Very much like salt that enhances most things, Ewan has returned to us once again to share in the highs and the lows of the season. This will be his first time watching chicks being reared on camera at Garten. For choosing to keep returning through the quiet seasons, I think he deserves it! I will pass over to him for some much more eloquent words.

The chirping song of the chaffinch falls from sun-soaked branches. A continual popping sound, like the gentle crackle of a comforting fireplace, shades in the background of the soundscape, as ripening pines cones stretch to greet the quickening season, and burst open to release their contents. A single pine seed catches a shaft of sunlight as it spins lazily down toward the forest floor, in hope of finding a safe spot to germinate and grow nestled in a cushion of moss. By the loch shore, a mayfly emerges from the water to take flight in the brave new world that awaits it above.

Spring has returned to Abernethy, and amongst all the returning emergents and arrivals, there is one that we look forward to above all others. The return of the Nature Team to Loch Garten is a sure sign that spring is arriving. Like a wood ant nest that has lain silent and still through the cold, dark winter months, as the sun’s rays grow in strength the Nature Centre is transformed into a hub of activity as workers emerge from hibernation to begin preparing for the busy season ahead.

Returning for my third season at Loch Garten, I am aware of a growing sense of familiarity with the rhythms of this landscape. The song of the woods is deeply rich and complex, and full of variations, but as I learn to pick out more and more of the different voices in the choir, and come to recognise the rising and falling of the major themes and melodies, I become ever more appreciative of its richness.

I have been in these woods over the winter, too, spending my time since the last Loch Garten season working on the National Capercaillie Survey. It is been an incredible privilege, not just for the occasional fleeting glimpse of these impressive but often shy birds, but to spend so much time in their world, visiting some places where very few people ever go. The future of this species in Scotland remains in the balance, and the data I and my colleagues collected will provide an accurate update of their numbers and distribution, helping to guide and target interventions to safeguard their future through habitat protection and restoration.

In this sense, capercaillie are an umbrella species, dependent upon the whole woodland system operating together. The management interventions we are trialling at Abernethy, to restore habitat for capercaillie, will benefit countless other species, some even rarer than the capercaillie if less showy and well-known, in ways we may not even be able to imagine or understand. Every voice in the song of the woods is in harmony with all of the others, driven by ten thousand years of coexistence and coevolution.

The song is every living being in this place, the sum of their lives and deaths. The song is the way their voices intertwine and come together. To listen to it is to feel peace, humility, and joy. To listen closely is to be invited to join. My job is to share that with you all, as best I can. So come and join us. I look forward to sharing this place with you.