Dartmoor Nature Tours

Discover Dartmoor's wildlife with a professional local guide  


December 2017 (updated on Friday 1 December)

December was the tenth month of the Roman Year. The Saxons called it the winter month and December 22nd is the winter solstice.

After a warm, sunny start November rapidly deteriorated and although very mild there were gales and heavy rain towards the end of the month that caused widespread disruption and flooding further north. Dartmoor and South Devon escaped the worst of this but cold northerly winds arrived at the month end bringing widespread frost and even some snow to the higher parts of the moor (see picture below, top left).

Christmas Plants – Holly, Mistletoe & Ivy

Not surprisingly the plants that were traditionally used to decorate buildings in December have large amounts of folklore attached to them. They are also important as a source of food for wildlife particularly the berries for birds and their flowers for insects.

Holly (see picture, top right) is a shrub that thrives in the western oakwoods and is abundant in the Dartmoor woods and hedgerows. Historically it was cut and used for winter fodder and heavily browsed by the animals that were taken off the commons and brought into the woods for winter shelter. Many of our upland oakwoods have now been fenced to protect them from domestic livestock and the result is extensive holly regeneration . There are also scattered remnant big old, holly bushes that survived from earlier times.

Ivy (see picture, bottom left) uses trees as support and its berries are a rich source of food for birds in winter. As with holly the leaves of ivy were eagerly consumed by livestock in winter. The exclusion of domestic livestock from woods has resulted in the expansion of ivy - nice for birds and insects but not so good for the lichens which get smothered by its foliage!

Mistletoe(see picture, bottom right) is one of the most mysterious of all our native plants. Its seeds are spread on the feet of birds and will only germinate on trees with soft bark - locally apple and poplar are the favoured host species. Historically there was an association with druids and the Celtic oakwoods but oak is one of the species that mistletoe will not grow on very easily!

The moorland is largely devoid of small birds now apart from a few snipe and meadow pipits. Ravens and carrion crows are already staking out their territories and are actively calling and displaying. Winter visitors such as fieldfares and redwings are well established and there are small flocks of siskins and redpolls. Occasionally there is the possibility of seeing a wintering hen harrier or merlin. .

Future Events – Winter Bird Walks

The next birdwatching walk will take place on Sunday December 17th. The walk will start at 09.30 hours from the Lower Car Park on Trendlebere Down (Bovey Tracey end). Charge is £5.00 per adult

This is a short stroll of just over 1½ miles and lasts for 3 hours. The objective will be to find as many different birds as possible!

Telephone (0785 8421 148) or e-mail me at enquiries@dartmoornaturetours.co.uk if you need more information about these events.