Winter signs to spot on your next woodland walk

Holly branch with spiky leaves and a cluster of red berries

Signs of winter in the forest

Wildlife to look out for this season

Winter in the forest is a magical time. Life slows down and, without the rustling of leaves in the wind, the forest falls quiet. Tune in and you’ll notice nature all around you. Experts even say spending time in forests can help with winter blues.

So, wrap up warm and discover these top signs of winter to spot on your next woodland walk.

Robin perched on top of the snow dusted forest floor

Did you know robins are known to follow wild boar and feed on the worms and bugs that they root out?

A splash of red

Winter berries hanging like baubles on bare branches bring colour to the most monochrome months. With less foliage on the trees, winter is a great time to spot birds bouncing between the branches of hawthorn and rowan in search of food.

Robins stand out with their red breasts, traditionally associated with the festive season. Their cheerful song can be heard all throughout the winter months, unlike many other birds.

Red squirrels can also be more easily seen as they are tempted by the tasty nuts in feeders. Kielder and Whinlatter are among the top forests in England to look out for red squirrels.

Woman walking on frosty forest path

Did you know not all conifers are evergreen? Larch trees turn golden in autumn and lose their needles in winter!

Winter greens

While deciduous trees lose their leaves and lie dormant, evergreens will keep theirs and continue to photosynthesise.

Most conifers have adapted to survive in colder weather and keep their leaves in winter. Their leaves or needles are small with a thick, waxy coating that makes them less likely to get damaged in frost. Pines even produce sap that acts like a natural antifreeze!

Although not a conifer, holly trees also keep their leaves too. It has been used for centuries to make garlands and wreaths to decorate homes during winter.

Winter at dusk, the sun is rising behind the silhouette of a tall tree which displays the intricate details of the branches.

Did you know warming winters may be confusing trees out of dormancy? Some buds have broken open as early as November.

Shapely silhouettes

Broadleaved trees become ghosts of the forest in winter, leaving their skeletons on show. Each species is built differently, with the silhouette of oak being round and stocky with low branches, and birch standing tall and slender with trailing branches.

Although deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter months, look closely at these bare branches and you’ll see next year’s leaves are ready and waiting to burst out in spring.

Looking at leaf buds is another great way to identify trees in winter. Ash twigs have sooty black buds, beech are long and pointed, and rowan are purple and hairy!

Fallow deer male with large antlers sat on the ground

Did you know the only mammals that hibernate in the winter are hedgehogs, dormice and bats?

Animal tracks

Winter months are an excellent time to get to know mammals in the forest. You may not meet an animal face to face, but you can read the tracks and signs they leave behind.

Prints in the mud or snow can show the journeys animals in the forest have shared alongside you. You can quickly learn the difference between foxes, badgers and deer.

Pick up a guide to British mammal tracks and remember to take a photo so you can identify it more easily when you get home.

Keep exploring

Bluebell woodlands
02 April 2024

When spring arrives and you're eager to get outside, there's nothing quite like stumbling upon a sea of bluebells under a canopy of fresh green. Fortunately, there are plenty of...

Eggs in a nest on the ground
24 February 2024

Spring brings bird nesting season, but not all birds make their nests in trees!

A mother and young daughter lean in to smell a bright purple rhododendron flower
19 February 2024

Whether you’re able to visit a local woodland, or you’re simply exploring from your doorstep, take note of our five fun outdoor activities for kids that celebrate spring in all it...

Young ash leaves bursting out of their buds
17 February 2024

Trees bursting into leaf is one of the wonderful signs of spring to enjoy, but how much do you know about the budburst?