Wild Wander in Epping Forest
Recently we went on a lovely wild wander through Epping Forest; London’s largest stretch of ancient woodland. The excitement started before we entered the forest, in fact we had barely left the tube station when we saw a pair of buzzards soaring together on the thermals. These sizable birds of prey have made a comeback after years of persecution took a severe toll on the population. How wonderful that they can now be seen on the edge of London! The trees of Epping Forest provide them with nest and roost sites and the surrounding fields provide ample supplies of rodents and worms.
As we headed on towards the forest a handsome dog fox nipped out in front of us, ran across the road and disappeared into a hedge.
Epping Forest itself is dominated by beech, a species which makes an impression at any time of year, with its smooth silvery bark, thick canopy of leaves in summer and dense layer of leaf litter in the winter. Among the leaf litter we discovered some delicate bracket fungi growing on a fallen branch.
Many of the older trees here have been traditionally pollarded; the large upper branches were cut back to provide a renewable source of wood. As a result the trees here have some unusual forms, quite unlike a beech tree growing without the influence of man. The practice of pollarding was sympathetic to the forest; creating structural diversity, allowing more light to reach the forest floor and actually prolonging the life of the tree.
A little further into the forest, we came across some evidence of a woodland specialist; a hole made by a great-spotted woodpecker.
This species thrives in areas with lots of deadwood, which are the bird equivalent of a buffet; full of beetle larvae and other tasty beasties. A tree hole is constructed by a woodpecker by repeated pecking with its strong bill. The purpose of the hole is to safely house the eggs and later the chicks. Woodpecker chicks can make quite a racket as they beg for food from their parents, so listen out in the coming months for the sounds of hidden hungry mouths!
All in all, a great day out in the sunshine!