The Forest Holiday site near Coleford is a perfect base for exploring the natural history of the Forest of Dean. Dawn Balmer stayed with husband Peter and daughter Bethany over the weekend 6th–7th June 2015.
Nagshead RSPB near Parkend is a beautiful 19th century oak woodland, host to some special woodland birds. The woodland trails are well-marked and allow easy access to the reserve. It’s a good place to see Pied Flycatcher; we spotted a female Pied Flycatcher taking food for her young into one of the many nest boxes in the wood and several smart males. In the heart of the woodland, listen for the beautiful trilling song of the Wood Warbler. Sadly, these birds have declined by 66% since 1995. There were many Bluebells still in flower. A Woodcock got up from the ground just ahead of us, a Hawfinch flew over and a female Mandarin with young was on the lake.
There was lots of evidence of Wild Boar; look for the freshly turned earth where they have been snuffling around the Bluebell patches and you might see fresh footprints in the soft mud. Wild Boar became extinct in England over 300 years about but a combination of escapes from a Wild Boar farm near Ross-on-Wye in the 1990s and an illegal release in 2009 near Staunton, led to the establishment of a breeding population in the Forest of Dean. Visit early morning or evening and you might catch a glimpse of some. We saw at least 15 in the early evening including this huge male!
Symonds Yat Rock is close to the Forest Holidays site. This is a brilliant place to come and see a Peregrine Falcon. They started breeding here on the limestone cliffs in 1982 when Peregrines were a rare breeding bird having suffered from the effects of organochlorine pesticides leading to thinning of their eggshell. Symonds Yat, situated on the River Wye, is an ancient hill fort and gives spectacular views across the countryside.
View from Symonds Yat
It’s worth coming here just for the views. Friendly RSPB volunteers are on hand with their telescopes trained on the nest site and with luck, you should see the adult birds. Explore the woods and you’ll find many interesting plants, including White Helleborine. A beautiful Painted Lady posed on the stones for us.
Situated just north of Parkend, Cannop Ponds are worth a visit. They are large manmade ponds within the forest and are rich in wildlife. It’s a very good site to see Mandarin Duck, an introduced species that is flourishing in this country.
In the summer months, Swifts, Swallows and House Martins swoop low over the water and you’ll find Grey Wagtail on the river. A very obliging Raven came in for a drink when we were there!
As well as plenty of wildlife, there are grassed areas for family picnics and games. Cannop Bridge Marsh is managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and you’ll find an interesting mix of wildlife here like Nuthatch, Common Spotted Orchid and Silver-washed Fritillary.
For a quiet walk, try Serridge Green near Brierley. Turn south off the road opposite the petrol station in Brierley and park up and then walk southeast along the forest track. There’s a mix of wide grassy rides, forest, clearfell, broadleaved wood and boggy areas. Listen for Tree Pipit singing in the cleared area and watch for Buzzard overheard. In the wet areas by the edge of the track look for Common Spotted Orchid, Cuckooflower, Ragged Robin and Brooklime. It’s a good area for butterflies, and with luck, you might see the scarce Wood White here and Silver-washed Fritillary.
Just southwest of Cinderford lies Cinderford Linear Park, access from the car park at Cinderford Bridge. A series of trails take you past the ponds, grassland and forest on the route of the former railway branch line. There’s also a well-used cycle path. This is a very species-rich site, with a variety of habitats in a small area. Look out for Orange-tip, Speckled Wood and Meadow Brown.
If you’re heading home in an easterly direction from the Forest of Dean, a short detour will take you to the wonderful Strawberry Banks in the Cotswolds. It’s a flower-rich meadow managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust site. Time your visit in late May-early June, and with the sun shining, you’ll see large numbers of Marsh Fritillary; one of our most rapidly declining butterflies.
There’s lots of wildlife to see here. Look out for Common Blue, Small Blue and Green Hairstreak.
In the woods by the road look for the unusual looking Birdsnest Orchid; it is parasitic and has no green parts. It’s quite a scarce orchid but is found in good numbers here. In the meadow you’ll find Common Spotted Orchid, Early Purple Orchid, Lesser & Greater Butterfly Orchid.
Early Purple Orchid