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  • Julie Muller

THE WYRE FOREST - A Space For All Reasons

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

(Nearest postcode DY12 3AF)

Two sheep dogs walking down a tree edged path in Wyre Forest NNR
Bruno and Shep explore the Wyre Forest NNR (National Nature Reserve) in Worcestershire/Shropshire

The last few days in March have been glorious, so Julie decided to take Bruno and me to explore the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve, which is situated, right in the heart of the West Midlands and, only twenty miles away from the city of Birmingham.

Its location means that it is visited by over 350,000 humans every year, together with their bikes and their horses and, more often than not, they are accompanied by canines just like us.

The Wyre Forest is an incredible place because it boasts such an enormous mosaic of habitats and each of these supports a rich diversity of birds and mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates.

It covers a huge area and earlier this year, that area has increased by more than half its size again. It now covers an area as big as 1700 football pitches and there is no way that day-trippers, like Bruno and I, can explore all of that in one day.

This extra space makes the forest enormously important because, apart from providing humans with more wriggle room in which to relax , it also provides the resident wildlife with more spaces in which to retreat thus allowing them to escape from the inevitable noise and disturbance caused by dogs and their humans ‘at play’.

After all, large numbers of day-trippers like us can have a quite a damaging effect on the resident wildlife if we are not careful.

We started our walk at Hawk Batch car park. It was nearly lunchtime and there were several groups of people relaxing in the unseasonably warm March sunshine. Tall coniferous trees towered above us, and the air was filled with the sweet smell of pine needles as we ventured into the forest.

As we walked down the track towards the River Severn, the conifers gave way to broad-leaved trees but most of these were still waiting for the right time to break bud. Birds were serenading each other in the scrub and woodpeckers drummed in the boughs above our heads.

There were large swathes of vibrant green wild garlic and bluebell leaves, sunbathing below the still-furled canopies of the winter-slumbering trees. Soon these trees will break into leaf and claim the spring sunshine for themselves so the bluebells and ransoms must blossom quickly before their light is snatched away.

A red welsh sheep dog stands watching the geese which are swimming in the middle of the River Severn in Worcestershire
Bruno on the banks of the River Severn in Worcestershire

The river was calm and tranquil today but the trees and shrubs vegetating the banks told a very different story - a tale of flash flooding and scarily fast- moving currents. There were myriad ‘clumps ’ of vegetation impaled on branches perched high above the current river level.

Today, the weather conditions were very different. The water was calm and inviting, the riverbank was lush and green and, above us, the pussy willows were coming into leaf and just a few silvery haired catkins remained on the tree. In the long cold winter months, these little furry capsules provide a downy duvet around the unseen developing parts of the tree. When the time is right, yellow pollened and sweetly perfumed anthers are pushed to the outside of the capsule in the hope of attracting the first insects of spring to visit and pollinate them.

There was lots of bird activity in the shrubbery, and on the water both white geese and mallard swam and dipped, honked, and quacked in the riffles.

Bruno couldn’t resist trying to get a closer look, but he was so honked and hissed at that he just gave up. There is only so much noise that a sheepdog can take!!

Soon our path took us away from the river and we followed one of its tributaries , the Dowles Brook, which tripped and tumbled over fallen timber and rocks on its way to meet the mighty Severn.

It was a warm day and the delicious sound of the water crashing and tumbling beside us made me so thirsty, but there was just no way of getting to it,so I reluctantly trudged up the hill.

A wet sheepdog stands on the tree edged banks of a small broke running through the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve
Shep stands on the banks of Dowle's Brrok a tributary of the River Severn in the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve

We followed the brook up the hill and it seemed to be almost, but not quite, within paw’s reach. When we reached a road where the brook disappeared under a bridge, I grabbed my chance and plunged into the deliciously cold fast flowing water. Bruno watched me from the bank. He wouldn’t even get his feet wet (What a wimp!!) so I made sure that he was really close by before I shook. Boy – did he jump!! Ha-ha

I felt so good after my swim, and I happily bounced along the track. The stream twisted and turned between tree-lined banks, carpeted with a diverse mixture of plants and the path was punctuated with banks of bright yellow daffodils and ransom leaves.

A red welsh sheepdog stands sniffing the ground on the tree edged bank of Dowle's Brook in the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve
Bruno sniffs the plants beside the Dowle's brook in the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve in Worcestershire/Shropshire

The trees and bushes were alive with activity, and we heard birds singing from all directions. There are so many different species of bird living here because the Wyre Forest boasts a mosaic of habitats. Cherry orchards support hawfinch, conifers provide food for crossbill, all three woodpeckers inhabit the woodland trees, and the brook is home to azure blue kingfishers and, curtseying dippers. Birds like siskin holiday here in the winter whilst redstart spend their summers here.

Knowing this , we were not in the least surprised to bump into three quite sombrely dressed birdwatchers all laden with long lensed cameras and binoculars. All three men seemed happy to be filming out in the woods today, but they were disappointed that the star attractions – the migrants from Africa hadn’t yet arrived. Ho-hum!

Further up the brook we came across an old mill called Knowles’s Mill which was the last one of six mills that once dammed water from the Dowle’s Brook and used it to mill flour for the residents of Bewdley and the local area. It closed in 1891 when it was severely damaged by flooding after a particularly hard freeze. Today it is owned and managed by the National Trust, and you can go and take a look at it if you want to.

Two tired sheep dogs rest on a track in the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve in Worcestershire/Shropshire
Shep and Bruno sit on a track in the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve

We left the mill behind us and continued to trudge up the hill. I didn’t realise just how far we had climbed down to the river.

As we ascended the slope, bright yellow brimstone butterflies glided past us, commas flitted into and out of the undergrowth and dark velvet under-carriaged peacocks landed and launched themselves just in front of us. Despite Bruno’s best efforts he couldn’t keep pace with them. I think that he was feeling just a little bit tired – and so was I!

We were so glad to get back to the car!!

The Wyre Forest NNR is good for everyone, and, because of its large area, it plays no small part in tackling climate change and encouraging biodiversity. Its varied habitats means that there will always be something new to see, whatever the season and Bruno and I look forward to coming here again later in the year!!

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