One of the highlights of any visit to the woods has to be an encounter with one or more of our largest woodland residents. Fallow Deer have been resident in the wood for about forty years since spreading from both Grimesthorpe and Irnham parks. Currently the herd numbers about sixty animals split into a number of smaller family groups throughout the wood. Although it is possible to come across deer at any time of day in the wood, that special time of day just as the sun is rising or in the evening at sunset when the deer are moving from their daytime shelters is the best time to see them at close quarters. Wait quietly by one of the ride intersections or by the edge of the wood and with a bit of patience you will be rewarded with sightings of these graceful animals.
Fallow deer have four colour types. Common as the name suggests is the most common colouring. The chestnut colour with white spots of the summer coat fades in winter to a uniform grey/brown colour.
Menil is the colour most often seen in deer parks of stately homes and is a light chestnut colour with white spots along the flanks and a pure white underbelly. These animals keep this colouration all year.
Black is not really black but is a very dark brown, slightly lighter on the lower half of the flanks but at a distance this is not obvious.
White. The most obvious at a distance for obvious reasons but not in fact an albino as some people think, it is simply a white deer. This colour becomes more intense with age, fawns are a coffee colour and as the deer gets older this gradually fades over about two years until it becomes white.
Our other resident deer is the Muntjac. These little asiatic deer were introduced into this country at the beginning of the 19th century by the then Duke of Bedford onto his estate at Woburn and they have been successfully colonising other parts of the country ever since. These little deer, unlike Fallow, are solitary animals and prefer to keep close to dense cover however their piercing territorial bark gives away their presence in the wood. Again as with any wildlife watching patience can reward the watcher with good, if brief, sightings of this secretive little animal.
Photograph courtesy of The Forestry Commission
With the turning of the year we all look forward to the arrival of Spring. Already in the woods, although I write this in January, the signs are beginning to appear. An over-wintering Red Admiral butterfly has already put in an appearance and the first queen bumble-bees will soon be coming out of hibernation. On sunny early spring days they can be seen lazily quartering the ground looking for new nest sites, usually an old mouse nest though they will also take up residence in nest boxes if the old nest has been left.
It’s a bit early for any wild flowers yet but you may have noticed that Hazel is in full flower, surrounding the shrub in a wonderful golden haze. We tend to forget that trees have flowers, the catkins or “lamb’s tails” are the male flower the red female flower is much smaller in fact it is tiny.
For much of its history Bourne Wood is thought to have been a coppiced wood with Ash, Lime and Hazel being the main species. Foliage was used for cattle food and the whippy shoots for making the framework for houses and fences. From ancient times the basic product of cut hazel was wattle – split canes woven into a simple lattice work. Wattle made hurdles, fencing and the foundation on which wattle- and-daub walls were built.
Hazel-nuts were the other great harvest and were greatly valued. In days gone by hazelnuts would have provided a plentiful and easily stored source of protein, and they were often ground up and mixed with flour to be made into nourishing breads. Cultivated hazelnuts called filberts take their name from St Philibert's Day on 20 August, the date by which hazelnuts were supposed to start ripening. Holy Cross Day on 14 September was traditionally given as a school holiday for children to go nutting, a custom which persisted in England until the First World War. Various places celebrated Nutcrack Night sometime during November, when the stored nuts were opened, though apparently some parishioners were in the habit of taking hazelnuts to church on the following Sunday to be cracked noisily during the sermon.
There are several variations on an ancient Celtic tale that nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool, dropping nuts into the water to be eaten by salmon (a fish revered by Druids) which absorbed the wisdom of the tree. The number of bright spots on the salmon were said to indicate how many nuts they had eaten.
In an Irish variation of this legend, one salmon was the recipient of all these magical nuts. A Druid master, in his bid to become all-knowing, caught the salmon and instructed his pupil to cook the fish but not to eat any of it. However in the process, hot juice from the cooking fish spattered onto the apprentice's thumb, which he instinctively thrust into his mouth to cool, thereby receiving the fish's wisdom. This lad was called Fionn Mac Cumhail and went on to become one of the most heroic leaders in Irish mythology.
". And fill all fruit with
ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd,
and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; ."
From 'To Autumn' by John Keats
From mid April until about the end of May the beautiful song of the Nightingale can be heard in the wood. We are fortunate here in Bourne to be able to hear this little bird in full song as it is reaching its northernmost limits in Britain here in Lincolnshire.
