Twelve months of immersing myself in Stroud's natural wonders
Wildlife has fascinated me since I was a small child and I was just 13 when I decided I wanted to work in wildlife conservation. I graduated with a degree in Zoology and have been fortunate to work for some great conservation organisations - The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB, The Conservation Volunteers and Stroud Valleys Project - and with great people passionate and hugely knowledgeable about the natural world around us. I moved to Stroud in 1988 and soon realised what a lovely place it is for seeing natural wonders. I've been walking the valleys and vale of the district ever since.
If you fancy seeing a real riot of nature this weekend or next weekend, the Oxenhall and Dymock Daffodil weekends are a must. They’re a celebration of the wonderful sign of the coming spring which we all love to see – the daffodil. In this case, it’s the wild daffodil which grows in profusion through the woods and fields around three villages – Oxenhall, Kempley and Dymock. Never mind those hosts of golden daffodils in the Lake District, Wordsworth could easily have been writing about his walk through the countryside in the Forest of Dean.
Each village takes it in turn to host the weekend – last week’s was due to be in Kempley but was cancelled due to the snow. This weekend is centred at the Oxenhall village hall and next weekend, Dymock village hall is the host. Today and tomorrow, the wardens from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust will be leading guided walks around Betty Dawes Wood, a trust reserve which is one of the jewels of the daffodil woods. The walk is just 1.5 miles long and flat, on the whole, so a good place for a family outing if you’ve got small children. The wood will probably be muddy after all the recent rain and snow so go prepared with wellies or walking boots. There’s also a 5 mile guided walk leaving from the village hall at 10am.
After the walks, be sure to leave time for a visit to the village hall to indulge in the delicious cakes, pasties or even a lunch. The cakes are usually fab, home baked by the villagers themselves. Plus there’s a plant and white elephant stall, and an exhibition in the church by the local history society. All the monies raised go to local clubs and good causes. Dymock’s weekend includes a craft fair in the village hall.
All-in-all, I love these weekends and revel in the shear ‘Englishness’ of them plus the infectious enthusiasm and love of the volunteer for ‘their’ daffodils and their villages. These weekends are the real annual harbingers of spring for me.
Cherington pond is a jewel of a place, hidden away at the bottom of a secluded valley not many miles away from Stroud but feeling like it’s in its own world. It offers a variety of different wildlife in one small area – the water birds that live on the open water plus those that prefer the seclusion of the woodland that wraps itself around the pond; the shallow stream leading into the pond where once a pre-occupied water shrew bumbled along looking for food, quite oblivious to my great bulk standing just inches away. But in February and early March, it’s the spectacle of the snowdrop carpet gracing the woodland floor that makes this an ideal place for a Sunday (or any day come to that) stroll instilling a feel-good factor that far out-weighs a bucketful of prozac.
The noticeably lengthening days are letting a little ray of sunshine break into my winter grey gloom, but the thing that really cheers me up is a wander through Conygre Wood near Kingscote village. During February, the woodland floor hosts carpets of snowdrops along with a lovely cheerful flower called winter aconite. The latter is a little, bright yellow flower which opens up in the sunlight creating a patch of mini-suns shining back at that elusive ball of fire which we don’t see enough at this time of year.
This constantly wet, miserable weather may not be great for the seratonine levels or make you want to abandon your dormouse impersonation curled up in a warm corner somewhere, but it is ideal for one thing – waterfalls. It’s little known that Stroud has a waterfall – OK, it’s not a niagra falls-type waterfall or even a ‘stand at the bottom and get covered with spray’ waterfall. But, nethertheless, a waterfall it is. And it’s found near a place with a name that makes you want to walk there – The Heavens.
The stars of the winter show in the Stroud area, and also around Gloucestershire, are definitely wildfowl. Whilst we assume that birds head south for warmer climes to avoid the coldest season of our year, as they leave there’s a huge group of birds who come here on their summer holiday. Swans, geese and ducks do fly south for the winter, but they end up around the UK having left the artic circle and the adjoining harsh, frozen lands such as the tundra of northern Russia, Greenland and Iceland. As you might imagine, these places freeze solid during our winter making food impossible to find so wildfowl migrate here where it’s relatively balmy by comparison. These are birds that need to be by water so they head for our shores and coast plus inland lakes and marshes.
You might be more organised than me in the whole matter of Christmas present buying (I only let this annual festival of frenzy start to perculate into my brain on Stroud’s Goodwill Evening), but if you’re still searching for a present that’d be really valued by someone who’s keen on wildlife, I’ve put together some ideas in the selection below. I, personally, feel that ‘experiences’ or presents that last well beyond the festive season are a much nicer anyway, and the profits raised get ploughed back into helping protect our local wildlife. Continue reading “Wildlife-friendly gift ideas for Christmas”→
So winter has finally started – at least according to the Met Office for whom the 1st December marks the beginning. For astronomers, we’re still autumn until the winter solistice (21st December) which seems a bit late to me. Whatever date you choose, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with autumn this year. I’d been planning to post a series of blogs highlighting the best places and walks where you could appreciate the full majesty of the glorious seasonal colours. Instead, the trees seem to have gone from green to bare branches in almost one fell swoop. Yes, there has been a degree of colour change, but the usual yellows, reds and oranges have seemed muted. I feel you’ve cheated me, Mother Nature! I find these riotous colours are one of the autumnal delights tempering the thought of winter’s cold, short days. That, plus the wonderful bounty of berries and fruit, and the comforting chutney-making.
Hurrah! Another opportunity to write about one of my favourite places in Stroud district. I visited Strawberry Banks a couple of days ago and discovered a profusion of devil’s bit scabious creating a purple tapestry weaving through the grassland of this beautiful, hidden valley. Its delicate, lilac pom-pom flower nods on the top of stem about 2-2.5 feet high, and is primly arranged in pairs (though my wildlife-watching companions disagreed and said it was blue. I often have this argument with people ‘It’s purple’, ‘No, it’s blue’, ‘Don’t be daft, it’s obviously purple’…anyone else go through this when discussing flower-colour? No? Must be my funny eyesight, then. I magnanimously agreed on lilac).
This coming weekend sees the first Wader Festival take place – no, it’s not the annual gathering of wellie manufacturers but a celebration of a special type of bird called a wader which flocks to this area every spring and autumn. On Saturday and Sunday, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s centre at Slimbridge will be busy with all sorts of activities celebrating the birds which collectively form a group that is found all over the world apart from Antartica; in both freshwater and salt-water, in bogs, marshes, coasts, ponds, and whose members are as diverse from flamingos and cranes to godwits and egrets.
In the past, I’ve lead walks helping families get closer to wildlife and be inspired by the outdoors. A regular comment that took me aback was parents admitting that these events helped them discover places where they could take their children in the future. Even though they really wanted their children to spend time amongst nature, they didn’t know where to go ‘out there’ in the countryside.
So, here are five places I’d recommend where families can have some fun, fresh air and do a bit of wildlife watching (and all for free):