For an atmospheric ancient woodland location visit Wayland Wood near Watton, the alleged site of the ‘Babes in the Wood’ legend.
Walking around the densely packed trees on a winter’s afternoon it’s easy to believe there’s some truth in the dark tale, though the reality is that the wood’s thickness is down to the traditional coppicing woodland management techniques used to benefit wildlife. The wood has a recorded history going back to the 10th century.
Wayland is one of the largest woods in South Norfolk and includes a fine mix of tree species: hazel, oak, downy birch, bird-cherry, sallow, ash, hornbeam and field maple. Over 125 species of flowering plant have been recorded. These include bluebells, yellow archangel, water avens, wood anemone, early purple orchid, common twayblade, bugle, and the rare yellow star of Bethlehem.
Good numbers of common woodland birds are present, with more unusual residents including breeding nuthatch, marsh tit and bullfinch. The wood is excellent for invertebrates with more than 250 species of moths recorded.
As the purple carpet of bluebells begins to fade at the end of May, it is replaced by the sunlight hues of the yellow archangel. This member of the mint family is one of a number of species referred to as ancient woodland indicators.
Wayland Wood is the only site in Norfolk (and one of just a few in East Anglia) where this pretty yellow perennial occurs. It flowers early in March, preferring shady areas in the southeast corner of the wood.
Yellow Star of Bethlehem
With its noisy calls, unmistakeable appearance, and tree-descending acrobatics, the nuthatch is a popular woodland bird. Not all that common or widespread in Norfolk, the species is reasonably easy to see at Wayland.