The birds prefer to nest in thick scrub and it is from here that the song can be heard although the bird itself is seldom seen. It is the male that sings as he tries to establish a territory, attract a mate and then defend that territory from other males. Unfortunately for us once that is done he stops singing and all that is heard, for those who know, is a soft growl like sound if someone or something gets too close.
Up until quite recently the nightingales were confined to the edges of the wood where there was suitable habitat for them. In recent years with the help of the “Friends of Bourne Wood” and other volunteers we have re-established coppice management in several small areas in the hope that we can create better habitat for the birds in other parts of the wood. Sure enough as these areas have grown up the birds have moved in and we now have a quite healthy population in the wood.
The best areas to listen for the song are close to the car park along the appropriately named Nightingale Trail. The bird does sing all day but mornings and evenings are especially good as most other birds are quiet by then.
The Hawthorn or May tree is the only British plant named after the month in which it blooms. In May the blossom laden hedges stretch like white ribbons across the countryside and in the woods the trees shine out among the greenery.
In fact there are two species of hawthorn in the wood, the common Hawthorn, a tree found commonly in open countryside as well as woodland, and the much rarer Midland or Woodland Hawthorn which is only found in ancient woodland. This tree is recognised in its pure form by its simple three-lobed leaves, common hawthorn has a very serrated leaf, twin stones in the fruit and its much floppier appearance. Unfortunately the two trees hybridise freely and so telling the two apart is not always so simple.
The herbal properties of the tree have long been recognised even to the present day. The flowers, leaves and berries all being used as a heart tonic and a poultice of pulped berries or leaves has long been used to draw thorns or splinters. Young hawthorn leaves are often the first wild green leaves children eat and they are known everywhere as “Bread and Cheese”.
The hawthorn is a tree surrounded by superstition. Flowering as it does between spring and summer it was thought to signify the bringing of new life and the start of the growing season and was traditionally connected to the ancient Celtic spring festival of Beltane. The tree still has many associations with mayday festivities and is the ancestor of the maypole; it is also a model for the foliage which covers the faces of the Green Men often seen carved in churches. Although the blossom was used commonly for decoration outside there is still a widespread superstition that the blossom is unlucky inside a house, bringing bad luck or even death. This may well be linked to the foul smell given off particularly by the Woodland Hawthorn, which may have been more common in the Middle Ages and is said to smell of rotting flesh. Botanists later discovered that the chemical trimethylamine present in hawthorn blossom is one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. Lone hawthorn trees found in the landscape were said to be inhabited by Fairies and there are many folk tales of passers-by being led to a place where time passes differently and re-emerging many years later not having aged. Such trees could not be cut down or harmed without incurring the wrath of their supernatural guardians.
This superstition coupled with the common hawthorns preference for open landscapes may have helped to make it a significant boundary tree. In his survey of 658 Anglo-Saxon charters and boundary descriptions Oliver Rackham found that it is, by a considerable margin, the commonest tree mentioned as a feature representing 38.7 per cent of all the trees specified.
Above articles by Willie Mclaughlin
On Saturday 25 February 2012, Alan Ball from the British Trust for Ornithology gave the Friends of Bourne Wood a demonstration of bird ringing.
The birds were caught in a fine mist net by Alan, who is licensed to undertake the ringing. Details such as weight, wing feather length, sex and approximate age are recorded before the bird is ringed and released. Species recorded on Saturday included siskin, chaffinch, dunnock, great tit, blue tit, longtail tit, redpoll and a nuthatch. Good weights are being recorded and numbers are up as well particularly of blue and great tit,s many of which may have been hatched in the new nesting boxes put up by the Friends of Bourne Wood.
Alan regularly undertakes ringing in Bourne Wood and recently caught a greater spotted woodpecker with a ring date of 8 April 2001 making it the oldest of its species recorded in Britain.
The BTO ringing scheme generates information on survival, productivity, and movements of birds, helping us to understand why bird populations are changing. Some of the birds visiting Bourne Wood this winter have been recorded as far away as Norway in the north and from the south down in Spain.
If you are in Bourne Wood on Saturdays between October and March look out for Alan by the forest lodge just off the Beech Avenue entrance and he will be pleased to demonstrate the skilled work of bird ringing.
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