Spring may have been late this year but with June’s arrival the forest has burst into life. At Deerpark in Cornwall we find out why June is a highlight of the forest year
It’s a busy month for Martin Summers, the Forest Ranger at Deerpark. The forest is buzzing with expectation as the summer visitors arrive. This part of Cornwall attracts everyone, from families enjoying a traditional seaside holiday to nature lovers, walkers and even thrill-seekers. The nearby coast is dotted with sandy beaches and surfing opportunities. Inland, you’ll discover chocolate-box villages, windswept moors and, of course, lush forests. Martin, a qualified geologist and naturalist, has been at Deerpark for six years and spends most of his waking hours in the forest. He lets us in on some of the secrets and highlights of his unique workplace in June.
A Hive of Activity
We begin by asking Martin what he likes best about the forest in June. “There is simply so much activity. You can practically see the flowers growing; foxgloves are shooting up and ancient ferns unfurling; and this year, unusually, they are sharing the forest floor with the late bluebells. I particularly like the yellow flag iris flowers with bolts of vibrant yellow lighting up the water margins of the millpond.”
The millpond itself is teeming with new life: “We’re pond-dipping now and it’s so rewarding, particularly for the children.” Stickle-backs and male Basking Toad tadpoles compete for attention with some of the scarier bugs such as the Alder fly larvae, with pincer like jaws which they are not afraid to use. “We’ve given them the nickname “Mr. Stroppy” at Deerpark.” Above and beside the water, and altogether cuter, mother geese can be seen leading their gaggles of goslings to and fro.
Down on the stream Grey Wagtails are searching for aquatic insects to feed their hungry young. Their bobbing tails and yellow breasts make them stand out from the stocky dark brown Dippers looking for similar water-borne prey. “We disturb them briefly twice a week for the duck race, a Deerpark tradition which brings all our guests out for a highly entertaining morning,” says Martin.
Mention of the duck race makes us wonder what other activities are going on at Deerpark in June.
“One of my most enjoyable responsibilities is the Forest Night Vision walk. Over the years I have put together some fantastic technology which I could talk about for hours, but all you really need to know is that you can see the life of the forest at night with a crispness and clarity that will astound you. Our night vision scopes are connected to nine-inch screens which relay everything that the cameras are picking up. This month we have watched foxes make their way across the far valley and we often spot Roe Deer.” It’s worth remembering that June has the shortest nights of the year, so be prepared to stay out until after midnight!
Martin’s boundless energy and enthusiasm are contagious and there are three to five Ranger activities most days, which are always full of eager participants. As June progresses we asked Martin what other events are on the horizon, “We’ve just had our first Teddy Bears’ Picnic which was a great success, so we’ll definitely run more this summer. It’s a family event which involves a short walk into the forest for a teddy bear hunt; we feed the ducks and geese, tell stories beneath the trees, and then come back and enjoy a picnic outside the Forest Retreat.”
Annual Summer Draw
It is energising to witness the forest in June, brimming with life. It’s no surprise that some holidaymakers are drawn to return to Deerpark again and again. “I know a number of guests by name now as I see them every year.” says Martin. “And for our guests every year is different; the late spring this year for instance, with plenty of rain, has given rise the most spectacular June flower display we’ve seen for years”
Excitement levels are particularly high this week as news that the elusive Nightjar has been heard at Deerpark. “Recent forest clearing has created the ideal conditions for the Nightjar, which is a ground–nesting bird. Its distinctive chirring call has been heard at the top of the valley at dusk and I’ll be out every night next week on the lookout,” says the energetic Martin. And off he marches, back into the forest for his next activity.
Did you know?
1. The fascinating Eyed Hawk-moth, often found in the Deerpark moth trap at this time of year, can scare off a great tit using its pretend eyes, which dramatically intensify in colour in the process.
2. Ferns, now unfurling in the forest shade, are the oldest plants on earth. The first ones lived 260 million years ago, and looked just the same as the ferns that grow today.
Five interesting and explosive facts about Deerpark
1. Deerpark is on the site of an old gunpowder mill and the Forest Retreat is in the original mill building.
2. Deerpark is one of very few UK homes to the rare and beautiful Merveille du Jour moth which can be spotted in the forest in June.
3. It is also home to a Giant Redwood, Cornwall’s tallest tree, planted to celebrate the life of Wellington who was victorious at Waterloo in 1815.
4. Evenings at Deerpark bring out the bats - Pippistrelles, Long-eared, Daubentons over the lake, and the rare Lesser Horseshoe bats.
5. Deerpark’s setting, deep within a V-shaped valley and surrounding a pond and two lakes, makes it one of the most mild, sheltered and atmospheric forests in the country.
By Ruth Sneddon