Why you need to visit the Forest of Dean

When thinking of birding destinations in the UK, the Forest of Dean might not be the first place that comes to mind. Tom Mabbett, Naturetrek tour leader, describes why it should be high up on all bird watchers’ travel lists.

“The ancient Forest of Dean is the largest expanse of forest in the UK, after the New Forest. In medieval times it was a royal hunting forest, before becoming a source of timber for the navy’s Tudor warships. Today the forest is home to a wide variety of birds and wildlife.

There is a huge choice of different habitats to watch birds in the forest – both native and migratory. There’s always the opportunity to see something special like the great grey shrike, which is rare in the UK. It is the largest of the European shrikes. Small numbers come to the UK in autumn and spend the winter here. One particular bird returns to a certain glade every year and has been described as the forest’s ‘star of winter’.

Winter is a brilliant time to spot a variety of finches, like the chaffinch, redpoll and siskin. The forest is possibly the best place in the UK to find the secretive hawfinch, enjoying the sumptuous food on offer.

Nomadic crossbills can be seen throughout the year. Goshawks start displaying in January to March as they set up their territories, and can be seen all year round.

Nightjars arrive in Spring, then leave in August to winter in Africa. They are nocturnal birds and can be seen hawking for food at dusk and dawn. Watching nightjars at dusk is a very special experience. Lesser spotted woodpeckers still breed in the forest, but can be difficult to spot unless you’re familiar with their territories.

The forest is not just about birds. In the late 1990s wild boar were spotted (likely escapees). The initial group (known as a sounder) has now become at least 1000. Despite their numbers, wild boar are not easy to spot unless you know the best times and places to find them. It’s best to go out after dark in winter, with a powerful torch to pick up their eye shine.

Another highly successful reintroduction is the pine marten.  16 were released in 2018 and have bred successfully. It is hoped they will have an impact on the grey squirrel population. If this is effective, there is a possibility of red squirrels being introduced one day.

I recommend that anyone with a passion for birds and wildlife visits the Forest of Dean to enjoy all that this wild and beautiful forest has to offer.”

Tom Mabbett is Operations Manager and Tour Leader at Naturetrek.

Naturetrek offers a wide range of natural history and wildlife holidays in the UK (over 100 tours in fact!). From the Scilly Isles to the Outer Hebrides and everywhere in-between. Whether you are looking for a day trip, a weekend break, a week-long tour or a cruise there is a holiday for you. All small group tours led by expert naturalists.


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