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What to spot in spectacular autumn forests

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Red deer stag

Autumn is perhaps the best time of year to visit a Forestry Commission woodland. The colours are beautiful; the trees bountiful with nuts, fruits, berries and seeds, and fungi are abundant across the forest floor. Visitors to the forest may even get to spot wildlife foraging for food, as our forests’ birds and animals prepare for winter.

The popularity of TV programmes like Autumnwatch show that we’re a nation that loves wildlife. But nothing beats getting off the sofa and into the great outdoors and seeing it for yourself.

Forests and woodlands are home to some of the most compelling wildlife you could hope to see in this country, from the rare red squirrel to the majestic pine martens. They provide refuge for endangered species, including rare butterflies such as the pearl-bordered fritillary that lay their eggs in autumn on bracken. And the northern pool frogs – our rarest amphibian who feed up on invertebrates during the autumn months to prepare themselves for winter.

Forests offer the kind of rich habitats wildlife need to thrive. They’re so important for rare species of plants and animals that ten woodland types have protected status under the EU Habitats and Species Directive, and six are defined as priority habitats in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. England’s ancient woodlands, those established more than 400 years ago, are home to no fewer than 79 endangered species.

The large size of many Forestry Commission sites, together with a rich variety of habitats and the beneficial management that sustains them, makes our public forests a real haven for wildlife. Forests evoke a sense of real wildness and seclusion, even when located close to densely populated areas. And yet they can also be surprisingly accessible places for wildlife enthusiasts – thanks to the role the Forestry Commission has played in opening up our forests and woodlands to the public.

To help you experience a wild autumn, Forestry Commission England has produced a top five wild things to look out for:-

Deer – It’s the time of year that has made deer famous. The mating season, or rut, starts in late September and peaks in mid-October. During this time the stag develops spectacular antlers to attract the females and to fight off males, and you can hear their magnificent cry resounding throughout the forest. Forestry Commission woodlands are home to red, roe and fallow deer, and the red deer is Britain’s largest land mammal.

Fungi – Fungi are the largest and possibly the oldest living organism on earth. They are often thought of as being plants, but some experts say they are closer to being animals.
In fact fungi are in a kingdom all of their own. There are at least 70,000 species world-wide, approximately 12,000 in the UK and 2,700 in the New Forest. Most fungi has the same basic structure - thread like hyphae, which form a web or mycelium - these webs are present in the soil and in the trees around us all the time - then the fruiting body (the ‘mushroom’ or ‘toadstool’) - which is the bit we see and eat (if edible) - when conditions are right.  Autumn is usually the time to see the fruiting bodies, when a mixture of wet but mild weather provides ideal conditions.

Birds – Autumn is a time of change for birds. Many species will migrate South for warmer climates such as the swallow, cuckoos and warblers. Others, such as swans, ducks, geese and waders will arrive. Some birds change their diet, for example the blue tit eats caterpillars in the summer but changes to small seeds come autumn. And most birds tend to sing less in the autumn months - in the spring and summer birds sing to attract a mate and protect their territory and in autumn this is just not necessary. Autumn is also a great time to look more closely at bird nests as they become easier to spot when the leaves fall. Each bird will build a different shape of nest in a place best suited to it.

Seeds – The seed is the one way a tree reproduces and autumn is the best time of year to collect the seeds of the tree. Seeds come in many varieties and you can find them in berries, fruits or cones. Trees have different method of spreading their seeds; for example some seeds will be dispersed by squirrels and other seeds by birds. To help you identify fruits and seeds this autumn, Forestry Commission have produced a spotter’s guide.

Red Squirrel – Red squirrels build large nests, called dreys, often in the forks of tree trunks. They collect nuts and seeds in autumn and bury them in lots of hiding places around the forest. They have a keen sense of smell and a highly developed spatial memory, which together help them find their hidden seeds and nuts up to months later! Even so, not every seed or nut is found which allows them to grow, so helping to circulate the trees around the woodland.

For the fruit spotter’s guide and information about events and exploring Forestry Commission managed woods and forests this autumn, visit

Notes to editor:
Images available from the Forestry Commission press office.

1. The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment.  Further information can be found at


Media contact: Rebecca Ulewicz, Communications Support Officer: or 0300 0674107