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December walks and wildlife

Even in winter there is much to see and hear in the New Forest. So we have picked out some perfect seasonal walks walks, as well as this month’s wildlife highlights, to help you explore the New Forest over the festive period.

Five festive New Forest Walks

After over indulging on turkey and mince pies, these short walks are perfect for a family stroll to blow away the cobwebs. Click walk name to download a PDF route guide or view all walks.

Burley village (4.2 miles) – Burley is a popular Forest village with an intriguing folklore and history

Keyhaven Marshes (3.5 miles) – This walk follows part of the Solent Way along the sea wall towards Lymington (picture below)

Brockenhurst village (5 miles) – Brockenhurst is a picturesque village in the heart of the New Forest

Godshill and Castle Hill (2.6 miles) – This walk takes you through quiet fields and along woodland paths to the site of an Iron Age hill fort

Landford and Hamptworth (5 miles) - Explore what was once part of the Royal Forest of Melchet, at the northern tip of the New Forest 

What to look out for this month…

While December is a time of celebration for us, life can be hard for wildlife in the winter.  For many small birds and mammals, finding enough food to survive takes up almost every hour of daylight.  The winter solstice, sometimes called Midwinter Day, occurs on 22 December this year: this is the shortest day in the calendar.

The foxes’ mating season is beginning, and you might hear the eerie screams and wails of the vixens (females) and the barking ‘wow-wow-wow’ calls of the dogs (males).

Both male and female robins hold a territory throughout the cold wintry months and both sexes therefore regularly sing at this time of year. Some other birds have winter territories too, including the grey plovers (a type of wader) that feed on coastal mudflats. Tawny owls are approaching their noisiest period: listen out for their hoots as they begin their courtship displays.

Many birds roost together for warmth and safety. These include starlings, finches, winter-visiting thrushes, rooks, jackdaws, carrion crows, pied wagtails and even wrens. The best time to track down bird roosts is from an hour before sunset, when you can see numerous birds all flying in the same direction towards their communal sites.

Even in midwinter, you can still find a few flowers on the heathland gorse bushes and on the butcher’s broom (an evergreen shrub) in the woodlands. Most fungi fruiting bodies have been killed off by the cold but bracket fungi on trees such as birch are often much tougher and last from one year to the next.

Broad-leaved trees are now leafless and the shape of their trunks and branches is more obvious.  See if you can identify them by their shape, the texture of their bark and by the colour, shape and arrangement of their buds.

Evergreens are of course still green in winter – look especially for conifers such as pines and spruces (including the Norway Spruce that is the traditional Christmas tree). Holly, ivy and mistletoe also have leaves through the winter and sometimes feature in our Christmas celebrations. Only the female holly tree has red berries and many of these will already have been eaten by the birds.  Ivy is also important for wildlife and you might spot woodpigeons or other birds feeding on the black berries. Mistletoe is parasitic; it does have leaves that photosynthesise, but it also takes water and nutrients from its host tree. Its fruits are food for birds that also spread the seeds to other trees where they may take root.

Very few insects fly around in December.  The exception may be clouds of male gnats dancing in the hope of attracting a passing female. Most insects pass the winter as eggs, larvae or pupae.
During mild winter weather (10+°C), bats and hedgehogs will break their hibernation to forage for food. 

Unfortunately it is believed that between 30 and 60 percent of bats and hedgehogs do not make it through to spring – although too late for this winter, it’s worth buying a friend (or yourself) a hedgehog hibernation box for Christmas, ready for next year!

Happy Christmas from all of us at the National Park Authority.

This entry was posted by Communications on Friday 18/12/2015


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