The Tuesday tree: the forest floor
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The Freshly Pressed badge was designed by the super-talented Holley Maher, who kindly gave permission for me to use it.
One of the most entrancing things about woodland is that it is such an extraordinarily rich environment. While it might seem natural, walking under tall trees, to look up, there is just as much to be seen under your feet. Every step brings fresh details to notice. Having served my time of tramping along grey city streets, all concrete, grime and chewing gum, I never fail to be aware of the sensory pleasure of walking in the woods. Climb up this crumbling wall with me, into this favourite patch of mixed woodland, and see what I mean.
Just up here…
This is a woodland that was planted as a place of leisure and enjoyment by a laird of the castle perhaps a hundred and sixty years ago. It contains native and long-established British trees such as oak and beech, pine and sweet chestnut, holly and yew; but it is, strictly speaking, more of a garden than a wild forest, in that it is an ‘engineered’ landscape. Thus it has tumble-down paths running through it, half-buried under the leaf litter; while some of the trees within it are imports such as Douglas fir and North American oaks. Though it looks untended now, we continue to cut back the rampant rhododendrons and to fill in the gaps with saplings as trees fall victim to old age or gales. I love its semi-wild state. Rabbits and hedgehogs find shelter amongst the tree-roots here; red and grey squirrels scuttle up the trunks; roe deer melt away like ghosts among the shadows or bound through the trees and away across the far fields. Once we saw a pole-cat here. On summer days, we hear the drumming of a greater spotted woodpecker in these woods, while on winter nights the quavering hoots of brown owls give dimension to the dark.
At this time of year, the woods are rather stark and open with all the deciduous leaves gone from the branches. Or almost all, I should say: here and there, a stiff brown oak or beech leaf clings on through the worst of winter.
Where have the others gone? Well, countless numbers of leaves are still underfoot, making a carpet as thick and springy in places as summer heather.
Elsewhere in the wood, where the leaf litter is a little sparser, there are other things to be spotted at one’s feet. Here, amongst the oak leaves, are the sea-urchin-like spiny balls of sweet chestnuts. The tiny tear-drop shaped nuts scattered near them, however, are beech nuts, I think. The kernels of the chestnuts are a little bigger, though they do not grow big enough here for humans to eat. With more beechnuts and chestnuts than they can eat, no wonder the squirrels are busy here in the autumn.
There are at least two kinds of oak growing in this wood. The pleasing scalloped outline of leaves of the native oak, Quercus robur, is instantly recognisable. But here amongst those is a larger, spikier leaf: an oak, I’m sure, but not a native. I don’t know – there is no-one now on the estate whom I could ask – but I think this is the leaf of the North American Nuttall oak (Quercus nutallii). If anyone knows better, I’d love to be told.
In another step, you can find more shapes, equally distinctive. Here is a piece of lichen, like a branch of pale coral.
And here is more evidence of non-human inhabitants: a pheasant feather lying amongst the other detritus of the woods.
There is always something new to notice, on every walk. I hope you have enjoyed your brief foray with me – rabbit droppings and all – but I must leave you now. It’s high time I took my patiently waiting dogs out – for a walk in the woods.