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Deerpark Forest: Forest Ranger’s Watch

Deerpark is a small forest in Cornwall made up of mixed woods that straddle stream valleys. The woods are very open making it ideal for wildlife to flourish and there are broad leaved sections contrasting with planted softwoods, says Forest Ranger Martin Summers.

Rich in history and biodiversity, Deerpark forest in Cornwall is situated close to the Herodsfoot gunpowder mill near Liskeard. Herodsfoot is recorded as one of the oldest sites for mining in South-East Cornwall and long before the opening of the gunpowder works around 1844 there had been mining here, achieved by horizontally tunnelling into the hillside. Herodsfoot or ‘Hir Garth’ in Cornish means ‘the long hill’ and thanks to its long mining history was recorded on early maps.

Canopy

The broad leaved areas consist mainly of Common Oak, Hazel, Beech and Ash with a variety of smaller trees such as Elder, Rowan, Alder and Birch. Spindle also occurs here too with its bright pink November fruits and self-sown conifers also present amongst the broad leaves.

The planted softwoods are Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Norwegian Spruce (better known as the Christmas tree!), Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar. Each type of conifer has its own character – the tall 130 feet Douglas Firs have their own understory (smaller trees) of Holly, Hazel and other broad leaves. These firs, otherwise known as Oregon Pines, are thinned out every seven years and capable of reaching 300 feet in their native America.

The Hemlocks give rise to an enchanting and atmospheric mossy floor whilst the Sitka valley is sometimes quite boggy with its own ‘Spagnum’ moss. Monterrey Pines occur in one part of the forest, too – in fact they may own their existence to the gunpowder mill which used to exist here.

Flora

There are over 250 species which have been identified within Deerpark and these vary from season-to-season. Spring is a glorious time of year which sees Bluebells, Wood Sorrel, Dogs Mercury, Violet, Primrose and yellow carpets of opposite leaved Golden Saxifrage appear along the watercourses.

During Summer, Valerian, Meadow Sweet, Ragged Robin, Hemp Agrimony, St Johnsworts and Marsh Ragwort give great variety and colour along many tracks. Many of these have historical use including one of the St. Johnsworts that had an unlikely connection with Sperm Whales!

Ragged Robin - Deerpark

There are some rarities such as the parasitic Greater Broomrape and nettle like Bastard Balm. Other uncommon species include those typical of stream valleys such as Great Burnet, Skullcap and Ivy Leaved Bellflower. Hard, Hartstongue, Scaly male, Lady and Broad Buckler ferns give great beauty and cover for invertebrates.

Bastard Balm - Deerpark

Fauna

Among our forest ‘family’ are Fox, Badger, Rabbit, Wood Mice, Bank Vole, Shrew, Moles, Field mouse, Dormice, Otter, Stoat, Weasel, grey Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red deer (Occasional)

Pippistrelles, Long eared, Daubentons bat (over lake) and Lesser Horseshoe bats (rare). You may also see Frog, Toad, Newts, Slow Worms and Lizards.

Birdsong

Buzzards seen all year along with Ravens - they argue! Peregrines are occasionally seen screaming over Deerpark, literally.  Little egrets can sometimes be seen during winter perched in majestic oaks - a strange sight! Marsh and the scarce Willow Tits are present.

Swallows and House Martins in summer over lake

Spotted Flycatchers dart from perches to catch insects, Greater Spotted woodpecker, lesser Spotted woodpecker and green Woodpecker nest in tree holes. Herring gulls are often seen as Looe is only 6 miles away. Nuthatches, Tree Creepers and Goldcrests are typical woodland species present.

Forest Floor

Fly agaric has wonderful red caps with white spots and is highly poisonous and hallucinogenic - much folklore surrounds this one. Oyster fungi is edible and brackets logs whilst the unmistakeable Orange fungi is seen underfoot on autumn walks along rides. On grassy verges the short lived but tasty Shaggy ink Cap has distinctive grey shape contrasting with the spongy gilled Boletus. In the deep forest, Cauliflower fungus is football sized and looks alien but is edible.

Shaggy ink cap - Deerpark

The Wild Wood

Butterflies and moths thrive here. Speckled Wood and Ringlet flourish along the grassy rides where their caterpillars can feed. Yellow Brimstones, Holly blues, Orange tips, Peacocks, Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals are others seen. The night shift include the spectacular Elephant, Eyed, Popular and Lime Hawkmoths. One very rare species, the Scarce Merveille du Jour is present. Bright green Emeralds look like butterflies. Luminous centipedes can be seen all year, often unusual looking and unexpected.

Merveille du jour - Deerpark

Oil beetles are large and seen during May. They parasitise bees. Deerpark is home to the rarest of Beetles - The Blue Ground Beetle, only discovered during the 1990s in UK (so rare I have never seen it!). Violet Ground and Dung beetles are common. Green Tiger beetles are also sometimes seen scurrying across the tracks in pursuit of prey. Wasp Beetles disguise themselves to get protection by mimicking wasps in their black and yellow garb.

Oil beetle - Deerpark

Golden Ringed and Emperor Dragonflies are seen near the watercourses where their nymphs prey on invertebrate life. Salmon up to 8 pounds run the stream in winter whilst Bullheads, Trout, Eel and the jawless hagfish called the Brook Lamprey are more permanent residents. Carp to 9 pounds are easily seen in the lake coming readily to feed.

“Sometimes the electric blue flash of a Kingfisher never fails to impress along streams which are home to Grey Wagtails and the unmistakeable Dipper dunking itself in the rapids. Herons can be seen standing like statues by the lake, only to come alive by spearing Eels up to 2 feet long. Tawny Owls hoot after dark. Long Eared Owls are rare but occasionally heard with their resonant hoot whilst Barn owls patrol the upper margins of the forest alongside fields.”

Did You Know?

Glow worms can be seen sometimes on the grassy verges where the females shine yellow green to attract a male. They are in fact Rove beetles, not worms.

Strange But True!

Wasp Beetles disguise themselves to get protection by mimicking wasps in their black and yellow garb.

Martin Summers is the principal ranger at Deerpark and has been a naturalist for over 50 years, specialising in botany, geology, pond and marine life, butterflies, bats and moths. Martin’s passion for all things outdoor is contagious and he will make sure you have great fun learning about the forest life around you.

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