How do you attract swallows? They used to visit us, building their nests in the outbuildings, but for the past couple of years, we’ve missed the elegant swoops of these endearing migrants. We fear that our regular group were all wiped out in a storm on their long journey north, so there is no one left who knows the way.

Neighbours have reported their first arrivals, but we rely on other, less conventional, indicators of spring: the ponies start getting out. As we try to restrict their area of operation because of the increasing richness of the grass, they can’t resist the lusher pastures beyond. Like unobservant camp guards at Colditz, we are unaware of their plans, concocted overnight, until spying the tell-tale trail of hoofprints in the early morning dew across the lawn.

It’s not always obvious where they’ve broken out, but I refuse to believe a Shetland pony has learnt how to dig a tunnel. Last weekend, everyone was busy: the buzzard over the wood was finding good thermals (as was a hot-air balloon that cruised past), the ducks on the pond were making enough noise to wake the badgers, and enormous numbers of baby rabbits have appeared above ground, resulting in another of our tell-tales of spring: a Jack Russell returning at night with a suspiciously full belly.

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