Wiltshire Wildlife Trust Reserve Manager Neil Pullen sets out the natural wonders worth looking out for around the county over the winter months.

Winter can be a harsh and challenging time of year for people and wildlife alike, but if you’re thinking there’s no point venturing outside to explore the natural world during the colder months, nothing could be further from the truth.

There are dozens of beautiful and fascinating animal and plant species that can only be seen in winter, and at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust we’re lucky to host many of these species at our network of 40 nature reserves that span the county. All of our reserves are free to visit, so there’s no reason not to take a winter stroll to see what you can see.

Langford Lakes, between Salisbury and Warminster, is a hotspot for winter wildfowl including shoveler, wigeon, and even occasionally rare and secretive bittern. The new café at the reserve includes a handy veranda overlooking the main lake: the perfect place to birdspot whilst sipping on a bowl of hot soup or a cup of tea.

At Blakehill Farm, a former military airfield near Cricklade, you can see birds of prey such as short-eared owls and the impressive merlin. And at Lower Moor Farm, just up the road, you might be lucky enough to spot otters and even the blue flash of a kingfisher.

                         Merlin (credit: Darin Smith)

Other winter highlights across the county include the tiny nuthatch (not to be confused with a blue tit), which can be found at Ravensroost Wood near Malmesbury; salmon spawning on the River Wylye; brown hare on frosty downs; and the stunning Geminid meteor shower in mid December.

Winter is also a great time to turn your mind to the amazing life journeys made by animal and plant species each year. One of my favourite examples is that of the brown hairstreak butterfly.

The brown hairstreak lays tiny white eggs that are only visible to wildlife surveyors (who monitor the abundance of particular species) during the winter months once the leaves have fallen from the trees.

                                                            Credit: Lysana Robinson

The miniscule eggs, often laid along bridleways and hedgerows in sheltered areas close to the ground, are only slightly larger than a pin head, but when put under a magnifying glass look like tiny space capsules from an old sci-fi film.

The eggs of the brown hairstreak are capable of hibernation, and are one of only nine UK butterfly species to spend winter as an egg. The larvae hatch from the eggs in late April or early May well camouflaged and difficult to find. After 40 to 60 days, the larvae become a mottled purple colour and drop to the ground to find a crack, crevice or other hiding place in which to pupate into a butterfly.

The adult brown hairstreaks are one of the last butterflies to emerge during the year, flying from late July to early September before mating and then laying their eggs ready for winter hibernation, starting the whole wonderful cycle again.

                                        Credit: John Notman

Do look out for the brown hairstreak’s eggs and other incredible animal and plant species when on your winter walks over the coming months – you might just be surprised what you find.

If you are interested in helping with wildlife surveys or monitoring on our reserves, do get in touch with us on 01380 725670 or at [email protected]

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