Denny Wood in the New Forest is well known as a camping and caravanning site and through most of the summer it is full of visitors trying to ‘get away from it all’.
The site closes at the beginning of October leaving only a few ponies wondering where their next meal is coming from.
Gradually local dog walkers and ramblers return to use the car park as a base for their activities and a few leave seeds and peanuts for the birds.
Very few people however, even at the height of summer, venture far from the roads or gravel paths and are unaware of the attractions deep in the woods.
The Natural History Society however is made of sterner stuff but even they might think twice about using an old fashioned compass and a copy of the OS map of the area.
Fortunately OS maps are available for smart phones and GPS can locate your exact position with a small arrow pointing in the direction of travel.
Armed with the appropriate equipment and a packed lunch the small group plunged straight into the darkest wood over a wooden style at the side of Denny Wood campsite.
Denny Wood has a mixture of mature trees including both deciduous and evergreen.
The evergreen trees are mostly Scots Pine and these are the most likely to produce saplings from their seed dispersal.
Deciduous trees are largely English Oak and Beech with a few Turkey Oak.
A number of the more mature trees have fallen and are left to decay where they lie.
Over the years this produces clearings of different ages which contribute to the variety of scenery within the wood.
Sunlight filtering through the patchwork of trees, some of which have started to lose their leaves, gives a dappled effect on the ground.
A slow walk through the wood produced a feeling of calm and contentment that is difficult to find these days.
Coming across a Sweet Chestnut tree laden with fruit it was remarked that the appearance of such a tree indicated the presence of a path.
At first sight this was likely to be an old wives tale but Sweet Chestnut produces a hard wood that is rich in tannins which act as a preservative.
Large beams of the wood tend to split so it is not used for construction purposes.
It is however ideal for making fences and has been grown extensively for this reason often being planted near to where it was used.
The old wives tale was confirmed as true when upon checking the location on the OS map it was within feet of the route of the old Park Pale.
Clearings in the wood were covered with bracken or patches of grass but beneath the trees moss was the preferred cover.
Patches of dark green Swans neck thyme moss and pale green Common Tamarisk moss combined with other mosses to form a patchwork quilt of greens.
In low lying areas Sphagnum moss clung on through drought waiting to be rejuvenated in the wetter winter climate.
Beneath a stand of Hawthorn trees the moss had been scraped away leaving a large saucer shaped depression- a sure sign that Deer had been in the area.
Sadly the scrape and a few footprints were the only signs of Deer during the walk.
Normally sightings occur on most visits throughout the year but not on this occasion.
Fungi were present throughout the wood on the ground or on decayed matter and some of them such as Fly Agaric and Porcelain fungus were quite attractive.
The use of ‘fly’ in the name may derive from its hallucinogenic properties or ‘flies in the head’ but it was also used as an insecticide when sprinkled on milk.
Porcelain fungus was seen growing on a dead Beech branch and is known to release a fungicide which prevents other fungi from using the wood.
Birds were not easily seen in the wood mainly because leaves still covered the branches but small flocks of Chaffinch with Blue Tits and Great Tits occasionally appeared in dense foliage.
A flock of Redwing and Fieldfare appeared in the distance darting from tree to tree.
These winter visitors present something of a challenge for bird watchers as they never stop moving long enough to focus binoculars but can be identified by this habit.
The walk which lasted over two hours was on small paths and tracks through the trees with only occasional use of gravel paths.
A healthier and more calming experience than walking through woodland on a bright autumn day would be difficult to imagine.