help your garden birds as they gear up for a busy breeding season in March. You don’t need a lot of outdoor space, just the right positioning and clear flight paths to the nestbox.

Happy Valentine’s Day from the team at RSPB Somerset. We hope this is the start of a beautiful relationship between yourself and nature, which lasts a lifetime, and we’ll see you on our Somerset nature reserves soon.