Spring is such an exciting time at the woods. Although it happens every year, it is also just a little bit different every year too. This year is no exception, indeed it is particularly exciting because of all the changes we have made during the winter: more coppicing, planting Betty’s Wood with trees and hedgerow, and installing 5 more new wildlife ponds, taking the total up to eleven.
In the past week the woods have changed out of all recognition. A month ago the ground was waterlogged, like a clay quagmire. There were no leaves on the trees, and you could see right through the woods to the M42 and its relentless procession of Eddie Stobart’s finest. Last weekend, it was beginning to change, and yesterday you could not see the M42 at all, unless you were right at the edge of the wood.
The elder scrub is now in full leaf, and some of the oak trees too, are threatening to be in full leaf in the next three or four days. The snakeshead fritillary has been and gone, and we are delighted to report that we now have seven colonies of this lovely plant, so rare in the wild, in our woods. One is the original colony, which has returned after two years of absence. One is a colony that we planted when we thought the original colony had disappeared. The rest have come along all on their own, presumably seeded from the original or planted colonies. As well as snakeshead fritillary, we have several wonderful flourishing patches of lesser celandine, a massive patch of red campion in one of our wildflower meadow areas, a growing patch of wild primrose under the trees together with a new self-set plant near the building, and a thriving and growing patch of cowslip.
There are more changes too, in the trees in Betty’s Wood – many of them are now in leaf – the hazel, field maple, hawthorn, spindle, blackthorn, guelder rose, dog rose, sweet chestnut, birch, willow, alder, aspen and poplar, crab apple, wild cherry and rowan are all in leaf. Some of the ash, too, are in leaf remarkably early, although the oak is lagging behind and a few of them are not looking as healthy as they might. What is wonderful is that so many young trees are thriving, considering the dreadful conditions under which some were planted, and the lack of rain since then.
The meadow is also struggling along, hampered by the lack of rain. It cannot be good to go from frozen to quagmire (and trampled quagmire at that) to drought. What is remarkable is that despite this, there are a lot of wildflowers coming through including speedwell in flower, and cranesbill, buttercup, heartsease, clover and almost certainly some of the birdsfoot trefoil, so important for butterflies.
The coppice we cut last year is already in leaf, and new shoots are emerging from this year’s coppiced trees. The coppice is full of life, and it is wonderful to see some ground flora developing here.
Another major benefit of managing the wood and letting in the light are the bluebells. They are appearing everywhere. When we took ownership 3 1/2 years ago, the bluebells were confined to two places. Now they are popping up everywhere we have cleared the bramble and reduced the scrub or where trees have been felled or have fallen naturally. They are late this year, not yet in flower except in one or two little patches, but they are promising to provide the best display ever.
Birds, too, are migrating: arrivals include swallows, blackcap and chiffchaff. The lesser spotted woodpecker is definitely calling and we have at least two pairs of great spotted woodpecker nesting, as well as green woodpecker. We have three male chiffchaff calling. A goshawk has been seen over the wood as was a rare black kite on its migration, although this appears now to have moved on. The fieldfares have gone, but the song thrush and mistle thrush are with us, and jackdaw have moved into a tree near the canal. Everywhere is the sound of birdsong and it is quite breathtaking.
The bats, too, have come out of hibernation and are feeding again at the wood – pipistrelle and noctule bats were heard last weekend, and we hope there are more to come. Butterflies are emerging – peacock, small tortoiseshell and red admiral from hibernation, and newly-emerged orange-tip, brimstone, holly blue, small white, green-veined white and speckled wood.
What a difference a week makes! Spring progresses rapidly at Alvecote Wood and it is wonderful to behold.