While Ian is powering through our 70 species list, I thought I’d sit back and take in the beauty of Minsmere from a different angle. For the next few blogs, I’m choosing to focus on the great variety of habitats our reserve has to offer. After all, it’s the sheer array of natural places which makes Minsmere so biodiverse.
So I’ll begin with an old favourite (and coincidentally the closest to my desk) - our woodland.
A nice spot for lunch
I love the concept that at one time the whole of the UK was covered in trees, and that theoretically the more nimble among us could hop and swing from Land's End to John o’Groats without touching the floor.
At Minsmere the woodland stretches back as far as Westleton heath, bordering the grassland where red deer can currently be seen.
The woodland trail is a part of Minsmere that many visitors miss out on, often because the excitement of a rare wagtail or sandpiper on the scrape trumps anything else.
Nevertheless, for people of all ages and backgrounds I feel like the woodland environment definitely still holds a certain magic.
With a rustling carpet of crunchy leaves underfoot it’s hard to remain stealthy along the paths, but I try my best. I was once told that once we enter a habitat, it takes approximately 20 minutes for wildlife to return to ‘normal’ after we have selfishly interrupted the natural solitude. I think that many of the species at Minsmere must be used to it by now however, as within minutes of tip-toeing down the path past the dens yesterday I was greeted with a flock of long-tailed tits happily flitting about the hawthorn overhead.
Long-tailed tit by John Bridges
The canopy is always full of life, often much easier to hear than to actually spot.
We always tell the kids in the school groups to get their ‘ear binoculars’ out – to which we are usually met with 28 looks of utter confusion. But in doing this simple-yet-effective action of scooping your hands around the backs of your ears, everything seems to get ten times louder.
The yaffle of a green woodpecker is a familiar favourite, heard often echoing across this habitat. I’ve also managed to hear tawny owls calling to each other a handful of times from deeper within the woodland.
There are always much easier things to spot though, often a muntjac hiding among the understory, tree creepers skulking up trunks or squirrels busily burying acorns, always looking like they’re up to something.
Autumn is a great time to appreciate the amazing changes in colours, and watch on as nature prepares itself for the colder months.
Grey squirrel by Ben Hall
And of course there’s a whole other world beneath the branches. A kingdom of invertebrates crawl, creep and scuttle among the leaf litter, enjoying a feast of rotten wood and decaying matter. Their huge importance of course lies in their ability to recycle nutrients, pollinate plants, and simply to exist in abundance as food for other creatures. According to National Geographic, up to 97% of the animal kingdom are invertebrates, and having done plenty of Minsmere minibeast hunts (and summer evening strolls) I would have to agree with this!
We often see tracks left by larger wood-dwellers, whether it be red deer footprints across a glade, or the seemingly expanding badger toilet near the south belt crossroads. An opportunity to hopefully see some nocturnal woodland species (any excuse to use a bat detector!) will be on our evening walk on the 25th October.
Another joy at this time of year is seeing all of the different fungi pop up as their fruiting bodies emerge. Fly agarics, parasols, puffballs, amethyst deceivers, and many more which I won’t pretend to know the names of!
Minsmere's fantastic fungi
I will certainly be swatting up over the next few weeks in preparation for our half-term family fungi trail, but in the meantime I’m more than happy admiring nature’s bounty on my continued wanderings around the reserve.
Click here to find out what’s on at Minsmere over the next few months.