December in the Forest
I’ll be honest, I’ve had to go back a few years for this photo of the sheep at Uncllys Farm looking rather nonplussed by deep snow in December 2017. But we did have snow in December 2020 (lasting well into January 2021) and on December 11th 2022, so there’s a fair chance that you’ll be reading this in snowy circumstances.
‘The cold wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what will the Robin do then, poor thing?’ goes the old rhyme. Some species migrate to warmer regions while others stay put and adapt their behaviour. Dormice, bats and Hedgehogs as well as many reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates have evolved the ability to shut down their metabolism so that they can hibernate through the harsh times of winter. Squirrels are well-known hoarders of food: the native reds hiding acorns and nuts in a ‘larder’ among the leaf litter under a tree; the greys burying them here and there (in your lawn and flower pots too!). That colourful and noisy oak wood resident, the Jay, will do the same, and you may also come across little collections of nuts, cherry or damson stones hidden by mice.
Most of the Fallow Deer grow a darker, thicker coat of fur, without the summer spots. This makes them harder to see in the winter forest. Like Badger fur, the hairs are hollow, giving an extra degree of insulation. There are quite a number of white deer now and, though they stand out like sore thumbs during the rest of the year, they are well-camouflaged if it snows. Lovely though they are, deer are not always popular with foresters. Their diet includes tree shoots and bark: the latter especially in the winter. This is why areas of new planting need to be protected by high deer fencing and individual trees by tall tree tubes.
Snow brings a special brilliance and muffled quietness to the forest. A walk in a fresh fall will tell the story of the night before. Which creatures have been abroad? Who was the Fox following? Will those big, clawed prints lead you to a Badger’s sett? Is it a dog or a Blackbird that has scuffed among the dry leaves by the path? I’m already looking forward to it but hope we don’t get too much of the white stuff.
A very happy Christmas to all.