Winter has been playing with us here on Exmoor; covering us in low cloud for much of the time, taunting us with the occasional burst of sunshine, freezing us with the odd icy night and then suddenly blanketing us in thick snow, but hope springs eternal.

Snowy Barsondown - by Paul Tillsley

The days are lengthening, and spring is on its way, but we are not in the clear yet, not by a long way. However, snowdrops have decided to break out regardless, daffodil buds are poised ready to explode into flower and the first rosettes of primrose leaves are beginning to emerge. Frogs are holding back, though; a few adult frogs are visiting the ponds on Baronsdown, but there is no sign of spawn, so perhaps they know something about the weather to come that we don’t.

Snowdrops at Barsondown taken by Paul Tillsley

Foxes are on the move on the sanctuaries; the occasional strategically positioned scat on top of a molehill, the musky whiff of urine on a tuft of grass and strings of footprints in the snow give their game away. The breeding season for foxes is in full swing and it won’t be long before cubs are born in one or two of the many earths on the sanctuaries.

Piles of soil at the entrance to their setts reveal that badgers are busy spring cleaning and covert cameras have shown adult badgers getting friendly, so there is a good chance they have cubs below ground already. We will be vaccinating badgers on our land again this year to help them overcome the double threat of Bovine TB and the pointless cull.

Keeping an eye on the League’s wildlife sanctuaries is always likely to bring surprises of one kind or another. Whilst cleaning out dormouse boxes in Brockhole Wood a startled pheasant burst out from the undergrowth beneath me, which is nothing unusual, but then a bemused looking roe deer stood up, bolt upright, clearly woken from its slumber. We had a few seconds of eye contact before the deer slipped quietly away into the bushes. While in Cove Down Plantation, a dead stock dove tumbled from the tree canopy above and landed at my feet. The injuries on the bird showed all the signs of being attacked by a bird of prey and so I left the dove where it lay. A strategically positioned camera revealed that moments after I had left a goshawk swooped down to retrieve its lunch.

The seasons are changing, and the weather is getting more erratic, but on the League’s wildlife sanctuaries the cycle of life goes on.