Woodland Hands on Nature


Woodland

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Welcome to Hands On Nature. I'm Chris Packham,

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and this is your guide to the very best wildlife locations across the UK.

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Today we're going deep into the woodland

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and we'll be showing you how and where

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to get close to some cracking wildlife.

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I'm in southern England to show you how to track

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one of our best-loved animals.

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Look! There's another one! Gotta control my excitement.

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Mike Dilger is sampling the delights of a Highland wood.

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Oh, look! We've got a kitten right in front of us!

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Oh, fantastic!

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And Sanjida O'Connell is in East Anglia...

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"Dee-dee-dee, do-do-do, do-do-do, da-dee-you."

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..being bowled over by birdsong.

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These are New Forest ponies.

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They roam semi-wild here in the New Forest in Hampshire.

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It's hard to believe there's a natural area as big as this in the overcrowded south of England.

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It's packed with wildlife, and is so accessible.

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The New Forest is huge - 150 square miles -

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and it's been here since William the Conqueror set it up as a hunting forest.

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Just look at this. These are exactly the same animals that old William wanted fed so he could hunt them.

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There are plenty here in the forest today.

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The deer are fed each day during the summer.

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It's a rare opportunity to get close views of these normally shy animals.

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Watching over the herd is Sally Wood.

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-These are all fallow, Sally?

-That's correct.

-The range of coats,

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the traditional tan and spots, but also some dark and light ones.

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We have four different colour coat variations

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which makes the fallow deer very pretty to observe.

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We've got a white deer, also menil deer, the very dark coats.

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The spots are not so obvious. We've also got one of the prettier coats.

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They've got cream spots but they're very bright white spots, and they keep those all year round.

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-So that animal will keep its spots?

-Yeah, it will keep its spots all year round.

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The males shed their antlers in spring, and now they're growing new ones.

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The outer layer is called velvet, but it peels off

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and the bone hardens in time for the mating season.

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I can speak as a bird fan,

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so anything with feathers takes my fancy.

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-Why deer for you?

-Deer for me, it must go back to the first movie I watched which was Bambi.

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I knew it!

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They're so pretty, and ever since I've been passionate about deer.

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So yeah, I think they're absolutely fantastic. They do it for me.

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Now deer are a very special feature here in the forest,

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but their numbers do have to be controlled.

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In the old days, there were plenty of wolves and bears to do that,

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but now man has to take charge. Every winter they are culled,

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but the good news is that other types of wildlife gets to flourish.

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One group of animals, a particularly delicate and beautiful group,

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are enjoying a bit of a renaissance on account of this deer management.

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Butterflies are now feasting on all the plants and undergrowth

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that would have been destroyed by the deer.

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For forest keeper Robert Colin Stokes, it's just what he hoped for.

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It's been quite an uphill struggle.

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The deer have been correctly managed, the ponies have been kept out.

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The proof's in the pudding here, as you can see.

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Lots and lots of plants and loads of bramble bushes.

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Plenty of nectar.

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There's a silver wash. Look. On that bramble.

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Yep. Nice male. See how orange it is?

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Yeah, fantastic.

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That species almost disappeared.

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They did during the early '80s,

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they were incredibly rare in the forest and in the enclosures.

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But now almost every bramble bush has got a silver wash fritillary feeding on it.

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What a sight! Look at that!

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The area is teeming with butterflies.

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This one's aptly named the ringlet.

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And the well-camouflaged brimstone.

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And this bizarre looking specimen, the comma.

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It's the only British butterfly with ragged wings.

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-Can you see that white mark on the under wing?

-Yeah.

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That's how it gets its name,

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-it's a comma.

-It looks like a piece of old crumpled oak leaf.

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There's a white admiral there, Chris.

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Yeah, look at that! They are one of the real New Forest specialties.

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And bramble. I always say to people, if you're into wildlife gardening,

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have a bit of bramble in your garden.

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Loads of nectar, loads of fruit for other species

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and also good security.

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When you come to the forest, don't come in the middle of the day

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when all the butterflies have really heated up and have got going.

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Mid-morning is ideal, just as the sun has warmed them through.

