Wytham Woods, a Laboratory with Leaves

Posted on March 26, 2016 by Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

We often forget we can turn to our own backyards to encounter the wonders of nature.

England is probably not at the top of your list for places with the “most interesting wildlife.” And while the country it may not have the largest animals roaming its forests and fens, it does have an incredibly rich ecological landscape that is worthy of awe and exploration.

Wytham Woods path with flowers in bloom
Source: TOBIAS REYNOLDS

 

On this edition of Saturday’s Around the World, we take you to Oxford’s Wytham Woods, a “Laboratory with Leaves” that is a place of research, art, and conservation.

It is one of the world’s most researched woodland sites, and the marvelous video series we are about to introduce you to is a beautiful reminder that you don’t have to travel across the globe to find wonders of nature, they are very often in your own backyard.

Let’s set the scene for with a brief history of this woodland, and its importance as both an ecological and historical site…

Appreciating creatures small and smaller…

We very often don’t appreciate the little wonders of nature that are all around us.

As a photographer, I have been fascinated with capturing birds with my lens for years now, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized there are species here at my own feeder that are as beautiful as any I have photographed around the planet.

Perhaps one of the most extensive and incredible ongoing research projects in Wytham Woods is the study of bird populations. Studies that have been going on since 1947 allow us to know a bird’s lineage, life, and even their intelligence!

What Great Britain may lack in large animals, it makes up for with its rich diversity of smaller species of vertebrates and insects. With 4000 species of beetles in Britain, it makes sense that the fathers* of the evolutionary theory were beetle collectors in their youth.

*For those wondering why “father” is plural, both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace conceived of the idea of evolution through natural selection, and both began their study and collection of species with beetles. For those fans of A.R. Wallace out there, don’t worry his contribution to evolutionary biology is not forgotten!

It’s hard not to get excited about exploring the diversity of insects that are all around us when you hear some of these researchers talk about their work…

So, maybe you won’t go exploring in your own backyard by digging around in dead trees (but if you never have, it really is a great experience, go try it sometime).

When we talk about beauty in the insect world, we often think of butterflies, but their cousins, moths, can be equally stunning.

Britan as 2500 species of moths, and their vibrant colors and beautiful camouflage are an endless source of natural wonder. In Wytham Woods, the study of moths is a key part of understanding the process of pollination, forest growth, and the local food chain.

These creatures are not just beautiful, they are an important part of a forest’s growth and ecology…

The history beneath us…

What of the ground beneath our feet?

Of all the parts of backyard exploration we under appreciate, the ground beneath us is one of the most underrated.

Certainly the average soil may not be an incredibly interesting place to explore, but the ground can have a lot to tell us about the history of a place!

The Fen at Wytham Woods is an incredibly important place for research. By digging down into the Fen we can look back at thousands of years of history to understand not only our impact on the environment but how species have come and gone over the past 10,000 years.

You may never look at the ground beneath your feet the same!

Celebrating the beauty of our backyard…

So, how do we convince people that the local woodlands, or our own backyard, are worth celebrating?

Art plays a crucial role in reminding us that many things we take for granted are actually incredibly beautiful.

The Artists-in-Residence of Wytham Woods are helping to bring the beauty of the woods out to the world. And while they may not be making scientific discoveries, their work plays a critical role in making the science and wonder of the wood accessible to us all…

I hope today we have inspired your inner nature nerd, or at least inspired you to appreciate the natural wonders that are right outside your door.

Perhaps one of the greatest parts of my own childhood was being forced to go outside and explore the natural world. Even if that natural world is the nearest park, growing up and cultivating an appreciation for nature is an important part of maintaining this planet and its diverse natural wonders for generations to come!

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Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”-Victor Borge

Liesl can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—yoga lover. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

Notes:

  1. “The Laboratory With Leaves (Part 1): Wytham Through the Ages.”YouTube. University of Oxford, 06 Feb. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akqPnqQF7ro>.
  2. “The Laboratory With Leaves (Part 2): Birds.” YouTube. University of Oxford, 07 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRRPUGEB7dY>.
  3. “The Laboratory with Leaves (Part 7): Creepy Crawlies.” YouTube. University of Oxford, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcEzPU2ie-o>.
  4. “The Laboratory with Leaves (Part 9): Moths.” YouTube. University of Oxford, 11 Mar. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGR4fvzj66U>.
  5. “The Laboratory With Leaves (Part 5): The Fen.” YouTube. University of Oxford, 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDLYdEdaeGU>.
  6. “The Laboratory With Leaves (Part 4): Art.” YouTube. University of Oxford, 09 May 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNIiMnY6uzI>.