The natural wonders of winter

Bare branches, winter scene

Winter is here! The deciduous tress have lost their colourful leaves. And most of the ground cover plants have died down. But winter should not be a time to feel that it's a time to stay indoors because the woods and heath will have nothing to offer. On the contrary, it's a magical time to explore a different side to the woods and the heathland.

From cold crisp mornings with frost creating an amazing effects on the gorse and heathers to chilly starlight evenings. The heaths provide the perfect platform for stargazing. The woods take on a whole new character, autumn hues fade making way for spectacular frosty landscapes. The trees are laid bare so the smooth elegance of the beech and the twisted deeply grooved trunks of the sweet chestnut are more apparent.
 The gorse continues to provide valuable cover for birds and nectar for insects, the hardy yellow gorse flowers throughout the year and look closely to see the many different spider webs, glistening with dew and occasionally frost in the early morning. In the sunshine the flowers give off a warm coconut smell.

Gorse and heather under a stormy winter sky
Gorse and heather under a stormy winter sky
Gorse and heather under a stormy winter sky


Despite the cold there is a remarkable amount of wildlife activity, watch out for  winter migrants such as redwing, fieldfares, brambling, woodcock and crossbills. In the woods there are plenty of chestnuts and acorns providing a valuable source of food.

Winter snack for a redwing
Redwing eating a red berry
Winter snack for a redwing

In the woods lively mixed flocks of smaller birds such as long-tailed tits, siskins, blue tits, chaffinches, great tits and goldfinches can be seen in mixed flocks.

Goldfinch searching for food
Goldfinch searching for food
Goldfinch searching for food

Watch out for a flash of red, black and white as lesser-spotted woodpeckers fly about the woods.

On the heath a streak of green, as a green woodpecker flaps and glides above the brown winter heather. High in the skies great flocks of pink-footed geese pass noisily overhead looking for arable fields to feed upon.

High in the skies great flocks of pink-footed geese pass noisily overhead looking for arable fields to feed upon.

Look out skeins of pink-footed geese flying over
A skein of Pink - footed geese
Look out skeins of pink-footed geese flying over

In late winter frogs and toads will be in evidence around the ponds. Grey squirrels will be active on sunny days seeking out their nut and acorn caches. 

Particularly if we have a mild winter, look around in December for great stitchwort, red and white dead nettle, yarrow and ground ivy with flowers. In late winter, there will be snowdrops, celandines hazel catkins, again a mild winter will result in early sightings.