Dartmoor Nature Tours

Discover Dartmoor's wildlife with a professional local guide  


March 2017 (updated on Tuesday 2nd March)

March was called Martius by The Romans after the god of war, and Hyld Monath (loud or stormy month) by the Saxons . There is an old saying that if March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb but we never know what lies ahead!

In fact it was February that went out like a lion as storms battered the coasts and brought snow to the higher parts of Dartmoor. Rivers are running fairly full (see picture below, top left) and dippers will soon be making their nests in the holes and cavities of bridges and culverts.

One effect of the mild, wet weather has been the early appearance and abundance of spring flowers associated with moist conditions. Lesser Celandine (see picture below, top right) is abundant in hedgerows, woods and even gardens wherever there is plenty of moisture.

Winter Birdwatching Walk

Conditions were ideal for the last walk on Sunday morning, February 19th, and the bright sunlight meant that the birds were seen in glorious full colour. Yellowhammers were particularly active on the heathland of Yarner Wood with males in full song (Little bit of bread and no cheese ) and disputing right of access to a single female. In the woodland itself a Mistle Thrush was in full song and at the hide there excellent views of Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-Tailed Tits, Blue and Great Tits. The most striking however was a male Bullfinch in glorious crimson (see picture below, bottom left).

As March progresses and the weather warms up, more birds return to Dartmoor. Species such as wheatear, meadow pipit, skylark, stonechat and yellowhammer are found on the moorland and rough grazing land and the first chiffchaffs will start singing from the woodland edges.


Throughout history humans have used fire as a means of managing vegetation especially on heathland, moorland and similar open landscapes. Swaling is the local word used on Dartmoor to describe this type of management. The object of swaling is to maintain the open landscape and provide fresh grass for grazing animals.

Swaling on Dartmoor is normally carried out anytime between January and March whenever there are suitable conditions. In order for there to be a successful burn the vegetation must be dry and preferably dead or dormant. A light breeze is desirable in order to give the fire some draught but the wind should not be strong enough to allow the fire to get out of control. The current state of the ground means that unless there is a drastic change in the weather there is unlikely to be any swaling this year which creates a backlog for next year.

The aftermath of swaling can make the landscape very unattractive (see picture below, bottom right) but without it arsonists would have a field day and instead of smaller controlled fires of tens of hectares we end up with fires extending over hundreds and thousands of hectares. After swaling the ground vegetation soon recovers and the short vegetation created provides ideal nesting conditions for meadow pipits and skylarks.

Future Events - Spring Birds Walk

The next birdwatching walk will be on Sunday March 26th. The walk will start at 09.30 hours from the Trendlebere Down Lower Car Park when we hope to see the first arrival of Chiffchaffs and other returning migrants. Charge is £5.00 per adult

This is a walk of 2 miles and lasts for 3 hours. The objective will be to find as many different birds as possible!

Telephone (0785 8421 148) or e-mail me at enquiries@dartmoornaturetours.co.uk if you need more information about any of these events.