Welcome to the Forest of Dean, a unique forested environment hidden between the two great trading rivers of the Severn and the Wye. Our cabin site (accommodation) is located in a mature forest setting with wildlife coming right up to your door, says Forest Ranger Chris Smilie.
The Forest of Dean has been a wooded area since the retreat of the last ice age. As an unspoilt hunting ground for deer, wild boar and other game, it became one of the important hunting grounds of the Norman age. But the forest wasn’t just prized as a royal hunting area, iron and coal have been mined here for centuries, and the oak and other timbers were really important in the building of our navy’s warships and other vessels.
The Forest of Dean cabin site sits right in a mature area of mixed woodland that was originally planted by the Forestry Commission for timber production. The ‘quick’ growing (80 years +) conifer trees here are the Douglas Fir. It was brought to Great Britain from the North West coast of America and is highly valuable as a timber for construction projects where consistent strength and load bearing are important.
Alongside the Conifers are the broadleaf trees, and the main species here is the English (pendunculate) Oak. These Oak trees may look a little different to the ones in your local park at home because they are tall, straight and don’t have that many branches, but unless your home is in the north of Britain where Sessile Oaks are more common, these are the same species. The reason that these Oaks are tall and straight is that Foresters have grown them this way to make it easier to turn them into long planks in the sawmill.
The smaller trees on site that make up what Foresters call the ‘understory’, are a mix of Hazel, Holly and Silver Birch with the odd group of Elder. These smaller trees provide the main shelter for most of the wildlife living here.
The area of woodland that the cabin site is located in is known as P.A.W.S. woodland and this means that it is a forest planted for timber production on an area that has been wooded since before humans came to Great Britain, (Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site). To identify the original types of trees that should be growing here we use small woodland plants, many of which have strange and interesting names. Types found here are Wild Garlic, Dogs Mercury, Solomon’s seal, Bluebell, Cuckoo Pint that transforms into Lords and Ladies, ferns and bramble, and these indicate that this area would have been predominantly a Broadleaved Oak and Beech woodland.
On the entranceway into the site and around the parking bays nettles often appear but these are a sign of worked or disturbed land not a P.A.W.S. indicator.
Among the species here are Fallow Deer, Fox, Badger, Rabbit, Hedgehog, Wood Mice, Shrew, Moles, Field Mice, Voles, Weasel, Grey Squirrel, Common Rat, Roe deer, and Wild Boar. Pippistrelles, Noctule and Brown Long eared bats, Greater Horseshoe bats have also been identified. Frog, Toad, Newts, Slow worms, Common lizards and, very occasionally, Adders are also present.
The Forest of Dean is home to a great number of our feathered friends from those that you may find in your garden like the Blue Tit, Robin or the Chaffinch, to the more forest specific like the Woodpigeon and the Wren. Outside the Forest Retreat Pied Wagtail are often seen chasing down small flies with some amazingly acrobatic flight and Jays (sometimes known as Blue Jays) squawk amongst the trees with their cousins, the Crows.
Amongst the cabins look out for the Nuthatch moving down the tree trunks searching for small insects hiding in the bark, and listen out for the piercing call of the Buzzard as it surveys for any opportunity to steal an easy meal.
As the night creeps in you may be lucky enough to hear the frog-like call of the Woodcock as it patrols its territory in a behaviour we call ‘rowing’ and as the darkness takes hold Tawny Owls give a familiar ‘Twit-Twoo’ to ensure that they are the only owls hunting on their patch.
In the Dean we are lucky to have a great deal of Elder trees, and as these get older they often have a strange jelly-like brown fungi growing on them which looks like a person’s ear! Of course like most of the UK’s forests the Toadstool or Fly Agaric can be found in the autumn but we also have its rare and, rather more deadly relation, the Death Cap here. Not all fungi are poisonous but that doesn’t mean that they are tasty either and one to look out for is the Stinkhorn that smells like the rotting flesh of a dead animal to attract the flies in to spread its seeds on their legs.
The Wild Wood
Fallow deer are one of my favourite things to spot in the forest and they are always doing something new from developing new and bigger antlers in the spring to issuing deep bellowing challenges to other males in the autumn. Who will be with me on Night Vision when we see the first of next year’s fawns pronking (bouncing) around the forest?
These days we only offer the opportunity to ‘shoot’ animals with your camera but if you’re lucky then you may see the Fallow deer on site or on one of our Ranger activities, or the Peregrine Falcon’s that nest in the cliff edge at Symonds Yat Rock, as well as lots of other forest characters, oh and maybe even the elusive Wild Boar.
“It doesn’t matter how much you think you know the forest it never ceases to amaze and surprise you, this year I have watched weasels scout out new homes, seen groups of over 50 Fallow deer and been within 60cm of an inquisitive wild boar. I hope that you can join me to see what we may find in the next 12 months!”
Did You Know?
One of the easiest Beetles to spot in the Dean is the Dor Beetle with its Shiny black upper shell and an iridescent purple underside. This thumbnail sized insect is often found on pathways and forest roads. But, did you know that this is a poo eating dung beetle so you may not want it round for dinner!
Strange But True!
Tracking animals in the forest can be hard work but if you learn to read their tracks and signs you can find out amazing things about what they get up to. And one of the best ways to do this is to get into poo (not literally!)
Chris Smilie is the principal ranger at the Forest of Dean. As the first ever forest ranger for Forest Holidays, Chris has had a leading role in shaping our activities. A big fan of hugging and growing trees, Chris is also interested in forest fungi and large mammal behaviour, and is a qualified forester.