The calendar suggests we’ve already ticked off a sizeable chunk of the first quarter. Somehow that doesn’t feel right; I’m more inclined to think that 2020 consisted of 14 months and only now can we begin the process of wishing each other ‘Happy new year’.
A few days back, March 13th, we started a walk from somewhere other than our own front gate for the first time in around four months. Not that we travelled far, or that much had changed: we found the Wyre Forest to be every bit as muddy as we’d left it back in November. But, as Sam Cooke so memorably sang, a change is gonna come and indeed is already under way: the fieldfares and redwings have gathered into their groups and departed, mostly north and east, although a few stragglers may remain for a while longer; today (17th) the first returning osprey has been recorded in Rutland; soon the flycatchers and redstarts will reach the end of end their unfathomable annual pilgrimages and nest in this very forest.
This is a good place to come to appreciate the distinction between a genuine forest and a sizeable expanse of woodland. A few miles from the centre of Kidderminster, about as much again from the last suburban fringes of the West Midlands, this is a properly wild and thankfully under-appreciated jewel. I’m half of a mind to keep it to myself.
The forest is managed in parts, but there are many other places where the managing is done by nature: trees lie where they fall, some living on for a while, others straight away beginning the slow cycle of decomposition and reclamation by nature; providing food, shelter and habitat just as they did when they were upright. Come often enough, for long enough, and you will see the fallen trunk which once acted as an impromptu bench slowly reducing to fragments, then splinters, sawdust, a fading colouration of residue, until finally the last traces are lost to the human eye.
These next few months will see the forest at its best: new growth all the way from ground to canopy; the feeding and fledging of woodland birds, some of them on the tightest of schedules before that long southward migration rolls around. Getting the timing wrong isn’t really an option.
Within the confines of the forest proper there are rarities to be found, some of them varieties sufficiently scarce as to appear on red lists: adders, lesser spotted woodpeckers, goshawks; all of which we have seen, none of them very often and mostly not for long. The adder population is having a particularly difficult time, as indeed is the case in many places locally. Grey squirrels on the other hand appear to be flourishing, although a recovering buzzard population is helping a little with that particular pest; more goshawks, or recolonisation by pine marten, would help to tip the balance of that equation further in the right direction.
Apparently a pine marten recovery isn’t beyond the realms of possibility; there are polecats here already, doing their bit during the hours of darkness but apparently, while they’re a formidable ground predator, they just don’t climb like a marten.
To close, as the album recently celebrated its 50th birthday, what could be more appropriate…
Addendum: There is a native species which flourishes almost everywhere within the forest: it is the wood ant, and they are awake. At least one of them has left its visiting card in a couple of places just above my ankle bone.