Wildlife Conservation Group in the

Forest of Dean


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This article was printed in the Forest Review





The Dean’s Green Team
Wednesday, 01 February 2012

The Review’s Sarah Daly meets a group of people who spend their winters working for wildlife

THE Old Darkhill Ironworks at Gorsty Knoll is a cold place to be on a frosty mid-winter’s morning. This is where the Dean Green Team are planning to spend their day however; and they all look remarkably cheerful about it.

Kathy Reynolds is one of the group’s longest standing members. She been involved since 2003 – not long after the team was founded by the Forestry Commission. Kathy looks after the website as well as acting as one of the group’s unofficial leaders, although there’s no real hierarchy in the team. She says: “As we are volunteers, everybody is free to do as much or as little as they wish – some only do mornings – other just come along in the afternoon – and everybody leaves when they feel they’ve done enough.

“We work on wildlife conservation projects mainly between September and April. We stop as soon as the birds start nesting. This way we get to create and improve habitats for a whole range of plants, animals and insects, without disrupting this wildlife too much although some work has to be done in spring or summer such as bracken control or fencing. Most of the work we do at sites around the Forest is clearance and coppicing. We’ve also done pond clearing, hay-making and fencing though and have had experts in to show us how to lay hedges and build dry stone walls.”

Kate Wollen co-ordinates the Dean Green Team for the Forestry Commission. She says: “We work together with Kevin Caster from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and other organisations such as Butterfly Conservation to work out which sites need attention, which species we want to attract and what work we need to do.”

Here at Gorsty Knoll, Kate and the team are hoping to improve conditions primarily for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Kate says: “This butterfly is in huge decline nationally. It used have over 30 territories in the Forest of Dean, but is only found now at three sites, including Gorsty Knoll. By creating a butterfly corridor, we’re hoping to expand its range.”

Kathy says: “By improving the situation for butterflies though, we’re improving it for a whole range of other wildlife such as grass snakes, lizards and insects, including other species of butterfly.”

It looks like backbreaking work however. Within minutes of arriving, Nick Williams from the Butterfly Conservation Trust is wielding a chainsaw to hack down trees along this corridor. (Only he and members of the Forestry Commission get to do this as none of the volunteers are, or wish to be, licensed). Tony Thorn – known as the group’s chief fire-maker and a born and bred Forester – quickly gets a fire going from the off-cuts, while other members of the team use loppers to clear the brush and drag it over to Tony. It’s energetic work, but on such a cold day it makes sense to keep moving.

What is surprising however is that the vast majority of the 20 or so volunteers here today are retired. Kathy herself, who lives in Ruardean, took early retirement as a computer programmer. Members of the Dean Green Team include a retired mast and oar-maker, former chemical industry and bridge construction workers as well as a few younger members.

In this last category is newest recruit Dieter Cole who lives in Tutshill near Chepstow. Dieter recently moved to the Forest from London and still spends part of the week back in the capital. As we chat, he hacks back bracken to create a clearing for violets to grow and hopefully attract the endangered fritillary, while others stack it into piles to create a habitat for reptiles.

He says: “I was looking for things to do with my time and I’ve always been keen on wildlife. I’ve been along twice now. I can’t make it every week, but will certainly get here when I can.”

Jo Cavanagh is also from Tutshill. She says: “I’m a furniture maker by profession, but I’m not working at the moment. I did an internet search for volunteering as I wanted to do something worthwhile with my time. I’m used to working with wood, but not quite like this!” So why do Kathy and the rest of the group keep coming, pretty much whatever the weather? She says: “On a lovely day like this, we get to see parts of the Forest we’ve never visited before and we aren’t under any pressure.”

Kathy also says that a lot of it is due to the social aspect – and it is obvious from the banter and sense of camaraderie that everyone is having lots of fun. She says: “The team is made up of a real cross section of people and it’s fascinating chatting to them over our coffee breaks or lunch. We also learn so much. We’ve got a couple of birders in the group and they’ll tell us what birds we can hear as we’re working. A couple of members of the group know a lot about reptiles and butterflies and we learn a lot from them too.”

The other incentive to keep returning comes much later, however. Kathy says: “It can take a couple of years for the plants and flowers or the butterflies or insects that we’re hoping to attract to establish in a site. It’s very rewarding to return in the height of summer and see a place we’ve worked on teeming with wildlife though.”



Conservation officer Kate Wollen says that the work of the Dean Green Team has been made necessary by changes in the way the Forest is grazed. She says: “So many sheep were lost in the terrible spring and summer of 2001 through Foot and Mouth and the flocks haven’t really been replaced at anything like previous levels.” Kate reckons there are probably only about 200 sheep in the Forest compared with 3,000 or so before Foot and Mouth hit. “Although there are other animals – such as deer and now boar – grazing in the woodlands, they don’t control bracken and brambles and other young growth in the same way. So that’s where the Dean Green Team comes into its own.” Kate also says very little is known at the moment about the long-term effects the boar will have on wildlife: “We think at the moment that the bare ground that their rooting creates may help flowers to germinate, but they are just as likely to root up a rare plant, as we can’t control where they go.”



The Dean Green Team meet between 9.45am and 3pm every Tuesday at sites across the Forest of Dean and on one Thursday a month at the Speech House Arboretum. If you’re interested in joining the Dean Green Team or discussing other ways in which you can help wildlife (such as joining in summer wildlife surveys) on Forestry Commission managed land, contact wildlife conservation officer Kate Wollen. You can reach Kate either through the Dean Green Team website or through the Forestry Commission on 01594 833057.

Copyright Tindle Newspapers Ltd Friday, 03 February 2012