Wherever you live in Britain, there are very few places where you’re more than a short distance from a good woodland walk and whatever kind of trees make up your local forest – conifers, broad-leafed trees or a mixture of the two – there’s likely to be plenty to see on it. Getting the most out of any woodland walk really comes down to knowing what to look for and when and where to look; the rest is simply a case of enjoying all that fresh air!
The Changing Seasons
The seasons are probably the biggest single influence on what you’re likely to see on a woodland walk – and it’s not just about the new leaves of spring or the turning colours of autumn. The ground vegetation changes over the year too, for example, with different wildflowers appearing as spring slips into summer while animal behaviour also adapts to the changing seasons and the lengthening or shortening daylight. Woodland birds that you’ll see busily collecting nesting material early in the year will often seem bolder still as the demands of their hungry summer brood force them to forage for more and more food to feed them. If you have spotted their nests in spring, you’ll be able to watch them later – taking care not to disturb them, of course.
As summer moves on, the young of many of our native mammals begin to put in an appearance too; deer fawns, fox cubs, young badgers and little rabbits can all be seen at this time, if you’re lucky and you don’t make too much noise. If all that sneaking around in silence isn’t quite what your youngsters have in mind, there are plenty of interesting things to see elsewhere too as autumn begins. Try a little fungus spotting, as the autumn woodland begins to sprout all kinds of colourful and dramatic mushrooms and toadstools. It can be great fun trying to identify the amazing shapes and patterns with the help of a good guide book – though picking them to eat is obviously rather ill-advised unless you really know what you’re doing!
A Good Guide
The value of good guide books isn’t restricted to fungi. They can be a big help generally when it comes to getting the best out of your woodland walks and they’re a great way to get kids confident at recognising the commoner trees, flowers and creatures that they’re likely to encounter. It’s worth considering getting one on tracks and trails too. Most of our larger native animals are fairly shy, which makes them quite hard to watch directly, but you can often spot the signs that they leave behind, if you know what to look out for, so at least you’ll know they’re there, even if you don’t actually spot them. Once you get your eye in, between footprints, animal pathways and feeding signs, you’ll soon start building a picture of what’s been roaming the woodland before you.
Smaller creatures are much easier to find, especially if you know where to look. If you get into the habit of turning over any likely-looking fallen logs or stones as you pass, or gently raking through the top inch or so of leaf-litter, you’ll often be rewarded with an interesting find. All manner of small animals – from beetles and slugs to newts and toads – can be found in this way, but do be sure to put their home back carefully, once you’ve had a chance to say hello, and handling these delicate creatures should obviously be kept to a minimum.
Whatever your own particular interest – plant or animal, large or small – there’s bound to be something to enjoy on a woodland walk, if you know when and where to look. Perhaps the best tip for getting the most out of a woodland walk, however, is simply to take your time and just enjoy the whole experience.