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Out and About - Gloucestershire

[welome sign]Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean. Gloucestershire borders the preserved county of Gwent in Wales, and in England the ceremonial counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Bristol.

Apart from the wildlife interests of the Forest Of Dean and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, there is plenty of history to see such as Berkeley Castle, an example of a feudal stronghold, plus Beverston and Sudley Castles. The cathedral of Gloucester, the magnificent abbey church of Tewkesbury and the church of Cirencester with its great Perpendicular porch. Of the abbey of Hailes near Winchcombe, founded by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1246, little more than the foundations are left.

Most of the old market towns have fine parish churches. At Deerhurst, near Tewkesbury, and Bishop's Cleeve, near Cheltenham, there are churches of special interest on account of the pre-Norman work they retain. The Perpendicular church at Lechlade is unusually perfect; and that at Fairford was built (c. 1500), according to tradition, to contain the remarkable series of stained-glass windows which are said to have been brought from the Netherlands. These are, however, adjudged to be of English workmanship, and are one of the finest series in the country.

Calcot Barn is an interesting relic of the abbey of Kingswood. Thornbury Castle is a fine Tudor ruin. Near Cheltenham is the fine 15th-century mansion of Southam de la Bere, of timber and stone. The mansion contains a tiled floor from Hailes Abbey. At Great Badminton is the mansion and vast domain of the Beauforts on the south-eastern boundary of the county. At Owlpen is one of the most picturesque Tudor manor houses set in a densely-wooded valley.

The Gloster Birder website is a must if you are going to visit the county; it is full of very useful information on sites to visit and birds you might see.

Another great website for the area is Severnside Birds which focuses on the area around the two Severn Bridges.


Forest of Dean

[fofd1]The Forest of Dean is a geographical, historical and cultural region in the western part of the county of Gloucestershire. It is a roughly triangular area bounded by the River Wye to the west and north, the River Severn to the south, and the City of Gloucester to the east.

The area is characterised by over 110 square kilometres (42.5 sq miles) of mixed woodland, one of the surviving ancient woodlands in England. A large area was reserved for royal hunting before 1066, and remained as one of the largest Crown forests in England, the largest after the New Forest. The forest is composed of both deciduous and evergreen trees. Predominant is oak, both Pedunculate and Sessile. Beech is also common, and Sweet Chestnut has grown here for many centuries. Conifers include some Weymouth Pine dating from 1781, Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir and Larch.

The deer are predominantly Fallow deer and these have been present in the forest since the 13th century currently numbering around 400. A number of the Fallow in the central area of the forest are melanistic. More recently Roe deer and Muntjac deer have arrived spreading in from the East but they are in much smaller numbers.

The Forest is also home to Wild Boar; the exact number is currently unknown but possibly a hundred. The boar were illegally re-introduced to the Forest in 2005. A population in the Ross on Wye area on the northern edge of the forest escaped from a Wild Boar farm around 1999 and are believed to be of pure Eastern European origin, a second introduction was when a domestic herd was dumped near Staunton in 2004 but these were not pure bred Wild Boar. The boar can now be found in many parts of the Forest. Locally there are mixed feelings about the presence of boar. Problems have included the ploughing up of gardens and picnic areas, panicking horses with riders thrown, tearing open of dogs and cattle, road traffic accidents, and ripping open of rubbish bags. While in the future some control may be necessary, the return of the boar is also welcomed by many as a valuable addition to the national wildlife.

The Forest of Dean is well known for its birds. In particular the Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Woodwarbler and Hawfinch are regularly seen. The mixed forest supports what is probably Britain's best concentration of Goshawk; a viewing site at New Fancy is manned during February and March when the soaring birds are best seen. The Peregrine Falcon can be easily seen nesting from the viewpoint at Symonds Yat rock. The ponds in the Forest are good for Mandarin duck which nest up in the trees. Butterflies of note are Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Wood White, White Admiral. Gorsty Knoll is famed for its glow-worms and Woorgreen's lake for its dragonflies.

Before visiting the area I would recommend you visit these web sites:

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Map 9, Explorer Map OL14 or Landranger Map 162

Highnam Woods

[notice board]Highnam Woods is 119 hectares of ancient woodland and coppice and forms the largest area of woodland in the Severn Vale.

There is a rich assemblage of woodland birds that includes breeding nightingales that are associated with the coppice, and indeed are the main reason that the site was purchased by RSPB in 1987. Other bird species that occur include Goshawks, Ravens, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Marsh Tits, Bullfinches, Song Thrushes, Spotted Flycatchers and Woodcocks.

