Top Tips for Exploring Nature
Rock climbing is a continual learning journey, but it’s not just climbing itself that we learn along the way. Nature, in all its varied glory, is a constant source of interest. With winter adventures in full flow and National Tree Week having marked the start of tree-planting season, Kathryn Eccles from Millbry Hill shares her insights into identifying trees and boosting your wildlife knowledge whilst you’re on your adventures.
In the bleak midwinter?
Between the bare trees, hibernating wildlife, and birds that have flown south for the winter, the UK can seem like a very quiet place at this time of year. But, although the weather outside can be frightful, not everything disappears and there are still plenty of things for you to see and do in nature during this season — if you know where to look.
Below, I’ll take you through some of the best aspects of nature for you to take in this winter, including trees and wildlife.
Despite the lack of foliage at this time of year, there are still plenty of ways to identify the trees you see on your travels in the UK. Some are evergreen, which makes them easier to spot, but even deciduous trees have certain giveaways such as their bark, branches, and buds.
For example, one of the most common trees in the UK is oak, a large and usually broad-leafed tree. In winter, its branches are bare, but you can still identify it by its full, sturdy outline from afar. You can discern it from other large trees by looking closely at the branches themselves: the twigs of an oak tree end in clusters of egg-shaped buds.
Some species of tree are easier to identify from a distance than oak, like silver birch that is so named because of its silvery white bark. Its twigs also have egg-shaped buds, but you don’t need to look that close to identify this tree. The same can be said for evergreens, such as pine, that have distinctive needles instead of leaves, and prickly holly.
Leave no trace
Leave no trace includes mementos. Although it’s nice to take mementos, remember not to take leaves, twigs or buds with you as a souvenir, as they play small but important roles in the local eco-system. If you plan to forage for berries, mushrooms, or other plants while you’re out, only take what you need and keep an eye out for signs along the footpath in case you’re taking them from a conservation area. Find out more about foraging at the British Local Food website.
Spotting Winter Wildlife
It’s much easier to spot British wildlife in the winter than it is in summer when there’s lots of undergrowth for them to hide in. So, if you usually find it difficult to spot squirrels, rabbits, deer, and other animals, this time of year may be your chance to spot something small and furry. You won’t see any hedgehogs, dormice, or bats though, as they’re hibernating for the winter.
One species to look out for is the mountain hare that sheds its brown coat for the winter and turns a festive white. This is great camouflage if there’s snow on the ground, but it also makes it easier to spot if there isn’t any. So, if you’re heading up any peaks and there’s no snow forecast, keep your eyes peeled for this rare hare.
You probably already know that many of our birds choose to head south in the winter in search of warmer temperatures and food. But did you know that many birds also come to us from the chilly north? Along with the fact that some birds don’t migrate at all, that’s why you can still see blue tits, blackbirds, starlings, and the quintessentially Christmassy robin all year round.
If you happen across a bird or animal habitat, such as a nest, interfering with it can have terrible consequences for the occupant so it’s best to leave them alone and observe from a distance. Similarly, remember to take your rubbish with you as wildlife can choke on or be poisoned by many of the things that we take with us on our excursions.
While the world may seem quieter at this time of year, there’s still plenty going on! These are just some of the things you can look out for when you’re next out adventuring in winter.