A cold north-westerly slices through bare trees of Weston Woods, and the sky is a slab of grey. But change is in the air. The light has a gathering confidence, even through the clouds; the piercing territorial call of a buzzard rings out; birdsong has thickened and brightened. We have entered that unsung season between winter and spring, the “prevernal”.
Another good omen: thousands of small green tongues have emerged from the damp soil. These leaves herald what will arrive here in a matter of weeks: the most extravagant display of wild garlic bloom I know of in this part of the world, an allium avalanche, where pearly white flowers swamp the wood in the hundreds of thousands. Walking through these drifts of pungent spring, snow stings the nose and startles the eyes.
On the outskirts of Otley’s Weston Estate, which I grew up next to, Weston Woods (or East Wood) is not a venerable “ancient” woodland, but it still hosts a richness of plant and animal life. Bats roost in giant beeches; tiny goldcrests nest in yews; a colony of rooks lives in the convoluted branches of a cluster of sycamores.
It does not always get treated well. Local kids tear around it on trail bikes and fly-tipping is a problem. In my adolescence, I once accompanied a friend here who was trying (unsuccessfully) to shoot rabbits. Maybe I thought of this as a slightly shabby place, but my perception changed as an adult. And as with many other local landscapes I thought I knew, my connection to this wood deepened during the first Covid lockdown; as the death count for that wave peaked, so did the outrageous beauty of the flowering ground flora.
Weston Woods was recently put up for sale, marketed as a potential timber plantation – but a coalition of local groups launched an outstanding fundraising campaign, collecting more than £140,000 for a successful community buyout. Donations are still needed, but I am grateful and encouraged. Once people establish a connection to nature, they will always do the right thing for it, as surely as winter gives way to spring.
• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary