Signs of spring

Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring

We are all looking forward to spring more than ever before. Having had another lockdown, but this time through the darkest bleakest part of the year, the thought of longer warmer days and nature bursting into life is more appealing than ever. The sights and sounds of the natural world starting to wake up will give us a feeling of new hope for the year ahead. But what are the signs of spring? 

As winter turns to spring many of the birds who have migrated here for our colder months head back to their summer homes. This also means that many birds who migrated away return for the summer months. One of the first birds to return to our shores is the Chiff Chaff, they usually arrive in March with the swallows, house martins and cuckoos following in April. The birds start to return to their British nesting sites ready to breed as the days lengthen once again. You’ll know they are home as you’ll often hear them before you see them. buzzard spring

If you are lucky enough to have an outside space to escape to, head out at dawn and as the winter turns to spring you’ll notice that the bird song increases as more birds return home but also as they start to shout the loudest to attract a mate and defend their territory. The birds will become more physically active too. A great example of this is the buzzard that we are lucky enough to have in our woods, usually seen just casually gliding or perching, once the longer days start to arrive he starts to show off his skydiving skills to attract a mate, he’s a very impressive show off!

As you look down to the woodland floor, the small green shoots are starting to burst up through the leaf litter showing bright vibrant greens as the early flowers start to emerge. Many herbaceous plants rush to flower before the leaf cover of the canopy blocks out the light once the tree’s leaf growth emerges.

SnowdropsSigns of spring are often first to be seen in January to February. Their botanical name, galanthus nivalis, translates as ‘milk flower of the snow’ both because of the white carpet of flowers it produces, but also as the plant commonly gets covered in snow after blooming because of its early appearance.  

Lesser Celendine, crocuses and primroses are also early flowers bringing colour to the woodland and food for insects starting to venture out as the days get longer. We are seeing the early shoots of the bluebells bursting back into life here but these won’t be blooming until May, though when they do, the bees go crazy for them.

As well as signs of spring on the woodland floor the trees are not to be outdone with buds starting to open to make the most of the increasing daylight hours and milder temperatures. Some trees develop their new leaves before flowering while others flower first to attract in the early insects and pollinators before putting their energy into new leaf growth. The hazel, birch and alder catkins are all visible at this time before the leaf cover becomes dense.

As the vegetation bursts into life so do the insects. With the milder weather you may get early sightings of brimstone, peacocks, commas and red admiral butterflies as they come out of winter having hibernated as adults. Orange tips and holly blues are true signs of spring, they winter as chrysalises emerging as the weather warms and days lengthen. These are often found near woodland and mature gardens as they use holly and ivy as larvae host plants. 

The first bumblebees are a great sign of spring and can usually be seen from March. These are the queens who have survived winter and are in search of early flowers for food and suitable nesting sites. Once the queen has found a suitable place she then lays her first clutch of eggs which become the first batch of female worker bees. The larvae are fed by the queen, so through spring she’ll be seen busily collecting pollen from the spring flowers so she can feed her increasing army of workers. These young emerge as adults in the summer months. To support our vulnerable bees why not plant a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the year? That’s one of jobs here in the woods to ensure the local bees have a variety of food sources……as long as the deer don’t eat them first.

With the increasing numbers of active insects sparks increased activity of mammals that feed on them. Another sign of spring is the sight of bats at dusk. After a winter of hibernation the bats come out on the milder evenings to enjoy the spring feast. They have used up their fat reserves through winter so look to replenish and nourish themselves, especially the pregnant females who mated in Autumn. 

We also have badgers here in the woods, though they don’t hibernate through winter their activity is greatly reduced in an attempt to conserve energy and escape the winter weather. As spring arrives they start to venture out as their main food source, the earthworm, comes to the surface as soil temperatures increase.
Badger cubs are typically born in February so there will be more activity around the sett as there are more hungry mouths to feed.

In ponds and ditches a classic sign of spring is the distinctive clusters of frog spawn appearing from January onwards as the temperatures become milder. Females lay their eggs in well vegetated ponds and ditches then as the eggs swell they float to the surface. She lays thousands of eggs, each one is a tiny tadpole embryo surrounded by a protective jellylike layer, but only 40-50% make it to adulthood, most succumb to predation.   


So whether you are out on a walk, heading for new adventures or practicing your bushcraft skills, take time to look around you. Spring is well and truly on its way, enjoy it, immerse yourself in it and let it recharge you to get you through these tricky times. 

Bushcraft Coffee

Bushcraft Coffee

If there is one thing that makes campfire bushcraft coffee taste even better, it's drinking it in the woods. Coffee made over the campfire just tastes so much better. Here at Wildway we have perfected the art of making our coffee over the fire with nothing but a billy can. No need for anything fancy, no presses, grinders or filter papers. Simple.

First off make sure you have bought a good brand of coffee in to the woods in the first place. We were sent afree sample by Rave and boy was it good. We had not heard of these guys before but they are UK based company that ethically source coffee from around the world. They also seem very keen on the environment with the no nonsense packaging which is a massive plus for us. You could do a lot worse than giving them a try. I am working my way though their range as we speak. Anyway on to the process.

So once you have got your coffee sorted lets get this bad boy made.

Step 1

Empty the coffee into the billy can, one large spoonful for each person and one for the pot is how I measure it out. At this stage I should add that the best ground for this is espresso but it's not the end of the world.

Step 2

Warm the grounds over the campfire, this really adds to the flavour. Don't burn them or it will taste like bitter.

Step 3

Add cold water into the warm billy can.

Step 4

Bring to the boil, until you can see the coffee start to bubble around the edges.

Step 5

Remove from the heat and stir with a hand carved spoon or a stick!

Step 6

Gently tap the side of the can allowing the coffee grounds to settle.

Step 7

Add sugar and milk to taste. Black and one sugar if best!


There you go simple campfire bushcraft coffee, so next time you head to the woods keep it simple and give this a go you never know it might change your world, or at least give you less to carry!

Wild Summer Edibles

Wild Summer Edibles

10 Wild Summer Edibles

As we continue to navigate our way through this strange and crazy year, even more of us are finding solace in the great outdoors and learning the benefits of foraging wild summer edibles.

Whether heading off for adventures, or just exploring the areas near our homes, we will all be noticing the changes in the seasons, maybe even more so this year as we have been forced to slow down and stay closer to home.

Noticing the seasonal changes not only helps connect with nature more but also opens up our eyes for opportunities, the wild summer edible kind!

As spring edibles have passed, now is the time make the most of the summer abundance. Ensuring that you leave enough for the wildlife and have the landowner’s permission, foraging at this time of the year is incredibly rewarding. But be very sure to get your plant identification correct as there are plenty of poisonous plants around too!

Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)Wild Summer Edibles

Found in open woodland and scrubland, or on the banks of chalk downlands, these little red fruit are summer treasures.

The plant and fruit look like small versions of the cultivated fruit that we know and enjoy from our gardens, shops and farmers markets. Though it is worth knowing that the wild strawberries aren’t as sweet as the cultivated fruits and are just the size of a 5 pence piece.

The wild strawberry plant produces the same white flower as the cultivated strawberry plants. Once pollinated the small red fruits develop and are then ripe and ready for picking, just ensure that you leave plenty for the wildlife too as these are a great energy source for small ground mammals and birds.

These berries are packed. Full of vitamins and can be enjoyed raw, added to a summer salad or smoothy or cooked into jams and puddings too. I think these are one of the best wild summer edibles around.

Meadowsweet ( Filipendula ulmaria)

The Meadowsweet plant is found across Northern and Southern Europe and is often used in herbal medicine for its health benefits as it is said to treat colds, ease digestive discomfort and to reduce inflammation.

This perennial herb grows in damp meadows, hedgerows and ditches, growing up to 120cm in height. The leaves are dark green on top and greyish underneath, and are deeply veined and toothed along the edges.

Meadowsweet flowers are small and white, growing in clusters. As the name suggests, this sweet smelling flower blooms from June through to September with the white flower clusters up on a long stem. These flowers are often described as having a fuzzy or frothy appearance due to the clusters of longer pollen stamens and are often used in wines, beers and vinegars. Eaten raw the young leaves add extra nutrients to a summer salad or can bee cooked into soups and stews.

Although this plant has many health benefits, make sure you do not get it confused. When foraging at any time of the year plant identification is key. If in doubt, don’t risk it. You must be sure what wild summer edible plant your eating!

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)

Rock Samphire is best foraged from May to October. This salt tolerant, hardy succulent is found along rocky coastlines, growing on cliffs and in crevices. Care needs to be taken when foraging this nutrient rich perennial herb, so we advise not to harvest from cliffs but to forage from rocky flats, but be aware of incoming tides.

Not leaf like at all, this plant has spraying antler like protrusions that are circular, like multiple stems, not to be confused with the unrelated but similarly named marsh samphire.

The ‘leaves’ of the rock samphire have a strong carroty or herb like taste and make a great nutrient rich addition to a summer salad, as can the flowers that bloom from June to September. From August to October the seed pods can be harvested and pickled making a great substitute for capers.

Rock samphire are high in vitamins and minerals and historically used by sailors to help stave off scurvy due to its high vitamin C content. Though it is worth knowing that this plant is very much like Marmite, due to its distinctive flavour you’ll either love it or hate it!

Wild Cherry (Prunus avian)

Wild cherry, a popular native tree is often treasured for its abundance of summer berries by humans and wildlife alike. Historically also treasured for its hard wood for building, as well as its source of food, cherry trees can grow up to 30 meters living for up to 60 years.

As well as in gardens, cherry trees can be found in parklands, woodlands and hedgerows. The propagation of the trees relies heavily on the birds eating the cherries and spreading the seeds, hence the second part of its botanical name being avium.

Once pollinated by our insect pollinators the sweet smelling distinctive blossoms of spring develop in to green berries. In a short time these ripen in to the red gems, once ripe there is a small window of opportunity for foraging before the birds have a glut themselves.

If you are lucky enough to share with the local wildlife and don’t miss out, then you’ll discover that they are smaller and more tart than the cultivated species of cherry that we enjoy from the shops.

These vivid red fruits are nutrient rich and commonly used to relieve coughs, colds, digestive symptoms and reduce the discomfort of gout. They are very tart in flavour and, when eaten raw, to many can cause digestive upset in some people. Wild cherries can be added to jams, pies and tarts as well as making a great sauce to accompany game.

Once you can identify a cherry tree, you’ll soon recognise them around when out and about on your adventures. They are certainly trees to be treasured and produce some of the best wild summer edibles about.

Red Currants (Ribes rubrum)

The red currants are a member of the genus Ribes in the gooseberry family. This shrub is easy to identify and commonly found in dark shady woodland, hedgerows and riverbanks, especially across the southern half of England.

These plants grow up to 1-1.5m in height and are upright in stature with a woody stem and leaves that are similar to a small maple leaf. Once you know what you are looking for they are easy to identify, but often confused with the black currant which has a larger leaf of about three times the size.

In late spring the plant produces dull and disappointing flowers of a yellow-green colour, but in early summer small clusters of up to twenty green berries form in each cluster. As the berries ripen and become a vibrant red they are ready for foraging, but just as with many berries, there is a small window of opportunity to enjoy them before the wildlife have had their fill.

Red currants are backed full of nutrients that aid circulatory health and energy. They can be enjoyed raw or added to many recipes including jams, tarts or sauces to accompany cooked meats.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)Wild Summer Edibles

The Bilberry plant is found in woodland, moorlands and forests in temperate and subarctic areas of the Northern Hemisphere. This deciduous small shrub prefers acidic, well drained soil with partial shade.

The bilberry, also known as the whortleberry, huckleberry and European blueberry, is in fact part of the heather family and as well as producing the edible berries, bilberry has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years.

So what is the difference between bilberries and blueberries? Traditionally blueberries were more of a cultivated type of berry, where as the bilberry was only ever found in the wild, though these days there are cultivated bilberries too. Blueberry flesh is light in colour whereas the bilberry flesh is a deep purple red. The bilberry plant is a low growing shrub so can be easily confused with blueberries, but both are edible so can both be enjoyed. Which is a bonus when collecting wild summer edibles!

Wild growing bilberries are packed full of nutrients and are partially beneficial for eye health. The berries can be enjoyed raw or added to recipes such as jams, sauces or pies.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed is a perennial flowering plant that can be foraged for food or dried to be used as a cooling herb for herbal remedies. It grows in a variety of places from shady parks, grasslands, under trees and in the cracks of pavements too. If you look closely you’ll see that the plant has a single line of hairs down just one side of its stem making it slightly easier to identify.

Commonly deemed as a weed by gardeners, this foraged green has a fresh grass like flavour and no bitterness that is common in other foraged leaves. At this time of year look out for its small white star like flowers that can be eaten too. Both leaves and flowers can be added to salads, soups or pesto to give added nutrients to popular dishes.

When foraging pick the young lush leafy tops as these are the most tender, nutrient rich a delicious part of the plant. The older leaves can be a little tough and stringy. Similar to spinach these leaves are high in iron and can be eaten raw and cooked, though if eaten raw in abundance can lead to digestive discomfort. As with all foraging be sure to get your plant identification correct before you tuck in.

Elder Flowers & Berries (Sambucus nigra)

The Elder tree is steeped in history and folklore. Regarded as a protected tree because of the ‘Elder Mother’ residing in the trees trunk this was often grown next to gateways and entrances as it was regarded to keep away bad luck. For this reason the trees were rarely cut down or burnt.

Elders were also closely protected because of their medicinal benefits too. Not just the berries, but the flowers, the bark, roots and leaves have been used for centuries to treat a number of ailments and illnesses.

Often found in hedgerows and woodland, the Elder tree can reach heights of 10-12 metres. The trees are found to rarely live longer than 80 years and are characterised by their short trunk and greyish-brown farrowed bark.

From May, bunches of tiny white flowers hanging in sprays the size of saucers develop with a distinctive sweet smell. These flowers can be foraged and used to make classic summer drinks such as sweet elderflower cordial, elderflower champagne, sorbets or cakes.

If left, once pollinated, these small white flowers turn into a cluster of small purple-black berries. These sour berries are packed full of nutrients but should not be eaten raw as they induce vomiting and diarrhoea. However they are often taken in cooked supplement form to boost the immune system, reduce stress and support heart health.

Once cooked these berries can be made into jams, juices and pies and enjoyed with a glass of elderflower cordial, the taste of summertime.

Crab Apples (Malus sylvestris)

Found in hedgerows, gardens and woodlands these small ancestors of the cultivated apple tree can live up to 100 years old. These smaller trees favour moist soil and when exposed to the elements become twisted and gnarled with the twigs often developing spines. It is thought that this spined and crabbed appearance is one of the reasons that it has its name.

These smaller native trees are spherical and irregular in shape with a wide canopy. Though commonly a smaller tree, the Woodland Trust state that some have been found at 10 meters in height.

The small sweet smelling pink and white blossoms bloom from spring into summer, then once pollinated develop the tree’s fruit in late summer. Crab apples can be a variety of colours ranging from golden yellows, greens to russet reds when they are ready to harvest in late summer into early autumn.

Eaten raw these fruits can be incredibly bitter and can cause some digestive discomfort, but when cooked with sugar they make a great addition to summer puddings and to jams and jellies too.

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus)

The bramble plant that produces the blackberries can grow just about anywhere. They make up dense hedgerows, cover scrubland, are found in woodland and are capable of growing pretty much anywhere in our climate.

As well as making the perfect habitat for a variety of wildlife these hardy prickly plants produce tasty and nutritious sweet berries from late summer into autumn.

The white blossoms that bloom from spring into summer develop into juicy edible berries from July to late August. They start as small hard green berries then as they ripen and grow in size they change from pink, to red and when fully ripen they are a deep purple-black colour and ready for harvesting.

These tasty, nutrient dense berries can be enjoyed raw straight from the plant, added to smoothies and salads or cooked into recipes such as pies, crumbles and hedgerow jams, or frozen to be enjoyed through the winter months.


So whether you are foraging greens to boost your summer salads and soups, harvesting berries to boost your health or picking fruit to freeze for comforting winter puddings, summer is the time of abundance.

Remember to forage your summer edibles responsibly and carefully insuring you have identified the plant correctly. Make sure you have the land owner’s permission, that you only take what you need and leave enough for others. But most importantly leave enough for the wildlife as they will be feeding young and themselves to make sure they are strong and healthy ready for the winter months. So get out there and enjoy your wild summer edibles!

Bushcraft at Home

Indoor Bushcraft

Indoor Bushcraft- 5 Things To Do Right Now

This is a tricky time for all of us, we are doing the right thing by staying home and staying safe. Only venturing out once a day for your daily exercise can feel so alien when you are used to spending most of your time out in the woods or away on expedition like the team here. So we thought we’d share a few tips and give you 5 things to do right now during this lockdown period to stay busy, stay focused and stay positive. A sort of indoor bushcraft so to speak!

We are all missing the great outdoors and the adventures that we were supposed to be away on right now but lets look at how you can still be doing bushcraft and adventure related stuff at home.

1. Sharpening Tools-Bushcraft axe

Knives and axes are both essential parts of bushcraft kit. A blunt tool is going to make your life more difficult when out in the woods, and a badly maintained tool is a dangerous tool.

So use this time to go through and assess your tools. Are they safe? Are they in full working order? Take this time to sharpen the blade, strop the blade too if needed, then ensure the blade is dry before putting it away to avoid rust.

Assess the handle too, it maybe in need of some TLC. Oiling the wooden handles of your tools will help with their strength and longevity and keep them safe and effective to use.

Also take a look at the protective sheath too, if it is leather give it an oil to keep it supple and strong which will keep your blade protected and ensure the longevity of your tools.

2. Sort Out Your Kit-

Make the use of this time to pull out all of your kit, and I mean all of it. Take a good look at each item, does it need some maintenance? Do you actually use it or is just taking up valuable space?

Also look at how you store your kit and pack your kit too. Sometimes life can be so busy between work, family and heading off on adventures that taking the time to properly sort and store kit is less of a priority, but now is the time to do it. Kit that needs maintenance leave out and carry out some repairs on each piece. This is also a great time to waterproof wet weather kit too, even if it doesn’t look too warn, use this time to get another waterproof layer on, you’ll be glad of it next winter.

3. New Kit-

A favourite subject of the team, new kit! Everyone loves getting new kit but no one likes buying duff kit or being ripped off. So use this time to work out what you actually need then research the product, speak to friends who use the kit and read plenty of reviews. A perfect indoor bushcraft job!

4. Expand Your Knowledge-

It’s always good to expand your knowledge and update your skills, no matter how long you’ve been doing bushcraft.

There are some great books and online resources so you can read up on most elements of bushcraft. Whether it’s improving your plant identification, updating your navigation knowledge or learning more about water filtration, then now is a great time to expand your knowledge.

Also, check out our Facebook Page and YouTube Channel for further info, tips and video clips.








5. Practice Your Skills-

OK, so this one is a bit more limiting in this current situation of lockdown, but there are still some skills that can be practised in your own home. Obviously if you have garden then there will be skills you can practice outside such as firelighting and tarp set ups. But inside you can still practice your carving skills, work on your map reading and navigation knowledge as well as practising natural cordage.

So stay positive, practice your skills as much as you can, expand your knowledge and plan your next adventures.

Wild Garlic

Spring Edibles To Forage

Spring Edibles To Forage

After the gloom of winter the early spring edibles to forage are a welcome sight. After a period of slim pickings during the winter months you can start to gather some highly nutritious edibles from February onwards. As the young leaves and shoots come through there are some tender sweet greens to gather.

As always though, when foraging be sure to have the land owner’s permission, ensure you have identified the correct plant and don’t take it all for yourself, after all the wildlife have had a long hard winter and need nourishment too.

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) 

Wild GarlicWith the leaves appearing from February the aromatic wild garlic is a welcome sight early in the season and a delicious and versatile spring edible.  They grow in clusters and can be found in shaded woodland and hedgerows, and when the flowers are in bloom you will smell them before you see them!

Before the flowers appear, if you are unsure if you have the right plant or not, just crush a leaf in the palm of your hand and if it is wild garlic it will have distinctive onion-garlic scent.  

Both the long pointed leaves and the fragrant white flowers are edible and can be enjoyed in many forms. Add to sauces or stews, make your own wild garlic pesto, or maybe try making wild garlic bread on the camp fire. The flavour is incredible.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) 

Also known as Jack-by-the-hedge, garlic mustard is another vibrant spring edible found from February-March onwards. The leaves have a milder garlic flavour than wild garlic but still make a great addition to an early spring salad or stew. 

These heart shaped leaves have a toothed outer boarder and are hairless with a glossy sheen. When crushed they also release an onion-garlic scent, but it is not as strong as that from wild garlic. As these leaves are harder to spot, and smell, than the wild garlic be sure you have got your identification right before tucking in.

Nettles (Urtica dioica) 

Nettles with their distinctive leaves are easy to spot and grow just about anywhere. New growth emerges from February onwards and it is the tender young tips that are the best parts of the plant to forage.

Packed full of iron and vitamins A & D this wild edible is very similar to spinach in nutritional value and has a similar flavour. Add to soups and stews, or make into tea or beer.

Famous for its “stinging” ability, you may prefer to wear gloves when foraging these beauties.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

HawthornHawthorn is known for its tough and prickly exterior, commonly used as an effective barrier and hedge line of farmland. But in early spring as the tree springs in to life its fresh delicate leaves and buds make tasty additions to salads and fresh dishes, or can be enjoyed straight from the plant. 

Historically these were a commonly foraged spring edible and the fresh young leaves and buds where referred to as ‘bread and cheese’ by foragers. The tender young leaves acting as the bread and the tasty flower buds being the cheese.

From summer onwards the leaves become tough and not as enjoyable to eat, so forage early.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

GorseFound in well drained and sandy areas such as heathland, cliff tops and scrubland, the gorse bush with its distinctive floral bloom provides vivid colour in the early spring. The vibrant yellow flowers are edible and sweet with their enticing coconut scent and almond flavour.

Care should be taken when foraging these flowers as they are well protected by the sharp thorn like leaves of the gorse shrub, but they are worth the prickly gamble!

These bright yellow flowers can be enjoyed raw eaten straight from the plant, or added to salads and puddings. Or enjoy steeped in hot water brewed as tea.

Cleavers (Gatium aparine)

CleaversCleavers, or Goose Grass, are easily found from February onwards, emerging along hedgerows, paths, parklands and woodland areas too.

These spring edibles can be treated just as a vegetable, an ideal addition to soups and stews. The early young plant tops are the best part to eat as they are tender and tasty. As the plant matures it becomes bitter and fibrous, and it is better to harvest the plant tops before the seeds appear in early summer.

Once the seeds have ripened and hardened these too can be harvested, best enjoyed roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Don’t be put off by its name, this spring edible is packed full of nutrients and regularly used in herbal remedies. This broadleaf weed has egg shaped leaves with pointy tips. The white flowers with elongated petals are edible too when they appear later in the season. 

These make a nutritional addition to an early spring salad, stew or smoothy.

Not to be confused with the poisonous yellow pimpernel. A key identification feature to look for in the chickweed is a visible single line of hairs running down one side of the stem, if there isn’t, don’t chance it.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Commonly found on grass verges, through out parklands, meadows and woodland dandelions are easy to forage. Their distinctive shaped leaf makes them easily recognisable, and even more so when their bright yellow flower appears in early spring too making this plant the ideal spring edible to forage. Dandelion

Both leaf and flowers are edible and can be enjoyed in salads or stews, or steeped in boiling water to make a tea. Just be mindful of their diuretic properties when consumed in larger quantities.  

So now the days are getting longer and the new growth is coming through, it’s a great time to get out exploring and see what delicious and nutritious treats nature has to offer this spring. Just remember to forage responsibly, enjoy your findings and be sure of your plant identification- If in doubt, leave it out!

Christmas tree

Norway Spruce

Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

The festive Norway Spruce, as the name may indicate, is a non-native species here in the UK. Introduced from Scandinavia in the 1800’s, this distinctive evergreen was originally bought over for forestry.

Norway Spruce

Grown for its use as a building material, the Norway Spruce is well suited for this role due to its strength, straightness of grain and fast growth, a rapid 60cm a year.

Norway spruce, also known as Spruce Fir, can grow up to 50m at maturity. These trees have been found to live to 1000 years in age, but are deemed to be mature from 80 years old where their bark changes to a darker colour and their growth drastically slows or stops altogether. 

Pointed in shape, this distinctive evergreen will never grow a wide canopy always remaining wider at the bottom and narrowing at the top. Dark rich green in colour the tree will remain covered in its short durable needle-like leaves all year round. 

Christmas Tree

Younger trees have coppery-grey coloured bark which has thin papery scales, then as the tree matures the bark turns darker brown and develops small plates with visible cracks. The twigs are orangey brown in colour with the small pointed needles emerging from three sides, but rarely from the underside of the twig. 

In spring time the male flower can be seen laden with pollen, turning from red to yellow as the pollen increases. The female flowers, usually found near the top of the tree, are oval in shape and grow in an upright position. The male pollinates the female flower through wind pollination, after which the female turns green and grows larger in size before becoming the tree’s fruit, the cone.

Norway Spruce Cones

The Norway Spruce cones hang down from the branch and are elongated in shaped with diamond and rounded shaped scales that are red-brown in colour. The seeds from the cones are released in spring time to create the next generation of tree or provide valuable food for local wildlife, especially favoured by the Red Squirrel. 

As well as for forestry the Norway Spruce is commonly used as a festive addition to our homes as the humble Christmas Tree. A tradition started back in 1841 by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. He introduced the old German tradition of decorating a spruce tree at Christmas time, and it is usually the Norway Spruce that is used. Known for its distinctive fresh scent often associated with the festive season and its year round vibrant colour the Norway Spruce is a great addition to any household at Christmas. 

Christmas tree

deer chewing the cud

Poo, Prints & Pawmarks

Poo, Prints and Paw Marks

Heading out into the woods, whether to set up camp, or to simply explore can be a great opportunity to escape the fast pace of modern life. Peace and quiet as well as time to switch off. Many people relish this opportunity for some alone time, but are you really alone?


Look around you and you’ll find evidence that you have company. But don’t worry, as this is good company to keep!

Here in the UK we are lucky to have a variation of wildlife living in our woodland, but how can you tell who is keeping you company when many of them are timid creatures? Poo, prints and paw marks, that’s how!

By studying the ground around you, especially through muddy patches, or snow if you have some, you will start to see the evidence around you.

As well as prints, poo is also a great indicator of who is there with you, or who has passed by. Animal poo, also referred to as scat, can tell you many things about an animal. Firstly, which animal it is, but also about their diet, their health and how recently they’ve been there. 


Let’s take a closer look at 5 species you are likely to find here in the UK when you head out on your adventures.


The wild rabbits that we see today originated in Spain and Southern France. They were introduced to the UK by the Normans in 12th Century as a source of meat and fur. Wild Rabbit

These ground dwelling mammals are mainly active at night but can also be seen out grazing during the day if there aren’t too many predators in the area. 

Rabbits are herbivores, feeding on grass, leafy weeds and gnawing on tree bark to help their dental health. They re-swallow 80% of their faecal matter to allow their body to absorb as many nutrients from the ingested food as possible. This allows them to be more efficient.

Their poo, or scat, is small pea sized nuggets and are usually black or dark brown in colour and made up of plant matter. Rabbits often scatter their droppings in their latrine areas which are usually situated near the burrow entrances. They do this to keep the burrow system clean and as a means of marking their territory. 

Rabbit Scat

Only stopping to graze or check for predators the rabbit moves in a deliberate manner. Their hind paws, which are longer than their fore paws, leave elongated  paw prints. The hind limbs imprint a wide stance of both hind paws at the same time. The fore paws move forward independently and leave a smaller rounder print. These are best seen in mud or snow to give a clear track. Rabbits are social animals so many prints are usually found in a similar area as they live in family groups.

Red Fox

Part of the canine family, this orangey red mammal is characterised by its infamous bushy tail, known as its brush.   

These distinctive creatures can now be found in both towns and countryside. Out in the woodland they are in their natural environment and their instinctive behaviour patterns can be seen. They become most active from dusk well into the cover of darkness hunting through until dawn, patrolling their territory for feeding opportunities.

The fox will silently stalk its prey, progressing in slow deliberate moves. It stops regularly to listen, and then when in striking distance it rears up on its hind legs and pounces down on its prey in one powerful motion. They evolved as mousers and have a high pouncing angle to allow them to capture prey through even thick layers of snow. They adjust this angle depending on the size of prey and whether it is above or below ground.


Foxes have a diverse diet eating rabbit, rodents, birds, frogs and insects. They are in fact omnivores so can also be seen grazing hedgerows for berries or eating fruit fallen from trees. 

This varied diet is often evident in their poo too! Fox scat is a very similar shape to a dog’s. They are usually pointy at one end and full of bones, feathers, fur and seeds from berries they have foraged. Fresh droppings have a very distinctive smell, almost musky. If your dog has ever rolled in it you’ll be all too familiar with the smell.  

If you can’t smell them or haven’t seen them then check the ground for tracks. Foxes have 4 toes, 2 toes at the front with 2 toes slightly further back on either side. Below these you’ll see the main oval shaped pad. These appear very similar to a dog’s. The foxes print is usually narrower than a dog’s and gives a diamond shaped appearance to each paw print. In comparison a dog’s print is generally wider and leaves a rounder shape. 

A fully grown male fox will leave a paw print of approximately 5cm in length and 4cm wide, so if the print you have found is wider than this then chances are you’re looking at a dog print instead. Obviously confusion may occur when looking at a smaller fox’s track compared to a small breed of dog. 

It’s also worth knowing that foxes will move with a definite purpose so their tracks tend to be straight, compared to a dog’s track which is usually erratic in nature. 


Badgers are ground dwelling nocturnal mammals. Their setts are a series of burrows dug with their long claws. They are usually found in broadleaf woodland preferring well drained soil. As well as reducing the chance of flooding, well drained soil is far easier for them to dig and make their home. 

There is usually one main sett where they live for most of the year and where they rear their young. But within the badger’s territory there will also be up to 6 other smaller setts. These are used during the warmer months as places to rest when they are out on longer feeding and foraging sessions.


These are generally clean creatures and will clean out their setts on a regular basis, removing old plant matter that they have used for bedding material.  

Badgers are in fact omnivores foraging fruit from hedgerows, but a staggering 80% of their diet is made up purely of earthworms. They have to eat several hundred earthworms a night. This is another reason that they prefer broadleaf woodland as earthworms are plentiful there.

Their acute sense of smell and long claws help them to dig into the soil and find the worms along with other insects they will happily eat too. Badgers also eat slugs, snails and small mammals including rabbits, rodents and hedgehogs. They are in fact the main predator of the hedgehog and one of the only animals to have claws long enough to get past the hedgehog’s prickly defence.

Just like other ground dwelling mammals, badgers will poo outside of their setts to keep their living quarters clean and to reduce the chance of parasite infestation. 

Badgers dig small pits to use as latrines, this also helps to mark their territory and they are fiercely territorial animals. 

Their droppings can vary depending on what food is available at that time of year. They vary from firm, sausage shaped poo to dark, soft and slimier when they had an abundance of foraged fruit and earthworms……yum! Their droppings have a sweeter mustier smell compared to that of a fox, just in case you’d like to compare odours. 

Badger paw prints are approximately 5cm long and 6.5cm wide. Compared to the longer, smaller, diamond shape of the fox track, the badger has a distinctive wide print. The badger has 5 toes, all positioned forward of the broad oval shaped pad. Their long claws that enable them to be efficient diggers, leave distinctive marks in front of the toe prints in the mud or snow too.


Six species of deer live here in the UK, with Red and Roe deer being the only native species. Though as Fallow deer have been here since the 11th Century they are also included as part of our heritage. 

Red, Roe, Fallow, Sika, Chinese Water Deer and Muntjac can all be found at various location across the UK, but they all favour a similar habitat. Deer are generally shy creatures and prefer the cover of forests and woodland, but some species have adapted to cope with open areas of grass and moorland. 


They have no natural predators here so can be seen grazing out in open areas of grassland. This is especially the case with the larger breeds, Red, Sika and Fallow that need to graze for longer and on more of a variety of plant matter. The smaller breeds graze mainly on younger shrubs and foliage. 

Deer are a variety of mammal known as ruminants. These are a group of herbivores that are able to obtain nutrients from their plant based diet by fermenting the food in a specialised stomach prior to digestion. The fermentation happens due to the presence of specialised microbes. This part of the digestion process takes place in the deer’s foregut and requires fermenting plant matter, known as the cud, to be regurgitated and chewed again before swallowing back down for further fermentation. This happens twice before the bolus of food moves further back along the digestive tract. 

This process of chewing, swallowing and regurgitation before fermentation is called rumination, hence the name ruminant. This process allows ruminants, such as deer, to fully absorb nutrients from the plant matter. 

deer chewing the cud

Deer produce smooth, dark pellet like scat. Their poo is pointy at one end and are usually in clusters. Due to the rumination process the droppings have no visible content due to the efficient digestion process so all of the plant fibre is fully broken down. 

Each of the UK species of deer have similar tracks, they will just vary in size depending on the size of the species and the individual. Their hooves splay as the deer transfers its weight through the limb, leaving a gap between the two toes which is evident in its print. 

Deer prints are usually pointed at the front as the two toes elongate towards each other forming a tear drop shaped print. The toes have a more defined point in the younger individual compared to a more rounded, smoother point in that of an older deer. The point at the front of the print will indicate its direction of travel and if a series of prints can be seen clearly, you may also be able to work out its gait too.  


Squirrels aren’t always a popular mammal here in the UK, especially since the introduction of Grey Squirrels from America in the 1870’s. The Grey squirrels bought disease and proved to be tough competition for our native Reds. Since then the number of greys have risen to 2.5 million, while the number of reds have declined to a worryingly low 140,000.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrels spend most of their time up in trees compared to the greys but they can still be spotted if you look carefully. Our native Red Squirrels can be found in Scotland and areas of Northumberland, Northern Ireland and the Lake District. In some of these areas both reds and greys can be found sharing habitats. 

Off of the Dorset coast, in Poole Harbour, there is a safe haven for Red Squirrels on Brownsea Island. Although Grey Squirrels are strong swimmers, the strong tidal pull in and out of Poole Harbour is too strong for the greys to get across, so the reds are safe, and widely treasured, there.

Evidence of squirrels can be found by looking up in the trees as well as on the forest floor. If you can see what looks like a messy bundle of twigs in close to the tree trunk then this is likely to be a squirrel’s nest, known as a drey. 

Squirrels are mainly solitary animals, but will happily share dreys, especially in winter to share warmth. They often have multiple dreys to share just in case any become damaged. This sharing of dreys stops while a female is raising a litter of Kits. She will usually have two litters a year, the first is as early as February. 

A squirrel will have a summer and a winter drey. The summer drey is a minimal nest, just enough for light protection and a comfy place to rest. Where as a winter drey is a more rigid structure the size of a football. It is made up of multiple layers of twigs with layers of warm insulating nest materials, such as grass, feathers and moss on the inside.  

Some squirrels utilise abandoned holes made by woodpeckers. They line these in a similar way to their outdoor drey and gnaw the entrance to a suitable size. Through the winter months squirrels chose to stay in their drey for a few days at a time but don’t actually hibernate. 

Squirrels are actually omnivores, as well as their well known diet of nuts, seeds and berries, they also eat a variety of eggs, small mammals and even young snakes. Due to this varied diet, squirrel scat can vary too depending on what food is available at that time of year. Squirrel poo looks very similar to rat scat but is bigger, fatter and turns grey as it ages, especially if there is bone content. 

Squirrel Kits

Droppings are usually found near the base of the tree where there drey is, and females with young can be seen removing the kits scat from the nest. They do this not just to keep the nest clean, but to keep the kits healthy and to prevent the attraction of predators. 


Both red and greys have similar paw prints with their hind paws being larger than their fore paws. Their fore paws are approximately 1cm by 1cm, while the hind paws are 2cm long and 1cm wide. They have 5 toes which splay out  as they weight bare to help them balance so their toes after look more finger like when looking at their tracks.

Compared to the other animals we have looked at here, the squirrel prints can be a little harder to find. Firstly, they are very lightweight but secondly they often travel from tree to tree rather than coming down to the woodland floor to reduce their exposure to potential predators. 

So while you’re heading out on your next adventures, just remember, you’re not as alone as you think you are….

Red Fox

The Mighty Oak

The Oak

The English Oak

The English Oak (Qurcus Robus) is a common sight across the UK and has a strong link with our heritage. This large, long living tree is found mainly in the northern hemisphere. There are approximately 600 different species of Oak, some deciduous and some evergreen, here we will look a little closer at the deciduous English Oak.

In the right soil and sheltered conditions a mature tree can reach up to 40m. Commonly though the leading shoot is often eaten by wildlife which restricts the tree’s height and causes the side branches to grow out further producing the distinctive wide spreading dome. 

Oak Tree

Through The Seasons

Late Autumn

The tree is triggered to drop its leaves not by the drop in air temperature but by the reduction in daylight hours which is detected by a pigment in the leaf. As the tree prepares for winter it starts to break down pigments and beneficial nutrients stored within the leaves. The tree is able to store some of these nutrients within its root system to help it sustain itself through the winter months. 


This is the season when the tree is most vulnerable in its leafless state. Without its leaves to harness energy and nutrients it has to rely on what little it can store in its root system and draw up from the winter soil. oak in winter

If temperatures drop too low the tree’s internal fluids, that are transported around its internal circulatory system, are at risk of freezing. If the fluids freeze this can cause catastrophic damage to the tree. The bark acts as an insulating layer, but it can only do so much in prolonged cold conditions. For self preservation the Oak purposely dehydrates itself, reducing fluid content from most of its cells in order to survive the winter with minimal damage. The little remaining fluid is safeguarded by high concentrations of an antifreeze-like sugar. This is usually present in the tree in low concentrations, but as the tree reduces its fluid into the winter, the concentration of this natural antifreeze like substance rises helping to optimise the tree’s health through the harsher months.

Spring Into Early Summer

In springtime the Oak tree literally springs back to life and this is the time of rapid growth and recovery. Before the tree covers itself with new leaf cover from the dormant buds it ensures the production of the next generation by producing both the male catkin flower, heavily laden with pollen, and the female flowers. The male catkin pollinates the female flower through wind pollination and with the assistance of insects. Once the female flower is pollinated this forms in to an acorn growing through the summer ready to drop late in the season. This ensures the next generation of oaks and providing valuable food for its wildlife inhabitants.Oak Catkins

At this time the root system also has rapid stages of growth to spread out a little further. This helps to gain extra moisture and nutrients from the soil to further support the energy needs of the tree during this growth phase.Acorns

The tree’s next priority is to produce full leaf cover. Within just a month the Oak will have a full covering of fresh green leaves packed full of chlorophyll to start photosynthesising to provide valuable energy for the tree’s optimal health. Photosynthesis increases as the daylight hours get longer, hitting maximum energy production in early summer. This energy is used to sustain the tree, to enable growth and to facilitate repair. 

Mid Summer Into Autumn

After the rapid growth of spring into early summer, the mid to late summer brings a slowing in growth throughout the whole Oak tree system. Photosynthesis  actually slows at the peak of the day when temperatures are high. This occurs due to the reduced available moisture in the air and the ground, also the heat causes the enzymes that facilitate photosynthesis to slow. This is why most of the growth and energy production occurs in spring and early summer when there is a good balance of moisture, daylight hours and warmth but not extreme heat. 

As daylight hours shorten and less photosynthesis is taking place the chlorophyll that gives the leaf its green colour starts to break down. As the green in the chlorophyll breaks down the yellows and oranges become more visible through this process which is why we have amazing colour changes into autumn. 

Autumn Leaves

The break down of chlorophyll combined with other chemicals present in the leaves gives rise to the red and browns that we see in late autumn and early winter. 

Some species of Oak are marcesent, meaning that they hold on to their dead leaf coverage through the winter months. It is thought that they do this to protect the buds of new leaf growth that are vital for the tree’s health the following spring. Some also feel they hold on to the dead leaf cover to help protect against the harsh winter environment. The Oak then drops the dead leaves as winter gives way to spring to allow for the buds to open to provide the new leaf coverage.  

When leaves are dropped in late autumn a layer, known as scar tissue, is produced where the leaf and branch attach, referred to as the abscission zone. This is another form of winter protection for the tree. The dead leaves fall through a combination of wind, gravity and wildlife movements as the tree prepares itself for winter once more.

So next time you look at a mighty Oak, and on the outside it looks peaceful and still, just remember how hard this incredible tree is working just to sustain itself through the seasons. As with all trees, it is certainly one to nurture and respect. 

The Mighty Oak


kids outdoors

Kids Outdoors In Winter

How To Get Kids Your Outdoors This Winter

Getting kids outdoors can sometimes be harder than expected. When you’re all inside your home, in the warm, it’s often hard to encourage reluctant members of the family to come outside and go exploring. But now more than ever, with most children spending most of their week stuck in a classroom with limited time outside, and darker evenings restricting outdoor time after school too, we have to make the most of school holidays and weekends to get them outside and exploring. But why, and how?

As many of us know, and science is now recognising too, being out in nature is essential for our health and wellbeing. Not only does time outdoors help us to maintain better mental health, which is essential for children and adults alike, but it also has countless physical benefits too so getting kids outdoors is essential. 

kids outdoors

Sunlight is our main source of Vitamin D, which obviously is more limited at this time of the year, so we need to grab opportunities to get outside during daylight hours. Vitamin D is essential for our immune system and ensuring good bone health too. Also, getting out amongst woodland or out along the coast where the air is cleaner and fresh is a great way to boost your respiratory health as well. 

Time outside naturally aids good restful sleep, which is essential for us all, but especially children who are growing and developing at a fast rate. They are also constantly learning, so need good quality sleep to help them process the new information. By getting children out doors, especially being active outside, will help to calm and settle them into a better sleep pattern. This is also very true of adults too, nothing resets your sleep and wellness like time out in nature.

So we now know why we, and our children, should be outside more, but how do we encourage them out when they are a little reluctant!? 

Spotting Wildlife

deer Sparking an interest in wildlife really helps children to connect with nature. By finding out more about each animal it will encouraging their nurturing side and give a greater respect for wildlife in years to come. With younger children, start with the basic identifications, such as deer, squirrels etc but with older children try getting them to identify a species of deer or whether the animal is young or old for example. This will help with their observation skills which will help them in other ares of life too. So why not get them a notepad to draw or write about what creatures they can see and head out there to explore.

Climbing Trees

This often causes alarm in many parents, but learning to climb trees safely is not only great fun but teaches them about risk while improving their balance and co-ordination. Obviously choose a suitable tree and ensure you are able to reach them if they have a problem, especially with younger children. Trees are like nature’s climbing frames, as long as they concentrate, they can have great fun while being active and learning a new skill.

climbing trees


A recent study found that a lot of our play parks don’t have enough variety of equipment to allow our children to develop their balance and co-ordination in a way that they need to. By getting kids outside and exploring in nature, allowing them to jump ditches, balance on logs and climb trees we are doing them a huge favour for years to come. Exploring the environment in this way, at any age, helps to improve body awareness, known as proprioception, which increases agility and reduces the likelihood of injury and falls as they get older. 

Colours & Shapes

autumn leavesThis is a greart activity for kids outdoors, especially the younger ones. Get them to look for as many different colours and shapes while out exploring. A great place to start with this is by looking at the leaves, there are obviously many different shapes and even in winter there are still a variety of colours. This will help them to start to connect with the changing of the seasons, as well as seeing which trees and plants change dramatically in the winter, and which appear to remain the same. 


Who doesn’t love jumping in puddles?! Kids of all ages seem to be attracted to puddles, often the muddier the better, so dress them appropriately and let them get fully involved! 

Jumping is an important skill, one that some children at certain ages seem to struggle with, so what better way to practice than into a puddle. Also encourage them to hop into the puddles too, this also helps their balance and co-ordination whilst being nicely distracted by the mud. puddles

Getting kids outdoors and allowing them to get muddy like this helps them to connect with nature and natural materials allowing little ones to explore different textures giving them a sensory learning experience.

Map Reading

Whether you start with a basic map or just follow signs with little ones, or give older children a map and compass, navigation is a great skill to learn and great fun too. It encourages the little ones to take note of their surroundings, to start to learn different methods of finding their way around whilst having fun. map reading

With older children, learning to read maps and use a compass will help them in many situations but also gives them a little responsibility if they are in charge of navigating your adventure. Just keep it fun and light hearted, don’t be hard on them if they get you lost, non of us were born knowing how to read a map. Just ensure that you are able to help them back on track.

The key to having fun outdoors is wearing the right clothing and having the right kit with you. This is even more essential when taking children out as they can’t regulate their temperature as well as adults can and often don’t realise they are starting to get cold until they are very cold. So wrapping them up in layers that you can take on and off when needed, wearing a water proof outer layer along with comfortable, warm, waterproof footwear is essential. 

Also be aware that they will tire quicker than you so be prepared to carry younger ones for a bit, or even better, stop and take regular breaks. This will teach children about what considerations they need to make when out exploring. Teach them about staying warm, being hydrated and keeping fuelled with regular snacks. A great excuse to pack a nice flask of hot chocolate and some marshmallows if you ask me!


So get out there and have fun, you are doing your kids a favour, even if they don’t realise it yet. You are helping their physical and mental health and encouraging healthy habits for the future. So get your kids outdoors this winter, teach them some new skills and enjoy!!

kids outdoors


Trees In Winter

Identifying Trees In Winter

Identifying Trees In Winter- A Beginner’s Guide

The most common way to identify trees is by looking at their leaves. We do it without even realizing it, after all, it’s hard to miss the tree’s beautiful green coverage and changing colours into autumn. But how do we identify deciduous trees once their leaves have dropped? Let's look at how to identify trees in winter, focusing on 10 trees found here in the UK.

Trees In Winter


1. Ash

The common Ash grows throughout the UK and is mainly found in deciduous woodland and established hedgerows. When left untouched a fully grown Ash will reach between 35-40m in height. 

Ash leaves fall early in autumn and develop late in spring allowing extra light through to the forest floor which enables other plant species to thrive around them, therefore, providing great habitats for a mixture of wildlife.

Ash has distinctive black buds and upturned grey shoots of new growth, making these great identification features. As you look at each twig you will see a black bud at the end as well as buds growing in opposing pairs. The buds are hairless and have a black shine to them.

Looking at the tree’s bark is also another great way to identify trees in winter, as on closer inspection each species bark does vary more then you might first imagine. The bark of a younger Ash is relatively smooth, yet as the tree matures it develops distinct ridges in a diamond-shaped pattern. Its bark is pale brown-grey in colour darkening with maturity.

2. Oak

Oaks are long-lived trees, often reaching 500 years in age. The English Oak is widely regarded as part of our heritage and is a much loved tree here in the UK. This native tree supports more wildlife species than any other native tree so is essential to support biodiversity. 

An Oak can reach between 30-40m tall, then after reaching its maximum height it actually then shortens a little to increase its lifespan, it is one of the few trees known to do this. Oak Bark

When identifying an Oak in winter look for the rounded buds, they have a series of overlapping bud scales and can be either smooth or slightly hairy at the tip, these bud scales protect the buds during the winter months. The buds are sharply pointed and clustered at the end of each twig, these are known as the terminal buds.

The bark of the younger oak tree is smoother and grey with a hint of green, but as the tree ages the bark darkens and develops deeper furrows often in hexagonal and rectangular patterns.

3. Silver Birch 

The Silver Birch is a distinctive deciduous tree. Deemed to be a medium size tree, the Silver Birch can reach 30m in height at full maturity, forming a light canopy with its drooping branches. These are said to be pioneer trees, meaning they are usually one of the first trees to colonize newly cleared land.Silver Birch

When identifying trees in winter, the bark is a great identication tool, especially in the distinctive Silver Birch. The bark of a Sliver Birch is a distinctive white-silver colour, hence its name, and sheds in paper-like tissue layers. At the base of the tree the bark is darker and more rugged in texture with deepening fissures as the tree ages. Even through the winter months the bark remains light silver in colour so it is a useful identification feature all year round. 

Buds on the Silver Birch are slender and pointed growing up to 4mm in length. They are light brown in colour at their base but area glossy green colour at their tip.

4. Beech

At maturity a common beech tree can reach up to 40m in height with a wide spreading domed shaped canopy. Beech trees can be found amongst woodland or growing as an individual stand alone tree next to a country road. Beech prefer drier well drained soil such as chalk and limestone. 

To help you identify Beech during winter take a careful look at the bark, it is smooth and grey-brown in colour on younger trees, then as the tree ages horizontal etchings appear on the bark that then deepen as the tree matures. 

Through the winter months the beech tree, as with some species of oak trees, actually retains some of their dead leaves. It is thought that this happens to protect the buds and new growth as passing herbivores find the dead leaves unpalatable so leave the tree alone. Beech Nuts

Beech buds are a distinctive sharp pointed shape, usually 1-2cm in length. They grow at even intervals on alternative sides of the twigs and through winter remain coppery-brown color before turning green in spring. 

Another way to help with identifying the beech is to look around the base of the tree, during autumn they provide an abundance of beech nuts that are contained in distinctive casings. They are green when they fall but in the winter these casing will be brown, spiky, slightly triangular in shape and probably empty as they are a firm favourite with the local wildlife and great for foraging too.

5. Hazel 

The Hazel is an important understory tree, providing nuts for wildlife and supporting many forms of lichen. Left un-coppiced Hazel can grow to 12m and last for 80 years, but when coppiced Hazel is said to last for several hundred years. 

During autumn and winter the hazel will have male and female flowers on the same shrub. The male is a long yellow catkin like flower, while the female is much smaller and red in colour. The flowers open in early January before any new growth or shoots appear. The Hazel flowers are wind pollinated with the pollen being blown from the male to the female flowers which then develop into a hazelnut later in the year.


Another distinguishing feature of the Hazel is its bark. The Hazel’s bark is smooth and light brown in colour with vibrant yellow pores, these become more distinctive as the tree ages.

6. Sweet Chestnut

The Sweet Chestnut is a deciduous tree which can reach up to 35m in height at full maturity. They are from the same family as the Oak and Beech trees and can live up to an amazing 700 Years.

Sweet Chestnut is said to be one of the easiest trees to identify with its distinctive bark, buds and shoots, and even more distinctive and iconic nuts in autumn. 

Its bark is a grey-purple that becomes darker as the tree ages. As the tree matures the bark fissures deepen and appear to spiral the tree vertically making a distinctive pattern. The twigs are a deeper brown-purple colour with the buds being oval in shape and a deeper plum colour. 

Another aid for identification would be to look under the Sweet Chestnut tree for the remains of the nuts themselves or for the distinctive nut casings. When the nuts first fall they are spherical, have a lot of small slender spikes and a vibrant green. Though not to be mistaken with the Horse Chestnut’s conkers (which are definitely NOT edible) and have fewer but larger spikes. 

Some Chestnuts may remain amongst the casings but these are a very popular nut to forage and are even more popular with the local wildlife. 

sweet chestnuts

7. Sycamore

The broadleaf sycamore can grow up to 35m in height and live for up to 400 years. It provides an ideal habitat and food source for a variety of wildlife, especially aphids. The sycamore is thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans and is now established as a common sight in the UK. These trees can thrive on a range of sites and soil types but grow in similar locations to the Ash though they are a little more hardy to frost.

When identifying trees in winter, take a look at the Sycamore’s bark, it is a distinctive pink-grey colour and smooth on the younger tree. As the tree ages the bark becomes darker and cracked producing peeling layers that shed. 

sycamore bark

The tree’s buds are egg shaped and green in colour, growing to 0.5-1cm in size. The buds on the Sycamore grow opposite each other in opposing pairs.

8.Crack Willow

The Crack Willow is one of the larger species of Willow, but a relatively smaller deciduous tree compared to other native species reaching just 20m at maturity. It has a short thick trunk and develops a rounded crown canopy. 

This Willow is often described as scruffy and loud due to its ability to split and crack on a regular basis. The Crack Willow gets its name from the loud cracking sound it makes as its branches break, it is a distinctive and louder noise compared to other trees. Willow Buds

As the tree ages its bark, which is a lighter brown in a younger tree, becomes a darker brown and has many distinctive fissures that deepen with age. The twigs are a shiny yellow-brown and are slender in shape but these also make a distinctive crack sound when snapped. The buds grow tight into the twigs and are a similar yellow brown colour to the twigs.

9. Hornbeam

The lesser-known, yet surprisingly common Hornbeam is said to be a tough and mighty tree. This deciduous broadleaf can live up to 300 years old and reach up to 30m at maturity. 

Hazel Buds

HornbeamSimilar to some Beech trees, the younger Hornbeam trees hold on to some dead leaf coverage in the winter months, it is thought that this helps to protect new growth from grazing herbivores as they find the dead leaves inedible.

The Hornbeam’s bark is pale grey in colour with a slight silvery sheen, darkening slightly with age. Its vertical fissures become more distinctive as the tree ages. The twigs are a more brown-grey colour with a covering of fine hairs. Buds on the Hornbeam are very similar to that of a Beech but are slightly more slender and remain close to the stem.

10. Elm

The English Elm is usually found in hedgerows or amongst deciduous woodland. It is thought that this tree was introduced here by our ancestors from the Bronze Age. 

In the woodland environment, this tree can reach 35m in height and can live up to 100 years. The Elm used to be one of the most common trees here in England, but back in the 1960’s the English Elm was hit by the Dutch Elm Disease which has led to a drastic decline in numbers, so you may just have to look a little harder these days but they are still out there. 

As with other deciduous trees, during the winter months when the Elm has dropped its leaves you can identify the tree by taking a closer look at the bark and buds. Its bark is dark brown in colour with a hint of grey and very rough in texture with distinctive fissures that deepen with age. The Elm’s twigs are slender with fine hairs to help protect the new growth. These hairs give reddish-brown colour to the twigs and buds which grow above each leaf scar.

Buds In Winter

So this winter as you head out into the woods, or exploring across fields and parklands stop and take note of the trees that you find. Take a look and compare the differences in their bark and buds, note their differences and see which trees you can identify this winter.