Autumn is one of my favourite times of year, and, so far, I have enjoyed every second of it. From the start of the winter migrants arriving, bringing back some of my favourite waterfowl like Wigeon and Teal, to all the long days on fungi walks seeking out the beautiful and colourful fruiting bodies of fungi. Autumn brings with it all this new wonder, and it couldn’t seem to get any better for a young wildlife enthusiast like me, especially after seeing some beautiful and bizarre fungi this October, such as Golden Spindles and Devil’s Fingers, but that couldn’t be more wrong, as October brings with it something even better – the Wild New Forest Young Persons Wildlife Camp.
We stay at Cameron’s Cottage, RSPB Franchises Lodge, and there is never a dull moment on these camps – I have enjoyed all the ones that I have been on. These camps are, honestly, one of the highlights of my year, and so I was thrilled to be on another one.
We arrived on the Friday night. My mum and I arriving to help set up early, getting unloaded and unpacked for the weekend ahead. When everyone turned up, it was great to catch up with some of the friends that I had made on previous camps. There was plenty of humour and laughter right from the off, and the new faces easily fitted in. The camps are very friendly, and it is easy to make new friends there, as everyone has similar interests, and there are some great personalities!
The camp started with an icebreaker talk, where we all got into groups, to learn each other’s names and do a team quiz about the New Forest, bringing forth people’s knowledge and encouraging teamwork. Once everybody had settled in and eaten their pizza, we finished off with a lovely nighttime walk, scouting out a good net site for bird ringing in the morning, and finding plenty of interesting fungi, including Slender Club, in the process. We also found some other lovely species, including Hedgehog
Fungus, Candlesnuff, Stinkhorn, Amethyst Deceiver, a coral fungus that we are still working on identifying, and quite a few Leopard Slugs. The camp was off to a great start already!
The next day, we woke up nice and early, had breakfast, and waited for the mist nets to catch some birds for us to ring. Although it was very quiet due to the wet weather, we did manage to catch two marsh tits and a robin, which were then ringed by some of my friends, whilst having the biometrics written down by my mum, who is our ringing group scribe and, of course, cake provider!! We also looked through some of the moth traps, and although they produced very few moths, they did treat us to a beautiful Merveille Du Jour moth, with beautiful patterns and colour, that camouflage it against lichen.
Soon we set off on our main walk of the day, which took us into some lovely woodland to look for wildlife. It started perfectly with brilliant views of feeding crossbill, which I had always wanted to see and take a photo of. There was a small flock in a coniferous tree, displaying feeding behaviour by using their crossed-over beak to pry apart fir cones to get at the seeds inside. We were so lucky as the group consisted of not only female crossbills, but also males in their gorgeous red plumage. I had only seen crossbills before on the July
Wildlife Camp earlier in the year, and so seeing them again on that camp was another great privilege. They were also frequently calling, which allowed me tune in to their call for future encounters. This had already made my day, and it got significantly better.
We continued to a patch where everyone began fungi hunting, seeing gorgeous orange-coloured Stagshorn and Yellow-legged Bonnet. However, there was an area which went up further into the coniferous woodland, which no one seemed to be exploring. This led myself, my mum (a willing camp volunteer!), and my friend, Max, to head up there to see what we could see. Here we found a very interesting fungus known as Jelly Tooth, which was pale in colour, jelly-like in form, and had a tooth-like structure on the underside. Max and I continued searching, hearing more Crossbills fly overhead, and then, from out of nowhere, we were treated to the silent flight of a Goshawk, flying between the trees and landing in a coniferous tree close by, but out of sight. That was an unforgettable moment, and, along with the feeding crossbills, one of my favourite experiences of the camp. There are now roughly forty breeding pairs of Goshawks in the New Forest, one of our major conservation success stories after the first pair returned here in 2002. Seeing one is a spectacular experience for anyone!
Later, we headed back to Cameron’s Cottage for a short break. Whilst we all enjoyed some cake, Marcus Ward gave an interesting talk on Pine Martens and then there was a brilliant presentation on Bird Ringing by Izzy Fry. We then got into our groups, led by our mentors (Dimitri Moore, Max Cantrell, and Izzy Fry). It was bioblitz time and the challenge was on! We had to record as many species as we could possibly find on the site, by the lodge, in half an hour, and even the pouring rain wasn’t going to stop us! At the end, the winning group managed a total of eighty-eight species, showing the huge biodiversity of the nature on the site.
That evening, we went on another night walk, where we saw the classic fairytale toadstool, the Fly Agaric. This is associated with Birch Trees, along with my favourite, Birch Polypore, which we also saw. There was also a nice mix of coral fungus, deceivers, and White Saddle.
Due to being a protected RSPB reserve, the abundance of fungi was exponential as it is not exposed to foraging, as access is restricted. In the New Forest, fungi foraging and picking is prohibited, and one of the main things we learn about on the Wildlife Camp is the importance of leaving the fungi alone. Not only can fungi cause us harm or prove deadly if we ingest a poisonous species, but spores cannot spread if they get picked, which means that species will become rarer. As well as becoming rarer, they won’t be able to do their job as decomposers for the ecosystem. Fungi recycle carbon and provide minerals and nutrients for the soil. When a fungus is removed, it can no longer do this job. By foraging fungi, you may not only be putting your health at risk, but also the state of the ecosystem too.
The next day, we started with some more bird ringing, which I really enjoyed! Two years ago, I was lucky enough to become a trainee bird ringer with the New Forest Ringing Group. So as we caught quite a few birds this time, I was able to ring a Dunnock and a couple of the Goldcrests.
We continued the rest of the day with a walk through the woods and on to the heathland, seeing some nationally scarce Nail Fungus and a lot of rain! Soon we were back at the
cottage, looking through camera trap footage from some cameras that we had set the night before. We didn’t capture much; however, one camera captured some footage of a Fallow Deer.
For the last few hours of our stay, we were able to head out into the forest. Some people went on another fungi walk, and I went with a group in hope of tracking the Fallow Deer, that had been caught on the trail camera, so we could watch them rut.
We came across a patch where the males had been scraping the ground with their hooves, and the branches with their antlers. It was clearly well used, showing the activity through the amount of mud that must have been churned up by their hooves whilst rutting. We could hear them bellowing and, after going round in circles looking for them, we did eventually see the deer; the males with their beautiful antlers! Whilst out, I also found a fungus new to me, the name of ‘Brown Cup’ not doing it enough justice for the perfect fruiting body it was!
Unfortunately, all great things come to an end, and soon it was, very sadly, time to pack up and say goodbye to everyone.
A huge thanks to the Wild New Forest team, the Cameron Bespolka Trust, and everyone that helped to make this weekend possible! I had such a lovely time: a weekend out in the New Forest with all my great friends, surrounded by nothing but nature and wildlife! What could be better?!
I can’t wait until the next camp! – I would recommend it to any young naturalist!
By Amy Squire