Spring is sprung at last, and that seemingly endless winter is finally over. As we emerge into longer, brighter days our forests come to life, providing a feast for your senses.
The sights, sounds and smells of spring are signs of new life – but as you plan your visit what should you keep a special eye out for in the forest?
The forest is glorious at this time of year – a riot of colour spreads along with a blanket of native wildflowers; primrose, lesser celandine, wood anemone and bluebells.
In early spring the wood anemones can be absolutely stunning. They are among the earliest woodland wildflowers. In a good year they create a carpet of white stars across areas of the forest which look every bit as beautiful as the sea of bluebells that comes later. They really are cheerful – the flowers turn their heads to follow the sun!
Wood anemones are surprisingly slow to spread, as they do so through roots rather than the spread of its seed. As such, it is a good indicator of ancient woodlands. When we reach late spring, another ancient woodland indicator covers the floor - bluebells. The sweetly-scented flowers that droop off the stalks of bluebells are well worth walking off the main paths to find later in the season.
Tree buds remain dormant throughout winter, but the spring sunlight triggers the ‘budbreak’.
Buds contain a cell which is sensitive to light, so as the days get brighter and longer it detects when there is enough daylight for the leaves to survive.
The leaves which poke through contain a green pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll helps trees to absorb the energy of the sunlight - the tree is essentially 'charging' during the spring and summer months. Chlorophyll changes carbon dioxide (CO2) + water (H2O) into sugars which 'feed' the tree.
Bumblebees begin bumbling in spring. Keep an eye out for them as the queens emerge in March and April – on the search for nectar.
Butterflies are also out looking for pollen at this time of year – look out for painted ladies, red admirals and tortoiseshells.
Ponds fill with frogs, who mate and lay their frogspawn in the spring months. These jelly-like eggs are connected in clumps, and contain the beginnings of new life.
Whilst you’re taking it all in, look up to the canopy above you. The lighter days and warmer temperatures encourage birds to begin to sing. Cuckoos, chiff-chaffs, swallows and house-martins are tell-tale signs of spring.
Did you know that the soundtrack of the forest is an effective biodiversity monitoring tool?