December may be chilly but our woods still offer beauty. Frost is certain to be spreading its icy fronds across fallen leaves and branches this month. Hoar frost can be exquisitely intricate, its interlocking crystals form feathery, fern-like patterns.
Trees/shrubs… The holly tree is one of our only native evergreens. Its berries are a symbol of the festive season and are an important source of food for many birds and small mammals.
Plants… Mistletoe is another seasonal favourite. This semi-parasitic plant can be found on many trees, but favours cultivated apple trees, limes, poplars and hawthorn. It is more often found on open trees. In Britain it is most abundant in the south and west midlands. Ferns, mosses and lichens still adorn trees and woodland, these include the hart’s tongue fern with its long slender green leaves.
Fungi… Most seasonal fungi have disappeared, but wood blewitt’s may still be seen in December. Other fungi can be spotted all year round, these include the soft brown jelly ear fungus often found on rotting elder. Another is the turkeytail bracket fungus that is common on birch stumps.
Birds… The mistle thrush is a lovely speckled bird closely associated with mistletoe. It eats the sticky white berries that many other birds actively avoid. The thrush then spreads the seeds by excreting them onto other branches and trees. Around Christmas robins will be singing to find a mate. Territorial tawny owls can also be heard.
Mammals… Few mammals are very active this month. Some enter hibernation, while others struggle to conserve energy and find dwindling food supplies. Foxes and badgers are among those that may still be spotted.
Insects… Warm decomposing leaf litter provides an excellent refuge from the winter cold. Lift it up and you could find spiders, millipedes, woodlice, insect larvae and more. Slugs and snails may still be seen leaving their slimy trails. The December moth can be found flying from October until mid or late December. They mate and lay their eggs in autumn and in spring their larvae feed on a variety of deciduous trees.
Our VisitWoods website can help you locate many stunning woods in your area and across the UK. You can also record all your amazing finds on our Nature’s Calendar website and be part of a great citizen science movement.