Woodland Highlights: May

Hawthorn blossom

Summer may be just around the corner, but May has many more spring delights for you. It is still a month of transformation, as greenery continues to explode with life. This can be a great time to take photos, as delicate new tree leaves are still fresh and bright.

Trees/shrubs… Elder flowers start to appear this month, there are some wonderful recipes for these delicate blooms – including elderflower bubbly. In hedgerows, hawthorn flowers take over as the blackthorn‘s fade; blackthorn flowers before it leafs, while hawthorn leafs before it flowers.  The tall flower spikes of the introduced horse chestnut tree are evident in woods, but also in many urban areas. Spindle shrubs are also in flower, these turn into vivid pink fruit in autumn.


Plants… Early May is one of the best times for woodland flowers; days are warming and the trees are still in early leaf. Bluebells may be growing in abundance, ramsons fill the air with their pungent garlic scent and delicate yellow oxlips droop on tall stems. Look out for the arrival of common spotted orchids and vibrant purple bugles. Blackberry flowers  begin to emerge, brightening thorny bramble patches.

Fungi… Oyster mushrooms can be found from spring to early winter, but watch out they are carnivorous. First the mushroom exudes a toxin that stuns nematode worms. Their thread-like mycelia then penetrate the worm and digest its internal organs.

Birds… Keep an eye out for discarded shells as you walk through woodland. Many young birds will have broken free of their eggs to start new lives, calling to their parents for food. Nightjars and spotted flycatchers are among the last migrants to return to the UK. Nightjars use open woodland to nest in. Spotted flycatchers are renowned for their aerial insect catching abilities in woodland glades.

Dormouse, Bovey Valley Woods

Mammals… Dormice will be waking from their hibernation; habitat loss and lack of coppicing has seen their numbers decline. May and June are ideal months for hedgehog mating, keep an ear out at night for strange noises. The warmth brings bats out in force, using echolocation to find their prey. Bechstein’s bats are among those associated with woodland, they are also one of the UK’s rarest bat species. They like to roost in trees in old woodpecker holes.

Amphibians… Larvae of newts, frogs and toads will be metamorphosing. Markings start showing through and their legs slowly develop.

Male cockchafer beetle

Insects… May is synonymous with the dance of the mayflies. Emerging from streams, they live brief lives to mate and lay their eggs. The cockchafer is also called the May bug. The adults surface from soil in May and June, flying up to trees to gather and mate. From mid-May stag beetle adults appear from decaying wood, they are one of the UK’s largest insects. There has been a massive decline in their numbers through the loss of deadwood – which their larvae feed on.

May is a wonderful woodland month, do try and visit one and absorb its beauty. Trees have proven benefits for human health and well-being, they can often cheer you up.


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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