Bluebell wood
Bluebell wood

Woodlands are wonderful places at any time of year but May is a must-visit month in which to experience nature as it bursts into life. Every May, the Tree Council encourage people to take a walk in the woods and celebrate their local trees at this very special time of year. We spent a May morning exploring the woods on Salcombe Hill.

The most instantly noticeable spectacle was the carpet of bluebells on the western slopes. It was a cloudy day but the poor light levels seemed to make the violet colouring even more intense. We were not the only ones snapping away with our cameras; bluebell woods are, understandably, popular with photographers, intent on capturing the glorious display while it lasts.

Bluebells have been used for a variety of purposes throughout history. Their sticky sap was once used to bind the pages of books and glue the feathers onto arrows. During the Elizabethan period, their bulbs were crushed to make starch for the ruffs of collars and sleeves.

Of course nowadays, the native bluebell has legal protection and must be left alone. Though still common throughout Britain, the plant is under threat from habitat destruction, hybridisation with non-native bluebells and the illegal trade of wild-collected bulbs.

Continuing up the hill through the woods the busy spring birds provided a beautiful accompaniment with their song. There was constant background singing and twittering with regular louder bursts from blackcaps, chiffchaffs and chaffinches, defending their territories and calling to their mates.

At the top we sat on a bench to listen to the sweet, slightly wistful song of a blackbird perched in the upper branches of a cherry tree. During its pauses we could hear another blackbird, further away, responding in kind. May is a good month for woodland birdwatching before the trees are fully in leaf, making them harder to spot.

The beech trees were looking beautiful with their fresh green leaves, quite small at the moment but they will soon grow and create a widespread canopy, blocking the light from the woodland floor. In May plenty of sunshine can still get through, making it the moment for woodland flowers, such as greater stitchwort and red campion, to shine. Foxgloves, tucked underneath walls and old hedge banks, are expanding their leaves and firming up their roots. Another month and they will be shooting their flower spires skywards.

We left the woodland for a while and enjoyed watching swallows skimming over the glorious buttercup meadow by the coast path. A couple of bumble bees buzzed past, too quickly for us to identify. On the search for nectar they will also provide a vital pollination service as they move from flower to flower.

Back into the woods and we were thrilled to spot some early purple orchids – their exotic colour and looks making them seem a little overdressed for an English woodland in spring.

A chaffinch kept us company as we came to the end of our walk, hopping along the path in front of us in search of something. Lining for a nest as it turned out and we watched it fly away carrying moss in its beak.

It is wonderful to explore woodlands in May; the sights and sounds of spring are everywhere, reminding us that summer is just around the corner. There is no better time to connect with nature than in spring and visiting local woodlands in the month of May is a magical experience.

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