The fallow deer rut takes place around October when the woods resound to the noise of bucks trying to attract mates. Deer come from all over the Estate to gather on the traditional rutting stands where the males stake out their display areas by ‘groaning’ and scent marking. After about a month when the action is over, they disperse again.
Muntjac deer are more solitary and are usually seen singly or in pairs. They originate from Asia and escaped from Woburn wildlife park. They are now widespread throughout the country.
Spring is also the best time of year to hear the abundant bird life as the birds go about the business of setting up territories and finding mates. In the woods listen out for the male great-spotted woodpeckers as they hammer away on resonant branches trying to attract a mate. There are good numbers of nuthatch, tree creepers and tawny owls as well as the smaller species such as goldcrest in the conifer plantations. If you are very lucky you may see a lesser-spotted woodpecker (which is not much bigger than a sparrow) or a firecrest.
The scrub habitats on the Ivinghoe hills are alive with bird life in the spring and summer. Many species of warbler and finch nest here, some returning each year all the way from Africa. You can find chiff chaff, willow warbler, blackcap, lesser whitethroat, linnet, bullfinch, yellowhammer, song thrush, and a whole lot more on a day’s birdwatching on the hills.
The hills are also a great place to see wild flowers: orchids, harebells, milkwort, horseshoe vetch, agrimony, salad burnet, and wild thyme to name just a few. These flowers support a rich variety of insect life, including many colourful butterflies. You can see green hairstreak, marbled white, small copper, dark green fritillary, small blue, and chalkhill blues in abundance.
Ivinghoe is one of the few places nationally where you can spot the Duke of Burgundy – one of the rarest butterflies of all.
There are also a good number of butterflies to be seen in the woods. You may be lucky and catch the spectacular courtship flight of the silver-washed fritillary whilst passing through a woodland clearing.
On a summer’s evening bats can be seen hunting over the meadow near the visitor centre. Bats roost in decaying trees and use a huge number of individual trees over a season, some for only a few nights and some for longer periods. The common and soprano pipistrelles, brown long-eared, noctule and Daubenton’s bats can all be found at Ashridge.
The extensive carpets of bluebells in the woods are one of the most spectacular sights at Ashridge, but there are plenty of other woodland flowers to search for in spring – look out for wild garlic, dog-violets, wood sorrel and lesser celandine.
There is no better time to visit the woods than during autumn when the trees are changing colour and there is a spectacular display of fungi – but we don’t recommend eating what you find unless you are an expert.