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You'll get some lovely close views of them.

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Yeah, like now - look at that.

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There's a gatekeeper there. And with that white apple.

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And a small skipper there as well.

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If you do come to the forest in July, mid-morning,

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you're virtually certain to enjoy a feast of butterflies.

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Just look at that. But not all the animals in the forest are quite as showy as this.

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Some of them, I have to say, pretty secretive.

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One of Britain's most charismatic animals,

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a T-shirt animal, a poster pin-up of our fauna, is the badger.

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But it's a creature that has a reputation for being terribly shy.

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Very, very difficult to see in the wild.

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As a consequence, many people go a lifetime without doing so.

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That's a real shame because it isn't that difficult.

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First, you need to find a badger sett. That's what we've got here.

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It's not a rabbit warren, the hole is much too big.

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And it is not a fox earth as they normally have one or two entrances at the most.

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Behind me in this bracken are about 20 other holes.

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It always pays to fully explore the sett you're going to watch in daylight first.

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Get the lie of the land. Figure out where all of the active holes are

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and make a mental note of where all the badgers' paths are that radiate out of the sett.

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Because when you come back in the evening, you want to make a point of treading over those.

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You don't want to leave any scent. Not leaving any scent is important.

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Badgers have got very poor eyesight but keen hearing and a very, very good sense of smell.

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Another tip - bring a box of matches.

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Light the match, blow it out, see which way the smoke goes.

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You want to be definitely downwind, you don't want them to get a whiff of you at all.

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And my last bit of advice...

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be prepared to wait, preferably against a tree to disguise your outline. And don't move.

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It will be worth it.

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It's about half past eight in the middle of summer.

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There's still full daylight.

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This is about the best time of the year to watch badgers.

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And there it is...

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the first badger of the evening making a tentative appearance.

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-HE WHISPERS:

-Look, look! That's a female badger.

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You can tell it's a female because it's got a long, thin narrow neck,

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quite a slim body and a long narrow tail as well.

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The boars are far more chunky.

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And, look, there's another one!

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I've got to try and control my excitement and not speak too loudly.

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A sett like this might have as many as 15 badgers living together.

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There are two there having a bit of a scrap.

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One of them, I think is a male, a boar badger, and the other is a cub.

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But they're so close, it's fantastic.

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One badger has come round the side and could soon be downwind of us.

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I'm sure she smelt us.

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Look at that.

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That's what happens when a badger gets your scent.

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In an ideal world, you don't want that.

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I think "scarpered" would be the technical phrase.

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All the badgers have left the sett area now.

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It's important for you to wait for them to go back down their holes or to move off.

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Otherwise we'll disturb them leaving, and spoil everything for next time.

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So leave as quietly as I can.

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The deer are fed at two o'clock every day from Easter to September

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at Bolderwood in the New Forest, Hampshire.

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You can find out more on our website.

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You're watching Hands On Nature, your guide to the very best wildlife locations across the UK.

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In a moment, we'll be joining Sanjida O'Connell as she puts her ears to the test in Suffolk.

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-What's that?

-There's a little bit of a black cap there. Quite a quick warble.

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A little bit of a voice like this.

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Here in the New Forest is a great diversity of deciduous and coniferous trees.

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Even in this one spot, there's Scots pine, oak, birch, beech, sycamore, holly, willow...

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the list could go on and on.

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But imagine a forest that's almost dominated by a single species.

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A forest that once covered much of the North but now only a few tiny fragments remain.

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Well, Mike Dilger has been lucky enough to go and explore this place.

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I say "lucky" - no sane man would get out of his vehicle without masses of midge cream!

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This stretch of the Highlands

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has to be one of the most stunning locations in the whole of Scotland.

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These beauties are Scots pine.

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They're the largest and most dominant trees in the Caledonian pine forest.

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When the glaciers retreated after the last Ice Age, they were the first to recolonise the area.

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Here in Abernethy, near Aviemore, they support a vast array

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of specialist insects and spectacular birds.

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Without the Scots pines,

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much of the wildlife so dependent on these trees would simply disappear.

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Including this one.

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This little critter is called a timberman beetle.

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It's whole life is totally associated with Scots pine.

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This one here is a female, and the males are much bigger.

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Look at these fantastic antennae!

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A top tip whenever you're looking at insects,

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get yourself an eye lens or a magnifying glass

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and you can have a really good look.

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Absolutely stunning beast!

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It's only when you return the timberman beetle to its habitat

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that you see its amazing disappearing act.

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Now, that's what I call camouflage!

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Once upon a time, Scots pines would have covered the Highlands.

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Now just a fragment of the original forest remains.

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To see one of our most impressive forest creatures,

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you've got to be up at the crack of dawn.

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So it's a good job Kenny Kortland from the RSPB likes his early starts.

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This is what we've all come to see...

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the male capercaillie,

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strutting his stuff at a mating site known as a lek.

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So, Kenny, this bog or ancient Caledonian forest in front of us

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is as good as it gets for the capercaillie.

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Absolutely. This is quite a limited habitat in Scotland.

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The capers like these forest bogs.

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They come out and lek on them and we are able to watch them today.

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This male who's just come down...

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is he the alpha male or Big Daddy? Does he get all the females?

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Yeah, he gets most of the matings.

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We're seeing an intense display with the females on the ground. He's really excited.

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They're such impressive birds.

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It strikes me like a really good set-up here. Is this a good showcase?

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Correct. This is like the honeypot. We try to get birders to come here.

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The views are tremendous here.

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Yeah, nice.

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This is a Scots pine cone.

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And this is another, after it's been mauled by a red squirrel.

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If you find these, it's a pretty sure sign

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you're close to the red squirrels.

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Alternatively, you can go to the nearest feeder

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where they're keen to come down for a free peanut handout.

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Red squirrels are in serious decline. This habitat is their last stronghold

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as the grey squirrel continues its relentless march north.

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I'm now just outside the forest with Dan Tomes from the RSPB.

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I'm about to see a full stage show

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by the capercaillie's smaller cousin,

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the flamboyant black grouse.

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Oh, Dan, have a look out the back.

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-Oh, yeah.

-Can you see that?

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I think there's a hen coming.

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There's a hen coming onto the lek.

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Look at those three males instantly around her!

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You really see the behaviour start to change.

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-They crank it up, don't they?

-Yeah.

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They call a lot more,

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they display much more vigorously when there's a female.

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This is their chance to mate with that female,

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so they'll make a big show to show how fit they are.

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Once the female's decided who the strongest male is,

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she'll mate with him. Then she'll leave the lek.

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They almost seem like clockwork toys.

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They just seem to run along, you can't even see their legs.

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It reminds me almost of human mating games.

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If you look there, there's the male showing off like crazy.

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There's a female coquettishly walking around the middle,

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-just checking all the males out!

-That's right, yeah.

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A lot of people have said, when we've brought people up to the leks,

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that it's like a nightclub, but a black grouse nightclub -

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it's the males who dance around the handbags.

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When we were watching the capercaillie at Abernethy, we were obviously watching from a hide,

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-but here, the car serves an equally good purpose.

-That's right, yeah.

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They're not disturbed as easily as capercaillie, but if we got out of the vehicle, they would fly off.

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They don't associate the vehicle with people, and providing you don't lean out too much...

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-It's really useful for bringing people up to see the birds.

-Sure.

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You can get very close, as we have done here this morning.

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Now, there's just one more animal to try and find.

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It's a couple of hours until dusk,

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and I'm after one of the rarest and most charismatic animals of the northern forest.

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With luck, a bit later on, it won't be ME perched here, but the animal I'm after.

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To maximise my chances, I've enlisted some help. Hello, Lucy.

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-Hello.

-Can I help?

-Yes, you can put some peanuts and raisins out.

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They've got an incredibly sweet tooth, haven't they?

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-They have got a sweet tooth.

-Jam, peanut butter, peanuts and raisins.

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I'll have a little sprinkle here.

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It's getting pretty late now. Do you reckon it's about time?

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Yep, they could be out any minute now.

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Lucy Ford is an expert on the animals we're about to see,

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and it wasn't long before our dinner guests turned up -

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pine martens.

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Well, done, Lucy, I can't believe you've delivered within ten minutes!

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This is one of our adult females.

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-She's called Nicki...

-Right.

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..cos she's got the nick in the top of her left ear,

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so really easy to identify.

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That creamy throat patch is beautiful.

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I understand that each animal

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has completely different throat markings, so you can separate them.

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That's right. They all have slightly different brown spots

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within their yellowy-cream throat patch.

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Oh, look! We've got a kitten right in front of us.

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Oh, fantastic!

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Oh, she's really skittish on the ground.

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They're really playful. It's great to see them.

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We can't really tell you how incredibly lucky we are.

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This is an animal you will never, ever see in the wild,

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or maybe one in a million nights if you're wandering around.

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And here they are, two, three metres away from us.

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Yeah, very lucky, like I say.

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I think Scotland should be rightly proud of their pine martens.

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England and Wales have lost theirs. If they continue to spread, maybe a few could be relocated

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to England and Wales for southern naturalists to enjoy!

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-You never know!

-What an experience!

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The nearest town to Abernethy is Aviemore.

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Contact the RSPB for more information

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on their capercaillie and black grouse safaris.

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June is a great time to see those pine martens.

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Expect to pay around £15.

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And, of course, there's more information on our website...

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When you're wandering through woodland

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on the lookout for wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for animal remains.

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Sounds grisly, but skulls are one of the best finds you could make.

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Over the years, I've picked up quite a few. This one is a badger skull.

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I found this outside a sett.

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In the springtime, the badgers clean out their setts and throw out all of the old bones.

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You can tell it's a badger because it's got this distinctive crest

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along the top of the skull.

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Also, it's a very broad and powerful skull.

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This is the other one you're likely to find. Look at those canines.

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Long and narrow. If anything, a bit like a small dog skull.

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No prizes - it's a fox.

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If you compare it to the badger,

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you can see it's much narrower -

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much longer snout that foxes have.

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I like this detective work. You can even tell the age of a wood

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simply by taking account of your surroundings.

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Well, Sanjida O'Connell fancied a bit of sleuthing for herself

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so she went off to a traditional working wood in the East of England.

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Before she got started, she fancied sampling the delights of that wood first thing in the morning.

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Nature is usually at its best early in the morning.

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So to get the most out of a woodland experience, you really do need to get up as early as you can.

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It's spring and I've come to Bradfield Woods near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk to enjoy the dawn chorus.

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BIRD SINGS

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With me is Geoff Sample, a man who's passionate about bird song.

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He travels worldwide, recording their sounds.

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So Geoff, we've come out at this time of the morning to listen to the dawn chorus.

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It's a nice time to get out and LISTEN, as opposed to squinting through binoculars.

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The fluty songs that we're hearing in the middle distance are blackbirds.

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And there we go. There's a chiffchaff just arrived above us.

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"Chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff..."

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At dawn, it's actually the calmest period of the day usually, and the coolest.

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So it's the best time of the day for sound transmission.

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Sound travels further and clearer.

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I'm not particularly musical so I don't know whether that means

0:20:060:20:10

that people like me are going to find it harder to distinguish between the different songs.

0:20:100:20:15

Somehow you've got to learn to associate a particular sound or pattern,

0:20:150:20:20

latch onto something, and remember the species associated with the bird.

0:20:200:20:26

There's a little bit of a black cap there.

0:20:270:20:31

With a little bit of a voice like this.

0:20:310:20:33

HE WHISTLES

0:20:330:20:34

This is a chaffinch.

0:20:380:20:41

People say it's like a fast bowler coming up to the crease.

0:20:410:20:45

You get one set of steps...

0:20:450:20:47

"Dee-dee-dee, do-do-do, do-do-do."

0:20:470:20:50

He changes his pace and then there's the, "Da-dee-ooh."

0:20:500:20:54

The final bit at the end.

0:20:540:20:56

Yeah.

0:20:560:20:58

This sort of descending cadence is a robin.

0:21:040:21:09

It's a very pretty song for a bird that we all recognise and know.

0:21:090:21:14

Yeah, it's the northern nightingale.

