Make the most of autumn at Witley and Milford Commons
The dryish sandy soil of Witley and Milford Commons makes it an ideal place to explore in autumn. Covering a wide area, you can easily get away from the crowds to recharge your batteries. There are marked routes to follow, or you can simply go where you fancy and enjoy the woods, grasslands and heathland areas. Here are some of our favourite ways to enjoy this special place this season.
Whether you wish to run, jog, power walk or simply slow down and stroll mindfully, the paths and tracks offer a variety of outdoor environments and views. Follow the pink trail markers to go round the Heathland Hike covering both commons and covers a full three miles, but feel free to take a short cut if you prefer. Pick up a leaflet at the information board in the car park.
Do a bit of foraging
Blackberries are the achitypical foraging fruit and can be found in some of the hedges and scrubland. Witley Common also has a lot of sweet chestnut trees - hunt on the ground for the small glossy nuts appearing out of the very spiky green cases. These are the nuts to roost at Christmas time, but they can also added to stuffings for meat, or the sprouts and parsnips. If you wish to be more adventurous then blitz them and to make flour for baking cakes and crumbles. There are also a lot of hazel trees here - but you will have to quick or lucky to beat the squirrels. Hazels can be eaten raw or taken home to roast.
Savour the reds, russets and golds of autumn. In the woods, you’ll see the oaks, beeches, sweet chestnuts, field maples and hazel trees all clothed in varying shades of yellow. Others, such as hawthorn and wild maple will be showing off their fiery red leaves. In many areas the bracken will turn varying shades of rich russet and copper. Don’t forget the berries either - hawthorn, guelder rose (look like glace cherries), elderberries and rowan berries.
Explore the trees
The woods on Witley Common are fantastic leafy playgrounds in their own right. Do some den building, but also get the family stuck into these activities:
- Climb a tree. Scramble up and see how far you can go!
- Collect fruits - nuts, acorns, berries. See how many you can collect and identify. Score extra points for the rare items - juniper berries, alder cones, wild cherry, yew berries. No matter how tasty they look, don’t eat unless you are sure they are safe. Some can cause an upset tummy.
- Measure the girth. Put your arms around the trunk and see how big it is. How many family members have to join in to reach all around? Which is the fattest tree in the wood?
- Hunt for bugs. Examine the bark and see what creepy-crawlies you can find. What sort of tree has the most in number?
- Bark rubbing. Take some paper and crayons. Hold the paper onto the bark and rub to reveal the pattern. Which tree makes the most interesting pattern?
Go on a fungi photographic safari
The woodlands across the commons are marvellous grounds for hunting fungi and lichens. Their shapes and colour make great images as they nestle into the surroundings. Sometimes it can be spotted going underneath trees, and other times you can spot it on the dead wood of a fallen tree. Many fungi types respond to rain, so when there’s been shower, grab your boots, your camera and a guide book and see what you can find. Search for these:
- Beard lichens. The wispy strands growing on tree bark are a sign of air purity and they provide cover for small bugs. Lichen are formed by the interaction of fungi and algae, and in the past were used as dyes for clothing. They can be found gracing the trees and shrubs, particularly on Milford Common.
- Colourful fungi can be found amongst the leaf litter or on decaying wood in the broadleaf woodland - oaks, beeches, ash. Look out for yellow chicken in the woods, white candle snuff fungus, scarlet elfcap, blood red beefsteak fungus and black lumps of King Alfred’s cakes, looking like pieces of coal.
- Conifer woodland. Hunt around to find shaggy parasol, the fascinating collared earthstar and the beautiful but poisonous fly agaric
Watch and listen for autumn birds
Many birds become more active at this time of year, and as the leaves fall, they’re easier to spot. As you stroll see what you can find:
- Buzzards. You can often hear the cat-like cries of buzzards far above you as they soar in the sky
- Kestrels. Easily identified as a small bird that hovers above the fields as it hunts for small mammals
- Jays. A fast flying bird, often seen as a bight flash with a hint of blue as it dashes through the trees collecting acorns for the winter
- Woodpeckers. The drumming of spotted woodpeckers in woods is unmistakeable. The chuckling ‘yaffle’ of a green woodpecker is also notable. They like to hunt for ants on grass, and will fly off when disturbed.
- Owls. as the light drops in the afternoon, you may catch some of the owls coming out to hunt. Look for the eerie whiteness of a barn owl, the chunky little owl or hear the haunting t’whit-t’woo of tawny owls.
- Winter visitors. As the season progresses and the temperature drops you may be lucky to see some of our regular winter visitors in the woods and open areas - bramblings, fieldfares and redwings. Look out for the dandy waxwings perching high chomping greedily on rowan berries or hawthorns