The colours and forms of spring delight the senses of those who venture into woods. April is the time for woodland wildflowers, seizing their opportunity while sunlight beams upon the earth through the leafless trees. Some are already making their presence known but more are on the way.
Trees… Clusters of tiny purple flowers adorn ash trees, but they are among the last trees to leaf. April sees wild cherries bursting with blossom, and hawthorns and naturalised horse chestnuts flushing with new leaves. Beech tree leaves will soon appear, shortly followed by their small catkins.
Plants… The bluebell spectacular is nearly upon us, see them carpet ancient woodland with vibrant beauty. The strange flower of Lords and Ladies will erupt from its arrow-shaped leaves; a green sheath encircling small yellow (female) and brown (male) flowers at the base of a fleshy stem. Early purple orchids can soon be seen; the leaves are dark green with purple blotches, while the purple-crimson flowers surround a tall stem. Also look out for: wood sorrel, garlic mustard, cuckooflower, wood anemone and ramsons.
Fungi… The vibrant scarlet elf cup can be seen on decaying branches this month. Look too for jelly ears – a floppy gelatinous fungus that can be found on broadleaf trees, especially elder, as they age they dry and darken. St George’s Day mushrooms are a taste of spring; these edible fungi can be found in woods and grassland and can form ‘fairy rings’. Only eat fungi if you are sure you know what they are and never over pick them!
Birds… April is one of the best months to see migrating birds return, and breeding really hots up. Turtle doves are among our summer migrants; they can best be seen at the woodland edge, listen for their delicate purring calls. Nightingales return to woodland in April, bringing with them their famous song. Nuthatches will start nesting in tree holes and blue tits will begin laying their eggs.
Mammals... The early young of badgers will be making their first appearances from family setts this month, but nocturnal habits mean they are rarely seen. Some reserves do offer the opportunity to watch badgers from special hides. This years fox cubs will also start exploring their new world.
Reptiles… Adders, grass snakes, slow worms and sand lizards come out of brumation (their version of hibernation). Look out for them basking in woodland glades and rides, the best time to spot them is early in the morning before they have warmed and speeded up.
Insects… Beautiful brimstone butterflies are emerging from hibernation. Watch their pale yellow wings as they flit through woodland glades, searching for purple and nectar-rich flowers. This is also a good month to spot speckled wood, peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies.
The Woodland Trust has an array of woods around the UK, go to VisitWoods to find your nearest one.
Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser