Did you wrestle with the "Beast from the East" this week? My goodness me, it was like the return of a bad-tempered woolly mammoth from the Ice Age! I did think it particularly apt that the sub-zero temperatures, biting winds and snow coincided with the homecoming of Britain's team from the Winter Olympics. It was the perfect welcome for our athletes who are used to competing in such conditions, but the rest of us were caught unawares as we were all ready to leap into spring like March hares!
Despite the weather, the daffodils and crocuses are definitely blooming in our office with the arrival of the latest issue of Evergreen. Don't forget that even though the magazine isn't on sale in the shops until 7th March, subscribers always receive their copies early (click here for details). We can promise that the spring edition will banish the Beast back to the East, and bring you some seasonal sunshine, heart-warming memories and journeys of discovery across the British Isles.
Our "Countrycall" article in this issue focuses on the conservation projects that are taking place to protect and revive Britain's native red squirrel population, which has markedly declined mainly due to the introduction, in the 19th century, of the grey squirrel. However, in some parts of the country, including Lancashire, Scotland and Wales, you might be lucky enough to see the inspiration for Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin in the wild.
Wildlife is one of my passions and even though I live in the quiet suburbs of a city, I am lucky to be surrounded by many wide open spaces as well as being within easy reach of the Cotswold countryside. Coming much closer to home it is also fascinating to see the wildlife that flourishes in our own gardens. It is something of a joke in my family that, in the winter months, we provide the birds visiting our garden with a Michelin-starred feast of seeds, suet treats and mealworms! As they come to feed, I love noting the characteristics of our feathered friends ranging from the curious and friendly robins to the bossy, comical blackbirds, and the cautious, delicate wren. Although, thankfully, not visitors to our garden, there are the menacing magpies, which you can't miss because of their noisy, witch-like cackle as they gather in their treetop coven. I know they look magnificent with their iridescent plumage, but I can't forgive them for the way they prey upon smaller birds.
A wildlife story that caught my attention this week concerned water voles. Like red squirrels they have faced a decline in recent years. The mammal - immortalised so memorably by Kenneth Grahame as Ratty in "The Wind in the Willows" - is often mistaken for a rat, but it has much rounder, gentler features and smaller ears. The prevalence of the American mink has contributed to their demise although it seems that in some areas these delightful little creatures are still in residence and staging a revival. This is good news and something that I have witnessed because not far from my home, is a wonderful nature reserve and arboretum. On my regular walks there I love to observe the local wildlife. Recently, I have paused by the stream that meanders through the arboretum and, among the ducks, drakes and moorhens, I have spotted movement in the reeds lining the banks. Waiting a while longer, a water vole might peek over the bank and, if he (or she) is feeling adventurous, venture out in search of food. Sometimes, I have seen three of them swimming in the stream or busily scurrying about on the bank. To me, time spent like this, quietly watching wildlife is a precious moment of calm in our fraught and frantic world.