Rachel Pickering – Woodland Team Leader
2020 was a voyage of discovery for many people and my family were no exception. We discovered nature on our doorstep which we would never have made time to see if we’d have been zipping about to children’s parties and swimming lessons. Most of our daily walks have been in nearby Cropton Forest and Newtondale. Both peaceful and inspiring, and full of nature’s wonders …
The highlight for me was watching badger cubs playing in the sun near their sett. I was whispering to my children that they would never see such a special sight again in their lives. They were enthralled for a few minutes but equally keen to get back to their skipping and shouting!
A simple walk in the forest is filled with signs of wildlife if you know what to look for. We have seen evidence of roe deer from the ‘fraying’ they leave behind. This is where the males rub their antlers against sapling trees to mark their territory.
We found a leaf where an insect had been eating away inside and left a pale trail.
Some wildlife allows you to get close and this Golden-ringed dragonfly was very obliging. This was found on a walk where our son was in a ‘worst day ever’ kind of mood but the second they found a wet ditch to explore it turned into ‘best day ever’. They love a bit of Bear Grylls adventure.
Most children love the gross stuff so this cuckoo-spit, the home of the frog hopper, was also a big hit.
The shear scale of some wildlife is outstanding and there is one part of Cropton Forest which is literally alive with ants – Northern Hairy Wood Ants to be precise. Some whopping great big nests but the whole forest floor and tracks were covered with them too.
Right next to the ant city we found the nest of a bird that eats them. A neighbour told us they had seen the woodpecker going in and out but we weren’t patient enough to wait!
The dead birch tree was not only home to a woodpecker but also a lovely bracket fungi of which we have appreciated many.
The edges of the forest rides are often packed with flowers and I was very proud one day when our daughter was able to identify stitchwort and red campion. Here is a lovely pale pink marsh valerian.
Although a lot of our family walks have been in ‘commercial’ forest we are lucky to have some old broadleaved woodland nearby. This track near home is called locally ‘water bank’ and the age of the beech trees and the form of the land always makes me think of previous generations who have walked down that path, perhaps to collect water from the stream at the bottom.
Like many people we have said many times ‘I can’t believe we’ve never been here before’ and that was certainly the case when we found this verdant gem in Raindale.
If you were to ask my children which was their favour woodland walk they would say ‘swing wood’ for obvious reasons. There is something very satisfying and wholesome about watching the children play in such a natural environment.
So when we all get the chance again the nation’s forest, owned by Forestry England for the enjoyment of us all, will be a great place to go. A surprising amount of wildlife will be on show – in the meantime some animals (and some people) will be happily hibernating – this slow worm is under a pile of leaves until spring.
Even though there is less wildlife on show during the winter months the trees are there and they always make excellent dramatic subjects for the budding photographer, like these taken by my husband.
Always follow the latest Government advice in regards Covid-19.
To keep up to date with the latest National Park situation in regards Covid-19 – see here.