Woodland Highlights: January

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins

According to some, the winter blues are their most potent this month. But fear not, woods are proven to lift our spirits, reduce stress, soothe and inspire us. So put your boots on, wrap up warm and keep watch for a few of the following…

Trees/shrubs… Hazel catkins begin to stretch and open out, bringing a glimpse of new life. These are the male flowers, next month the females flowers will open and the catkins will shed their pollen to fertilise them. Juniper’s winter foliage is tinged bronze and offers much needed shelter to birds and small mammals. The berries also provide sustenance through this lean period.

Plants… The pendulous flowers of snowdrops start to open, gradually carpeting the woodland floor in delicate white blooms. The delightfully named stinking hellebore is another to keep your eyes, or nose, peeled for. This smelly herb, which likes open woodland, has greeny-yellow bell-shaped flowers with purple edges.

Xanthoria parietina

Xanthoria parietina (lichen)

Fungi/lichens… Smoky bracket is a fungus visible all year. It grows in leathery, overlapping tiers on deadwood of deciduous trees. Candle snuff fungus, also known as stags horn fungus, is another one too look out for in winter. Lichens are a symbiosis of a fungus and an alga, found on trees and rocks they offer some welcome year-round colour. They are also an indicator of air pollution, the more delicate and rarer species only grow in areas with cleaner air.



Birds… Rooks will be industriously repairing their nests in preparation for their new broods. Robins mostly breed in March, but they can start as early as January if conditions are right. Other birds looking for mates include wrens and hedge sparrows. Blackbirds, greenfinches and song thrushes can be heard singing on sunny days. The sound of woodpeckers drumming on trees will carry further without canopy leaves to buffer the sound.

Mammals… Sleek red foxes mate between late December and February. During this time they are far less secretive; the males release short barks, while the females emit hormone fuelled screams.

Amphibians… The first newts and frogs emerge from hibernation and head to their breeding ponds. Some frog spawn may also be found this early in the year.



Insects… January is not a popular time for insects. But clouds of gnats can sometimes be seen on warmer, sunny days. Dragonfly and mayfly nymphs can be found in ponds, as water retains its heat more readily than air.

VisitWoods can help locate many stunning woods in your area and across the UK. You can also record all your amazing finds on Nature’s Calendar and be part of a great citizen science movement.


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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13 Responses to Woodland Highlights: January

  1. Pingback: Birds help lichen grow | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Reblogged this on Wood Elf Weekly and commented:
    some lovely reasons to wrap up warm and brave the snow!

    • Kay Haw says:

      Hello Wood Elves, thank you for your support! Enjoy the beauty of winter woods. But, as you say, wrap up warm.

  3. Tony says:

    Hi Kay,

    I very much appreciate these monthly Highlight posts and I hope many others will join the Citizen Science movement this year. Speaking of which, I want to provide two links which you may not be aware of. Firstly, the weather observation forums of netweather have a dedicated thread to Nature’s observations which can be found at the following address.


    Secondly, I have posted this link to my Facebook page, accessible via https://www.facebook.com/naturestimeline?ref=hl

    Best Wishes and let us all make 2013 a good one for woodland and wildlife issues.

    • Kay Haw says:

      Hi Tony,

      Happy new year! Thank you so much for posting these links. I have been on Facebook and liked your page. Yes I too hope the citizen science movement continues to grow. It is so important for our knowledge gathering.

      Enjoy your wildlife watching in 2013!

  4. manuelinor says:

    what a great post! I wish I was in England so I could enjoy these beautiful ecosystems 🙂
    Also, don’t forget that the Nature you can’t see is just as amazing! There are lots of really important insects hiding underground, in the leaf litter, under bark and in ponds as you say, waiting for the warmth of spring.

    • Kay Haw says:

      Thank you, I am sure the wildlife in your country is equally as beautiful. The importance is to enjoy it wherever you are.

  5. Lovely observations of nature – reminds me of the classes we had at school back in the forties, called ‘nature study” – all the things you wrote of, we learned about then – apart from stinking hellebore!!!

  6. Alex Jones says:

    Thanks for this post, now I know what to watch out for.

  7. Thanks for this post, I needed a reminder that there are things worth being outside for, it is so easy to join the hibernation and miss out.

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