This weekend the woods came alive in several different ways. The first and most obvious sign of life arrived on Friday evening, in the form of 23 Scouts and 6 leaders, from Polesworth and Wigginton scout groups. Soon our little clearing was smothered in tents, and the sounds of very excited young voices in the distance could be heard, as they explored, pitched tents, got their evening meals and settled down for the night.
We took advantage of the lovely weather also to camp at the woods for a couple of nights. After a visit to the pub for our evening meal, the first evening yielded the first signs of bats this year on our bat detector – pipistrelles and noctule bats, but also an as yet unidentified bat. A cold night gave way to a beautiful early morning. Early morning at the woods is truly memorable, and the only way to see it is by camping there – arrival of a vehicle scatters the wildlife so you don’t really get to see what is there. Emerging from our slumbers, we saw a partridge walking across our internal road, and heard the sound of newly-arrived chiffchaffs, willow warblers, blackcaps and the skylarks in the adjacent fields. It was truly delightful.
Signs of spring were everywhere. Lesser celandine was in flower in one of our clearings. We were delighted to find that four colonies of snakeshead fritillary were coming into flower after several unsuccessful attempts to establish extra colonies in case the original one was compromised. Our cowslips are back after they failed to appear last year. We have a lovely patch of primroses. The sedges are flowering in the ponds. The yellow iris is starting to emerge. The elder and hawthorn are bursting into leaf, so much so that the coppice is now hidden from view – it seems to have vanished in just two days!
The birds are singing and are seen everywhere with nest material in their beaks. Green and great-spotted woodpeckers are calling and drumming. There is a liveliness to the woods that is truly remarkable after the cold and hard winter.
On Saturday evening I inadvertently stumbled upon a mallard nest – I was checking the ponds to see whether our marginal plants were thriving. There were eight eggs apparent after the duck flew off, and I was concerned that she would come back – I needn’t have worried, we saw the drake a little while later and the duck was seen going back to the nest. This is the first time mallard have bred near our ponds, and we will be looking out with great anticipation for eight little fluffy ducklings in a few weeks’ time.
It is quite remarkable how the woods can absorb 23 lively scouts without difficulty – while we were working lower down in the woods we couldn’t hear them at all. It was as if they weren’t there. Yet they were there, and busy too! They were rising to challenges, and gaining their badges, tracking, playing night-time games and enjoying the countryside.
We were impressed with how observant they were. At campfire on Saturday, we talked to them, asking them questions about what they had seen, so they could learn something about the wildlife in the woods, and what sort of things we have done to encourage it. They seemed genuinely enthusiastic and interested.
The Sunday departure came all too quickly, and you would not know that anybody had been there, so completely have they cleared up. Many of the scouts came and thanked us for the use of the woods, and for creating a place where wildlife can live and grow undisturbed by humans.
The presence of the scouts was unobtrusive, but, combined with the activity of animals and birds, the emergence of flowers, and the general buzz of spring, made the woods seem truly alive. We find that very rewarding, and particularly that this group of young people could experience a place like Alvecote Wood for themselves. We are getting enquiries all the time for use of the site by wildlife groups, schools and other cub, scout and beaver groups. We hope it will not be much longer before the woods are again alive to the sound of happy children, blending in so well with the wildlife around them.