Summer is upon us, but will it be one of warmth and sunlight or a more tepid, rainy affair? I am sure our wildlife will be hoping for the former as much as us humans.
Trees/shrubs… By June the tree canopy has really filled out to capture as much light as possible. Dog rose is a fairly widespread scrambling shrub that favours open woodland. This month its fragrant white-pink flowers please the eye. The blooms of lime trees are enticing bees with their sweet scent. The fragrance is so enticing that some fall to the floor stunned.
Plants… With tree canopies reaching their full potential the grand displays of woodland ground flora diminish, but there are still delights to be found. Enchanter’s-nightshade’s tiny white-pink flowers, the spiked purple-veined blooms of wood vetch, nipplewort’s rays of yellow petals and the vibrant purple of bittersweet come into their own in June. Honeysuckle’s trumpet shaped flowers bloom throughout the summer months, giving off a delicate fragrance. It is the main foodplant of white admiral caterpillars, and provides an important nectar source for wildlife such as the fantastic broad-bordered bee hawk-moth. The many insects drawn to honeysuckle in turn feed birds and bats. Flowers of the invasive non-native giant hogweed can be seen from June. Be careful, this may look like cow parsley but its sap is highly toxic and can blister the skin.
Fungi/lichen… The foul smell of the stinkhorn can sometimes be mistaken for bad drains or rotting flesh. This fungus can be found from summer until late autumn and is identified by the slimy green cap that holds its spores. The nasty odour attracts flies which land on the slime and then spread the spores as they continue on their journey. The striking golden hair lichen is a rare beauty to watch for, but it is one of the most pollution sensitive of all UK lichens. On trees it favours ash and sycamore, look for it on the Welsh coast and south west England, areas with clean air.
Birds… Parent birds will be encouraging fledglings to take their first flights. Research has shown that chicks in areas with lots of native plants to support their insect food grow far quicker and healthier than those that are surrounded by exotic species, these plants do not support enough wildlife and parents struggle to feed their young. Many of us cherish our parks and gardens, but we need to make sure the plants growing there are also good for other creatures.
Mammals… June is a time for bats to give birth to new offspring. The females gather together in maternity roosts, chosen for the warmth they offer mothers having their pups. Hoglets are coming into the world as hedgehogs also give birth. If conditions are right some are able to have a second litter later in the summer – but these youngsters may find it harder to put on enough fat reserves to survive their winter hibernation. Hazel dormice mate this month, the female builds several nests and will move her young between them if threatened or disturbed.
Amphibians… In summer froglets and toadlets complete their metamorphosis from tadpoles and begin to leave their watery birth places. They are still tiny compared to the adults so hide in rock piles and leaves to protect themselves from predation by birds and many other species. Woods are particularly good places for ponds because their waters are often cleaner than those in many other terrestrial habitats. Trees filter out pollutants and buffer ponds and other water bodies within them from contaminated water, such as the run-off from farms.
Insects… Beautiful white admiral butterflies are on the wing in June. Heath fritillary butterflies favour coppiced woodland and wide sunny rides where cow-wheat grows. Distinctive marbled whites and dark green fritillaries may be seen along sunny woodland rides and in glades. Gatekeeper butterflies can be found feeding on bramble along hedges and rides.
Take part in our VisitWoods photography competition that runs until July 31st, and help us learn more about nature by recording your amazing finds on Nature’s Calendar – be part of a great citizen science movement.
Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser