Review of 2020 – The Wood

When we bought a piece of woodland at the beginning of 2019, we had no idea that we would soon have reason to be so grateful for the safe refuge and calming surroundings that it provides. 2020 has been horrible, disrupted, stressful and a whole string of other adjectives which I won’t list but all of which mean that it’s been awful. Having the wood has helped tremendously. There was a time in the spring when we couldn’t visit for many weeks but nature carried on regardless and we joined back in when we could.

In January 2020, we bought an adjoining additional 4.5 acres of woodland, meaning that our wood is now 11 acres. It is surrounded by more woodland and a farm that has recently been taken out of agriculture and is now being managed for wildlife. So, happily, it is set within a landscape where nature is being allowed to flourish over quite a large area.

During January and February we were busy with coppicing work but bits of our bodies were complaining forcefully about what hard work it was. This was resolved by the purchase of a battery-powered chain saw which made a big difference.

We felt we needed some sort of shelter from the elements and so started to make a wooden enclosure with the cut wood although this was as far as we got before being overtaken by events:

Winter, when the soil is nice and soft, is a time when Worms and other soil Invertebrates are a vital food source for many things:

At this time, we also became aware that nearly every one of our large raptor boxes in the wood was filled with nesting Squirrels:

On 23rd of March, before we decided what to do about the Squirrels and before we had had a chance to finish that winter’s coppicing, we had to stop visiting the wood for several weeks. During this time, the feeders ran out of seed and the ponds dried up and we just had to hope that the animals that had been visiting them were managing alright without them.

When we started returning at the end of April, the feeders were immediately refilled but they remained there, unvisited, for a quite a long time. These feeders, that had previously been so popular with swarms of small birds now hung there like ghost ships, seemingly giving me the stark message that I had let our wildlife down. It has taken a while but now, nearing the end of December, they are again as popular as they ever were.

It was late April, and a most glorious time of the year to have returned in the wood. We realised that Green Woodpeckers were nesting in the same hole that Great Spotted Woodpeckers had used last year:

This photo, from the end of July, is of successfully-fledged juveniles of both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers using the pond together:

There were at least three Badger cubs this year and here they are playing together:

And two of the adults taking a drink:

The heat and drought of the summer drew in some wonderful animals to the ponds:

The Polecat-Ferret Hybrids and the Red Deer were a complete surprise to us. We have continued to see the Deer on the cameras occasionally throughout the year. There was also this young male:

And this one with a fork in his antlers:

As the spring and summer progressed, young birds of many species started appearing on the cameras. Every one of the twelve small nest boxes had Blue Tit or Great Tit nests in them, producing a large number of fledglings. We have put an additional six boxes up in the new part of the wood this autumn.

In June, we were horrified to see the damage that Grey Squirrels were doing to the Beech trees in the new part of the wood. So many had been newly attacked and some were completely ringed like the one below. The water and food carrying tissues of the tree are just below the bark and will have been removed along with the bark, meaning that this beautiful tree will now die. We really regretted not having ejected those Squirrels from the raptor boxes earlier in the year – we were making life easy for them.

One area of Nettles had a lot of these Peacock Butterfly caterpillars on them in July. Peacock caterpillars are always quoted as the classic things that eat Nettles and so we were pleased to catch them at it:

At the end of August, many of the Oaks in the new section of the wood had these strange-looking Knopper Galls distorting their acorns:

As the year rolled into autumn, winter migrants started arriving at the wood. Woodcock rest up in the vegetation by day, waiting for the dark before they go out probing for soil Invertebrates in the soft ground:

A leucistic Blackbird with white head feathers:

The coppicing season has now started again. The Hazel stools that we had cut back at the beginning of the year are now growing strongly from the stumps:

This winter we have allocated ourselves a new area to cut:

And we finally got round to finishing the wooden enclosure that had been abandoned earlier in the year:

As we cleared out the nest boxes in October, the wood had one more surprise in store for us – a Dormouse had made a nest in one of the boxes:

Dormice are heavily protected by law and a licence is needed to disturb them in any way. Back in 2019, an ecologist who is a specialist in Dormice came to look at our wood to assess it for its Dormouse potential. Having found that we do indeed have them, she has now suggested that our wood and a neighbouring wood with like-minded owners – 20 acres in all – become a Dormouse Monitoring Site. This will involve getting 50 nest boxes up before the Dormice come out of hibernation in the spring and these boxes will then be checked every month by the licensed ecologist. Meanwhile, our woodland neighbour and I will start to work towards becoming licensed so that eventually we can check the boxes ourselves.

That is something to look forward to in 2021. What next year is going to look like and what will be possible is still uncertain but we shall have to keep our fingers crossed and do the best we can in the circumstances that present themselves.

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