0:21:140:21:16

So you've got up early, you've heard the dawn chorus,

0:21:190:21:22

you've identified the birds, but if you actually want to record birdsong, then this is how you do it.

0:21:220:21:28

Geoff, you've got a state of the art recording device here, but it does look rather strange.

0:21:280:21:33

Yeah. Bit Heath Robinson.

0:21:330:21:36

So what's going on with this?

0:21:360:21:38

You've got two choices when you're dealing with wildlife.

0:21:380:21:42

This is the traditional method

0:21:420:21:44

which is, I guess, the equivalent of a telephoto lens with a camera.

0:21:440:21:49

It's known as a parabolic reflector.

0:21:490:21:51

The alternative method is cabling, which is a nicer way to do things.

0:21:510:21:56

It's my preferred way of recording.

0:21:560:21:59

You don't need to have a big set up like this.

0:21:590:22:02

You can have a cheapish mic, tape it on to a branch of the tree

0:22:020:22:07

and possibly you'll be within 5 to 10ft of the bird.

0:22:070:22:11

But what you need is 30ft of cable.

0:22:110:22:14

So you can have the mic where you think the bird's going to be and then you can be well hidden?

0:22:140:22:19

-Yeah, you could run it back to the stereo in your front room if you want.

-That sounds brilliant!

0:22:190:22:24

-Shall we have a go with this and see what kind of bird song we can record?

-By all means.

0:22:240:22:30

There's a blackbird over there I'm trying to get onto.

0:22:300:22:34

You have to get it dead on the bird and then you get the boost in the sound.

0:22:340:22:39

BIRD SINGS

0:22:410:22:44

Oh, that's lovely, it's so clear.

0:22:440:22:47

It's really taken out the other sounds and amplified the blackbird's.

0:22:470:22:52

Using these kind of mics allows you to eavesdrop on a world that you'd never otherwise be able to hear.

0:22:560:23:02

Bradfield Wood isn't just famous for its birds,

0:23:040:23:07

but also for a wide variety of flowers.

0:23:070:23:11

This is a wood anemone.

0:23:110:23:13

One of the things I like about this plant

0:23:130:23:16

is there are lots of myths and legends associated with it.

0:23:160:23:19

One of them is the story of the goddess of love, Venus.

0:23:190:23:22

She was mourning the death of her lover, Adonis,

0:23:220:23:25

and where her tears fell are where the wood anemones sprang up.

0:23:250:23:31

This is beautiful. I'm in a sea of wild white garlic.

0:23:310:23:35

It's got a really powerful smell.

0:23:350:23:37

But actually it's not quite so pungent if you eat it.

0:23:370:23:41

What I like doing is making it into garlic bread.

0:23:410:23:43

Also you can make soup out of it and put the little flowers on the top as a garnish.

0:23:430:23:48

Just the smell, being in the middle of all this, is making me feel quite hungry.

0:23:480:23:53

All these flowers are really beautiful.

0:23:540:23:58

But with a bit of detective work, they can also help us uncover the rich history of this wood.

0:23:580:24:04

Botanist Patricia Ash is looking for key plants that will help her find out how long this wood has been here.

0:24:040:24:10

Flowers like the oxlip.

0:24:100:24:12

East Anglia is a real stronghold.

0:24:120:24:16

And the beautiful and rare Herb Paris

0:24:160:24:19

which gets its name from the Latin word "par", meaning equal,

0:24:190:24:23

because of the regularity and symmetry of its leaves.

0:24:230:24:26

Together, these and other plants, known as indicator species,

0:24:310:24:36

tell Patricia all she needs to know.

0:24:360:24:39

They have a number of unusual properties.

0:24:390:24:42

They take a very long time to colonise a wood.

0:24:420:24:45

They're very reluctant to spread out beyond their natural habitat.

0:24:450:24:51

They also love living in shade.

0:24:510:24:53

So where you get a whole load of that sort of species together,

0:24:530:24:58

it really does suggest that they've been there a long, long time.

0:24:580:25:02

If you had to guess, how old would you say this wood was?

