What can you see in the woods today?

Great Spotted Woodpecker by Bob Coyle

At this time of year there are many interesting sights to look out for in the ancient woodlands of Belfairs. Ranger Tristan Colaco explores what to look out for this time of year!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Spring must be on the way because the woodpeckers of Belfairs are very noisy at the moment, drumming to establish territories and attract a mate. Both males and females drum; up to 600 times a day when trying to attract a mate. It is suggested that the duration and intensity of calls is a reliable indication of fitness, with stronger, healthier individuals able to drum faster, louder and for longer- it is therefore possible that individuals can identify one another from drumming patterns.

Flocks of tits

“Birds of a feather flock together”. This saying has a grounding in truth; at this time of year you might come across flocks of a mix of tit species at Belfairs. The tits in these flocks are largely insectivorous, making foraging quite an involved process, especially in the winter when prey is scarcer. However, these birds are small and liable to predation themselves, so must remain vigilant for predators as well as prey. When in a flock, an individual can spend more time foraging as it can rely on the vigilance of others to detect predators. Foraging in a group is also thought to increase foraging efficiency in winter as one individual might flush out a prey item that another individual might catch.  

If you are interested in learning more about how different animals cope with winter conditions, there is still space on our Winter Wildlife Walk on the 17th of February. Call Belfairs Woodland Centre or check our website or Facebook for more details.


Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit Photo - Jon Hawkins

Flowering gorse

Winter is an unusual time to see flowering plants in bloom, but gorse is one species that bucks this trend. Though gorse will also flower in the summer around Belfairs now there are a few gorse plants with good numbers of flowers on. This species actually has two distinct flowering types: some individuals produce a large number of flowers and fruit in a short period of time in the spring and summer, whereas other individuals produce a steady stream through the autumn and winter. It is thought that these two different strategies come with different costs and benefits. Those individuals that flower in spring have better prospects of pollination than those that flower in the winter so can produce more fruits more quickly. However, these spring flowering plants set seed in the summer when they very liable to seed predation whereas winter fruiting individuals suffer minimal seed predation. The relative success of these strategies depends on weather conditions year on year, enabling both of these flowering strategies to co-exist.


Buds of honeysuckle are well underway now, a sign that spring is on the way. One of the first plants to spring back into life, this species is valuable to a wide range of other wildlife. White admiral caterpillars feed on the leaves in spring and summer, lots of insects use the flowers as a nectar source and birds and small mammals eat the berries in autumn. At the moment it is quite possible that honeysuckle bark is keeping the dormice of Belfairs warm; honeysuckle bark is very fibrous, so is utilised by dormice to weave their nests.


This year’s coppicing, a traditional method of woodland management, is nearing an end. The council have cleared a large coupe in the North East of Hadleigh Great Wood and a coupe in Dodd’s Grove. Our coupe in Belfairs Park is coming along nicely. You will notice that we are building a dead hedge around the coupe in Belfairs Park. Although at this time of year, newly coppiced coupes can look rather desolate, there are plenty of plants waiting to spring up out of the soil. The dead hedge is there to restrict access to minimize disturbance to these newly coppiced areas, to improve regeneration and thus improve wildlife outcomes.

If you are interested in learning more about the management that goes on here at Belfairs please do come along to our Habitat Management Walk on the 31st of March. Call Belfairs Woodland Centre or check our website or Facebook for more details.