Signs of spring in the woods today!

European Honey Bee Chris Gomersall/2020 Vision

As March finally arrives, we are seeing some stunning signs of spring at Belfairs Woodlands. Ranger Tristan Colaco explores what to look out for in the woods today!

Honey Bees

Honey Bees are some of the first insects to become active in earnest in the spring and the bees at Belfairs have been buzzing around for a couple of weeks now. This is in part due to the interesting and unusual way in which Honey Bees overwinter. Most insects overwinter solitarily, entering a dormancy during which their body temperature and metabolic rate drops. Honey Bees however overwinter as a colony and amazingly enough maintain a core colony temperature of close to 30˚C. They do this largely through metabolic heating with workers vibrating their wing muscles fuelled by honey collected through the summer.  

European Honey Bee in flight at a flower

European Honey Bee by Chris Gomersall/2020 Vision

Wood Ants

Like their relatives, Honey Bees, Wood Ants are also becoming active at this time of year having overwintered as a colony. Unlike Honey Bees however, Wood Ants do become more dormant through the winter, with the temperature of the nest dropping to close to ambient temperature. However, from early spring new young must be raised and in order to do this, the temperature of the nest must be around 30˚C. To raise the nest temperature to this level, the ants exhibit a couple of interesting behaviours. Some of the heating is done in the same way as the Honey Bees; using metabolic heat. However, ants also use solar heating to warm the nest. The conspicuous above ground mounds that you can see in the woods are often south facing in sunny, sheltered areas; catching the sun and warming the nest. Workers also sun themselves in early spring, warming themselves up and then moving down into the nest to cool down; warming up the nest in the process.  

Wood Ants basking in the sun

Wood Ants at Belfairs Woodlands by Tristan Colaco

Woodland Management

Here at Belfairs we manage the woodland as a “coppice with standards”; an ancient management practice where some large timber trees are left to grow above the coppice. This sort of management is really great for wildlife as we have a high diversity of tree ages. To ensure that newly coppice areas are able to properly regenerate, it is necessary to manage the density of standards, so a number of standards must be taken out each year. Whilst it can look drastic taking out large trees, doing this ensures that there is constant regeneration; which is what makes coppiced woodland such a special habitat.

If you would like to learn more about the management we do here at Belfairs, there are still spaces on our Habitat Management Walk on the 31st of March. Call Belfairs Woodland Centre to book your place.

Elm flowers

Elm trees were once a mainstay of the British landscape but since the spread of Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s, many of our large elms have been lost. Here at Belfairs we do have a number of elms dotted around and they are looking fabulous in flower at the moment. Elms are one of the first trees here to flower and set seed, blooming before their leaves are out and setting seed around May. This year we are hoping to collect some seed to propagate with a view to help boost the site’s elm population.  

If you are interested in the flora of Belfairs, we are running a Spring Flora walk on the 12th of May. Check our Facebook or ring Belfairs Woodland Centre for more information.

Bursting buds

Though in Elms the flowers appear before the leaves, many of the trees around Belfairs get their leaves first. The leaf buds of lots of these trees are really swelling up and beginning to burst at the moment. The hazels and hawthorns in particular are already well underway. Not sure whether it is just because we are coming out of the grey depths of winter, but I always think the first shoots in early spring are a particularly vibrant green.

Spring flower buds in Belfairs woodland

Image by Tristan Colaco