0:25:020:25:04

It must be pretty ancient from the range of species that you've told me about and that I've seen today.

0:25:040:25:11

I would say at least 1,000 years.

0:25:110:25:13

So the sheer variety of flowers here shows you that this is an ancient woodland.

0:25:150:25:19

It's something that you could do in your own local woodland to work out how old it is.

0:25:190:25:23

But to find out more about its history, we need to look at the trees themselves.

0:25:230:25:29

This isn't really what you'd expect of an ancient tree,

0:25:290:25:32

but in fact it could be one of the oldest trees in the wood.

0:25:320:25:36

It's an ash stump, or stool.

0:25:360:25:38

The reason that it looks like this is because it's been coppiced by humans for centuries.

0:25:380:25:43

What coppicing is, is when you cut down the branches of the trees

0:25:430:25:47

quite near the base and then that allows these new shoots to generate.

0:25:470:25:51

When they get thick enough, they're harvested and used for fencing, thatching and firewood.

0:25:510:25:58

A different part of the wood is coppiced every few years.

0:25:580:26:01

This may look devastated, but coppicing opens the area to sunlight,

0:26:010:26:06

which encourages wild flowers.

0:26:060:26:09

The wood is also the habitat of an elusive bird that sings from within deep cover.

0:26:090:26:15

Nightingales are the archetypal little brown bird,

0:26:150:26:19

so I don't think that I'm actually going to get to see one tonight,

0:26:190:26:22

but I am hoping that I will hear one

0:26:220:26:25

because nightingales are one of the few species that actually sing at night.

0:26:250:26:29

Still can't hear one. I'm going to try a little trick.

0:26:290:26:33

What I've got is a tape-recording of a nightingale and I'm going to play it

0:26:350:26:42

to see if that's going to make the males respond.

0:26:420:26:47

I'm hoping that because males sing to attract females, that they're going to think that this male is a rival,

0:26:470:26:53

and they'll sing to out-compete it. BIRD-SONG PLAYS ON TAPE

0:26:530:26:57

BIRD RESPONDS FROM TREES That's amazing.

0:26:570:27:00

I've got a nightingale singing back to us.

0:27:000:27:05

I think it's amazing to be in a wood at this time of night -

0:27:060:27:10

it's about nine o'clock - and to be able to hear a bird singing and singing so beautifully.

0:27:100:27:17

Males only sing for a short period of time and once they've got the females, they stop.

0:27:170:27:22

A bit like your boyfriends, to put all this effort in at the start and they give up once they've got you!

0:27:220:27:29

Bradfield wood is run by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust

0:27:340:27:37

and it's just a short drive from Bury St Edmunds.

0:27:370:27:40

It's open all year round and it's free.

0:27:400:27:42

The best time for the dawn chorus is late April, early May,

0:27:420:27:46

which also happens to be a great time for woodland flowers.

0:27:460:27:50

We've got some interesting plants here in the New Forest too.

0:27:500:27:53

This one is called butcher's broom and it's a species you typically find in old woodlands.

0:27:530:27:58

It's well named. In the old days when butchers would throw sawdust on their floors to soak up the blood,

0:27:580:28:04

they'd then gather up bundles of this stiff spiky plant

0:28:040:28:07

and use it to sweep up.

0:28:070:28:09

Works really well.

0:28:090:28:11

And it's still got a modern use as well because it's said that butcher's broom can cure piles.

0:28:110:28:17

On that potentially very painful end, we'll say that's all from this addition of Hands On Nature.

0:28:170:28:21

See you again next time.

0:28:210:28:24

When I'll be tracking down the bird

0:28:240:28:27

known as the nutty noise maker.

0:28:270:28:29

This male here is going berserk. There he is, look at that!

0:28:290:28:35

And we'll be getting close to the insects of the South Downs

0:28:350:28:40

when Mike Dilger catches up with some fantastic wildlife.

0:28:400:28:44

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:440:28:47

Chris Packham presents a guide to the UK's wildlife hotspots. He visits the UK's woodlands to reveal the secrets of successful badger watching and discovers the best place to see our biggest game birds as they strut their stuff in the Scottish Highlands.


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