Kids love getting up close and personal with creepy crawlies, and here at the Heart of England Forest we positively encourage it.
We all know that insects do fantastic work in the natural world, but most adults aren’t too keen on turning over a stone or upending a log to be greeted by a horde of industrious invertebrates. But, even if Mum and Dad are reluctant to play nature detective, we know inquisitive kids love spotting some of these unsung heroes.
Here’s our tribute to some of the little creatures that are hard at work in the dark depths of your forest:
Often called ‘ecosystem engineers’, earthworms create burrows through which oxygen and water can enter the soil, and carbon dioxide can leave it. They also play an important role in breaking down dead organic matter and helping it to decompose. Plus, we all know how birds love to feast on a juicy worm!
Not everyone’s favourite insect, but they play an important role in forest life. Spiders catch and eat a variety of other, smaller insects and control their population. In turn, they provide a valuable food source for woodland birds.
Hardy wood lice
There are always plenty to be found whenever you turn over a stone, but what do wood lice actually do? Well, they feed primarily on dead and decaying plant and animal matter, turning it into nutrients used by plants. They are also food for frogs, newts, some spiders and small birds.
Ants like to keep their environment clean, feeding on organic waste, their nest building also helps to aerate the soil and affects its nutrient levels. Not only do ants eat other, smaller bugs, but they also provide a food source for forest birds such as the woodpecker.
In the UK alone, there are over 4,000 species of beetle belonging to more than 100 family groups. While some are harmful to trees and plant life, most perform an invaluable role in recycling dead organic matter and turning it into nutrients to help the forest grow. Beetles are a favourite meal for hedgehogs, too.
Snails feed on rotting vegetation like moist leaf litter or fungi, and help to clean up their environment. They are really easy to find when you’re out and about in the forest because they leave a slimy trail after themselves as they slither along the forest floor!
Snails provide food for a variety of woodland creatures, such as snakes, toads and birds.
So, next time you and your children or grandchildren are out walking in the forest, why not pack a magnifying glass? Then you’ll be able to take a closer look at some of the marvellous little members of the bug brigade, which are busy keeping the forest floor spick and span!