A bug-mazing day cycling in and around the woods!
This week we explored an area of the forest new to us. We parked at Ladycross amongst the huge oaks trees and headed north on the cycle trail. I have to take my hat off to the New Forest Parks Authority, they do a great job managing the cycle trails.
Flat (the whole area is pretty flat), gravelled but not deep, loose gravel the track surfaces are perfect. Signage is ok - but definitely have some kind of map with you. Once you're in the trees its very easy to lose yourself.
Somewhere along the trail, the kids stopped to clamber over a huge fallen log that had kindly made a bridge over a stream. We got further distracted by an impromptu bug safari and found a community of Southern Wood Ants, Britains largest ant. They kindly provided 20 minutes of entertainment and learning as they used a fallen, debarked fir tree trunk to transport their food back home.
65% of Britain's beetles live in the New Forest
They love the dense green foliage of the deep forest and construct their homes of twigs, leaf stalks and pine needles.
The New Forest Explorers Guide website says this;
"Southern wood ant nests are carefully piled high to provide a warm, humid, weather-proof home. They are often placed around a central, often rotted, tree stump, the decayed root system of which provides ready-made underground passageways for the ants...The homes potentially shelter tens of thousands of southern wood ants, interior chambers and galleries, many underground, provide living quarters for the ants, and also space within which eggs will be laid, larvae develop, pupae form and new adults emerge.
All are the centre of extremely complex social structures, places where southern wood ants lives are played out, largely out of sight of prying human eyes."
Stopping for a breather in another spot we found a wonderful dor beetle (a type of dung beetle). The New Forest has an estimated 2,600 kinds of beetles, (65%) of Britain’s c. 4,000 species. Wow. I never knew this area was that special.
It is one of the top areas in the country with coleopterists (those who study beetles). This Guide by the National Park Authority is a good start.
The New Forest Explorers Guide says this about them. "All these dung beetles have shiny, dark-coloured, strongly ridged wing cases. Dor and wood dor beetles have a quite striking green, blue or purple iridescent sheen, whilst minotaurs are normally just glossy black. All also have large, spiky front legs, specially adapted for digging.
Cow pats, horse droppings, fox scats: nothing goes to waste. Supplies are stored for future use in shallow tunnels, and provisions set aside for newly hatched dung beetle youngsters in specially constructed, underground nest chambers. Dung is taken down into the nest, mixed with fragments of wood and placed in each of the chambers. Eggs are laid, one in each chamber, beside or within the ready-made food supply, just waiting for the dung beetle larvae to hatch out and tuck in."
Fascinating stuff. And enough poo in the story to keep any child under 10 entertained.
We headed up past Stubby Cross Inclosure on the left, through the fir and oak forest to Denny Lodge (our only hill) and on top found a collection of some of the loveliest forest oaks I've come across recently. I might be repeating myself. I often say that about the trees around here.
On the way back, we passed by an area with no name, with amazing African style grass. It look just like the Savannah. Just missing giraffe and zebra. Beautiful.
Finally, after 2 hours we were back at Ladycross. Some clever person had bought a cake and it was scoffed down with flask coffee.
At East Boldre Shop, where we also stopped for ice-creams there was a fresh baby donkey and mum being cuddled by the locals. Lovely.