I enjoyed the walk around the 2 km nature trail passing amongst a variety of trees and habitats. I visited early morning in April and the bird song was amazing. They look like they are doing some building work with a new hide by the car park which when completed should be good. I didn't find it very easy to find as the reserve entrance is on the busy A40 and there is no RSPB sign just a "Highnam Woods" sign. I would make sure you have your directions sorted before you head off.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL14

Nagshead

[nagshead]Nagshead nature reserve which is in the Forest of Dean, is managed in partnership between the RSPB and the Forestry Commission.

The reserve is open all year round, but I could imagine it being a little bleak in the winter. More than half of the reserve is Oak woodland that was planted 200years ago. The wood originally destined to make ships is now kept solely for its conservation and landscape value. The rest of the reserve is made up of conifer woodland, scrub, open areas, ponds and streams.

There are a couple of hides which overlook ponds and there are certainly plenty of opportunities to see some quality birds such as Hawfinch, Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts. Watch out for Wild Boar as I "bumped" into one while I was walking around.

There is a free car park and a visitor's centre is open from mid April to end of August.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL14

New Fancy View Point

[new fancy view point2]Formerly the site of the New Fancy coal mine. The old spoil heap has now been set up to provide spectacular views across the Forest of Dean. It is an ideal place to watch birds of prey especially Goshawks soaring above the woodland. The viewpoint offers the chance to see these large birds of prey in action. In winter, you can see females performing rollercoaster 'sky dance' display flights over the forest.

While I was there it was obvious you need a decent scope to have a chance as there is a huge range, talking to other birders there, they said they never get that close to get a photo and while you do see them you do need decent equipment.

Fallow deer and wild boar may be spotted in the woodlands below the viewpoint, and while I was there adders were found sunning themselves on the sides of the spoil heap.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL14

Slimbridge

[slimbridge]Slimbridge is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. Slimbridge is halfway between Bristol and Gloucester on the estuary of the River Severn. The reserve was the first WWT centre to be opened, on 10 November 1946, thanks to the vision of artist and naturalist Sir Peter Scott. The United Kingdom now has eight other Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust sites.

The reserve exists to care for and study ducks and geese of the world. To cater for bird and duck watchers, sixteen hides overlook the fields, streams and lakes bordering the River Severn and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. Although by their nature some of these hides are not very wheelchair friendly there are plenty that are, especially the new "Kingfisher" hide. The "Sloane Observation Tower" gives far-reaching views to the Cotswold escarpment in the east and the River Severn and Forest of Dean in the west.

The number of ducks, geese and swans is greatest in winter, with large flocks of White-fronted Geese, sometimes with a rare Lesser White-fronted Goose amongst them. Bewick's Swans are a feature of Slimbridge in winter, arriving from northern Russia to enjoy the milder climate of southern England. Other winter visitors are birds of prey such as Peregrine and Merlin, as well as wading birds and songbirds.

Slimbridge has good facilities with free car park, a visitors' centre and shop, restaurant, art gallery and Tropical House. The site has 3 square kilometres of reserve, of which 500,000 square metres is landscaped and can be visited by the public.

This is a brilliant place to walk around and a great place to educate the kids if you have any as you can really get up close, another positive is the amount of wild birds that come in and mix with the exhibits. Well worth a visit and is very easy to find from the M5.

Recommended map:
Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 182

Symonds Yat

[symonds yat1]Symonds Yat Rock is a scenic viewpoint towering 120 metres (394 feet) above the river on the Gloucestershire side. From this viewpoint, between April and August, peregrine falcons can be seen nesting on the cliff side. Other birds of prey including Goshawks and Buzzards can also be seen. Volunteers from the RSPB help visitors to use telescopes provided in a joint project with Forest Enterprise, owners of the site.

From the fee paying car park there are plenty of brilliant woodland walks which will also take you down to the river Wye and a great pub the "Saracen".

There are good facilities at the car park and close to the view point.

For more information go to www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/sites/symondsyat/index.asp.


The International Centre for Birds of Prey

[icbp1]I've been visiting the centre for about 20years, and while I've never liked to see any wild animal caged, the birds here are very well cared for. If you are like me, you like to get up close and personal this is the place for you, I have found the staff very friendly and approachable.

The educational side is excellent and to watch the flying displays is a great experience, there are normally three shows and they try to have different birds for each show.

There are good facilities here with a café, shop, children's play area and free car park, also falconry courses on offer for those of you that want to take the experience further. Please contact the Centre for more information.

The International Centre for Birds of Prey website is great giving lots of information and would check it out before a visit.

The Centre is close to Newent which is 9 miles North West of Gloucester on the B4215 or 10 minutes from Junction 3 of the M50 and is well sign-posted.


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