Wildlife and Plants in the Forest of Dean by Peter Ralph

Wildlife and Plants in the Forest of Dean

Peter Ralph

Meeting of 12 May 2016

Peter has worked with the Forestry Commission for 40 years and he shared his experiences and photos with us, including:

- Photos of Shakemantle Quarry as a new habitat: having regrown after going out of use. (it was called Shakemantle as the blasting caused all the local gas mantles to shake!)

- Mandarin ducks at Cannop Ponds: they live in holes in trees. The males lose that beautiful plumage after the mating season and look quite drab.

- Voles are the forester’s enemy as they strip the lower bark on a tree leaving it to die; he remembers when voles were so numerous the ground seemed to be running with them.

- Grass snakes (which are totally harmless and have a primrose-coloured collar so cannot be confused with adders) have two survival strategies. They will either lie on their back and play dead or exude a revolting smelly liquid.

- Adders do not like people so will shoot away from you; as they are deaf they rely on vibrations, so jump!

- Boar were here before us and were part of the reason why King Canute designated this a hunting forest in 1016.

- The Forest Black Cat – lots of people know someone who has seen it, but all he has seem is a possible paw print.

- The Forest sheep do a useful job of maintaining the grass, in 2001 (during foot & mouth) the Council had to get the mowers out.

- We were shown lots of beautiful images of typical forest plants, and Peter explained the unique aspects of the beech forest: plants like bluebells flourish in the period before the leaves block the sunlight and the trees prevent too much competition for the bluebells. Wood anemones also flower early before there is too much shade.

- Foxgloves have the Forest name ‘snompers’ [I’m not sure I got this right] as the flowers can be popped.

- Honeysuckle distorts young trees but makes great walking sticks.

- Hornbeam wood is traditionally used for butcher’s blocks as it is almost impossible to split (so not great for firewood) and has antibacterial properties. CS