Spring is a spectacular time of year, whether you’re visiting Whinfell or Woburn Forest, Longleat or Elveden… Each forest comes to life with frosts abating, buds popping up on branches and the birdsong becoming louder each passing day. To share some of the season’s magic with our readers, I caught up with our team of Conservation Rangers at each Village to find out what’s crawling, flying, blooming and swimming into life this spring.
And if you can’t join us for a spring break this year, check out my top tips at the end for bringing a little Center Parcs wildlife into your own garden – and no, it doesn’t involve smuggling a squirrel into your suitcase!
Spring at Sherwood Forest
I spoke to Wildlife Ranger Craig Giblin about some of the exciting changes you can expect in the forest this spring. He was particularly excited about the reappearance of the native orchids. “We put little cages around them to protect them front hungry rabbits,” he explained. They pop up all over Sherwood Forest, but Craig says the heathland in the Pine area is the best place for enjoying these flowers.
Badgers, although not technically hibernators, are sleepy and rarely seen during winter. They will start to reappear now that spring has arrived.
The best time to spot them is after sunset, when they might even wander up to your lodge patio if there is no one around, scavenging for food!
To really learn about the local nature on your spring break at Sherwood Forest, take part in a Wildlife Walk, our informative tour with a Ranger where you will discover all the secrets of the forest.
Spring at Woburn Forest
Our newest Village is currently enjoying its first ever spring. Ranger Lucie Vicentijevic says: “Everything is becoming more established now that the Village has been open for nearly a year.”
Because everything at Woburn is new, some of the appearing wildlife is a surprise even to our expert rangers! “There are many dormant seeds in the soil and now we’ve opened up the forest to let the sunshine through they are doing really well,” says Lucie. One new bloomer you might spot is the delicate cuckoo flower, with its pink or white buds on long stems.
The beautiful peacock butterfly will be making its first appearance soon and can be identified by their red wings with dramatic purple ‘eye’ markings. They are best admired from a distance though – they start to hiss if they feel threatened.
If you are joining us at Woburn Forest for a break this spring, why not get up close and personal with some of our most magnificent birds? Meet some wise feathered friends face-to-face with the popular Encounter with Owls activity, suitable for those aged 3 and over. Find out more and book here.
Spring at Longleat Forest
James Monk is a Senior Ranger at Longleat Forest and can often be found conducting surveys on the wildlife or exploring the forest that is his ‘office’!
He told me about the importance of diversity in the flowers that grow at Longleat. “Many insects will only focus on and pollinate one particular species, so the more variety we have the better. We need to attract a lot of different insects as they are food for some of our birds and bigger creatures.”
After the sun goes down you can also spot Pipistrelle bats, which are usually around 4cm long with dark brown bodies. You may hear their calls at night, which are social ‘conversations’ from one bat to another, but most of their noises are outside of the human range of hearing.
If you visit Longleat for a spring break, why not try our new activity, Den Building and Decorating? It takes place in a secret woodland clearing where you learn to use natural materials from the forest floor to create your own family den.
Spring at Elveden Forest
Elveden Forest Ranger Peter Larcombe used to work with big cats as a zookeeper, but says his real passion is for plant life and birds. He told me about the dunnocks found at Elveden Forest.
“These small birds are what we call an ‘indicator species’ and tell us how healthy the big populations is. If there are a lot of dunnocks, all the birds should be thriving.”
The forest is also home to a large population of rabbits. Look out for any rabbit jumping in the air, twisting its body and kicking its back feet. This is called ‘binkying’ and is an expression of joy!
During your stay at Elveden Forest, you could go Family Bird Watching, suitable for everyone over the age of five. You will learn how to identify all sorts of birds that can be found in the forest, such as the long-tailed tit and the great crested grebe. Interested? Book now.
Spring at Whinfell Forest
Emma Tapp, Wildlife Ranger at Whinfell Forest, can often be found with net in hand during butterfly season, surveying the health of the little winged insects fluttering around the forest.
Emma is an expert on the rare red squirrels that are unique to Whinfell Forest. Competed to near extinction by the more successful American grey squirrel, they have found a safe haven in Whinfell Forest and the surrounding area.
Also important at Whinfell is the humble toad. Often mistaken for frogs, toads can be identified by their bumpy (but not warty, as commonly thought!) skin. They can be tricky to spot because they are often the same colour as the surrounding soil.
While enjoying your break at Whinfell Forest, you could try out Little Explorers. This activity is great for children over the age of 5, and allows them to go out into the forest to learn about the different types of trees and wildlife around them.
Spring at home
Even if you can’t join us this spring, you can still enjoy the bounty of wildlife that comes with the season. Our experts’ top tip for encouraging nature to flourish in your own back garden is to relax the pruning and let one corner grow wild. A pile of logs can be a great start and will entice insects and small creatures to the warm, dark crevices. Hold back on the weeding if you can bear it too – nettles may not be your idea of a beautiful border but they are crucial for insects and butterflies, who will lay their eggs in the shelter of the plant. If you can’t bring yourself to let the nettles grow free, try planting wild flowers for a rich diversity of visiting wildlife.