A Night in the Woods


Sunset from Alvecote Wood

Last weekend, thanks to long-awaited fine, dry, warm weather, we camped at the woods.  We have camped at the woods before, obviously, but this time we chose to spend the night out in the open, rather than in a tent.  Open camping really does help you to become part of the woodland around you.  In a tent, you can hear all the little snuffling and squeaking noises around you, but you are somehow removed from it, by layers of flysheet, groundsheet and tent.  Out in the open, it is all happening right around you, and you are so much more part of it than when enclosed in the cocoon of a tent.

Nor were we uncivilized – we walked to the nearby pub for our supper, and watched the house-martins, swallows and swifts swooping down over the canal marina, eating the abundant insects.  Then we walked back up the road to be greeted with the most beautiful, colourful and uplifting sunset.  We then walked round the woods, watching the last of the swifts and swallows scoop up the evening insects, and listening to the song thrushes singing in the dusk.  Finally we set up a couple of chairs in our clearing, brought out a bottle of wine, and sat listening to bats and watching them come out and start their hunting – noctules, common and soprano pipistrelles.  It was quite, quite magical.

Meadow in dawn light

Meadow in dawn light

I found it hard to sleep for feeling so alive and excited, but eventually I did sleep, and woke up to an almost deafening dawn chorus.  An early-morning walk around the woods and meadows was also something to treasure.  Because I have to do a lot of medical treatment before I can go out in the morning, we rarely get to see it in the morning light, and it provides a completely different perspective on the woods – different areas are lit in the watery warm light of early morning.

Speckled wood butterfly

Speckled wood butterfly on hazel leaf

Butterflies, dragonflies and other insects are just warming up, and it is easier to see and photograph them than in the heat of the day.  And the best prize of all was the discovery of a pair of lapwing in our meadows.  They were making a “distraction flight” to draw us away from their young, concealed by one of our ponds.  This is so exciting – we have created lapwing habitat, for sure, but were not imagining that they would actually move in and breed here!

Ringlet butterfly on figwort

Ringlet on figwort

They have been there for a few days, too.  So they seem to be a fixture rather than passing through.  The last week has seen clouds of brown butterflies emerging – ringlet, meadow brown and speckled wood – as well as common blues, small skipper, large skipper and very large numbers of six-spot burnet moths.  A kingfisher was heard at the bottom of the woods this morning too – probably on the canal.  Added to the hobby flying by the woods a couple of weeks ago, this is really exciting stuff.  Our woods are coming to life and growing in diversity and beauty in quite a radical way.

Pond in Early Morning

Pond in Early Morning

We need to spend more nights at the woods.  It is not easy with the constant medical treatment I need to undergo, which in turn requires an electricity supply and a fridge, but we have to find a way to do this more often, so we can experience the magic of a woodland dusk, night, and dawn.  It is very, very special.

Ringlet butterfly

Ringlet butterfly

Autumn in the Woods

At the risk of sounding repetitious, autumn is my favourite time of year.  Oak trees aren’t usually colourful in autumn.  Many years they simply go from green to brown to fallen in a very short space of time.  But this year, we have had some amazing colours, enhanced by the fact that the young trees in Betty’s Wood are now head high, and are also changing colour.  We have some stunning colour from our field maple, rowan, birch, sweet chestnut, cherry and other trees in Betty’s Wood, as well as our beautiful oaks, which this year are turning wonderful shades of yellow, orange and brown.
It isn’t just the trees that enhance this time of year:  we have had a wonderful display of fungi, too – on logs, on the woodland floor, on twigs, on wood-chippings – a display of colour, shapes and amazing delicacy.
The birds are also active, looking for seeds and berries.  No fieldfares yet, but our flock of linnets are back in Betty’s Wood, eating the seeds from our wildflowers, skimming along at head height, chittering their happy little song.  The buzzard chick is still asking its parents for food, although it is fully grown, ranging over the fields and over Betty’s Wood, perching at the woodland edge.
The squirrels are busy burying their caches of acorns and seeds, and the jays are screeching as they too cache food for the winter.  Mice and voles are everywhere, building little nests in our spare boots that we leave at the woods for emergencies, as well as under the bonnet of the tractor and in many other not-always-appropriate places.

Our wood-drying shed is now finished, so we can dry our firewood much more readily with the aim that we can sell bundles at our open days next year.  We are preparing to do a bit more coppicing, and to do some thinning in our plantation area to let more light into the woodland floor – our bit of harvesting, but harvesting that will renew the trees and stimulate growth next year.

I love autumn because it is time of hope – things are dying back, but we are storing things away for the winter to see us through the dark days.  Things are dying but in amongst all the death and decay are signs of renewal – seeds are sown, the leaf litter provides a habitat, a home, material for nests, nutrients for the trees and soil.  Nature is taking a breath after the frantic activity of spring and summer, taking stock, marshalling its resources to have another go next year.   Nature’s breath of beauty, wonder, colour, harvesting, storing, renewal and hope.  I love it!