Day out: Highnam Woods, Gloucestershire
Settled among the folds and fields of the Severn Vale is a little-known nature reserve, home – on occasions – to the elusive nightingale and its beguiling spring song
RSPB Highnam Woods Nature Reserve is part of the largest area of ancient woodland in the Severn Vale, with a series of rides and glades, managed scrubland and piles of dead wood, making it a refuge for a wide range of fauna and flora. It is particularly special in spring when the melodies of birds fill the reserve.
If you’re lucky, you will hear the enchanting calls of the nightingale. The RSPB maintains a scrub and coppice habitat here for these woodland songsters, who return in April to nest and raise their young among the cuckooflowers, wood anemones and plentiful bluebells that shine atop the forest floor like starlight.
Wildlife at Highnam Woods
Nature provides a very precise order of appearance for the springtime flowers at the reserve. First come the primroses, wood anemones, wild daffodils and lesser celandine, then violets and early purple orchids. A little later in the season, bluebells appear, scattering the woodland floor with a mix of violet and sapphire, brightening any dull day with their beauty. The scent of cow parsley, cuckooflowers, wild basil and garlic mustard further enrich the senses.
Nightingales aren’t the only birds to bless Highnam. I live just five minutes from the reserve and on my walks have heard calls from blue tits, robins, great tits, wrens, marsh tits, hawfinches, song thrushes, green woodpeckers, great spotted woodpeckers, lesser spotted woodpeckers (a rarity in the UK), nuthatches, treecreepers, jays, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and buzzards.
As the weather gets warmer through the spring and into summer, these birds are busy constructing their nests and making the most of the rich food supplies and resources that will get them through autumn and winter.
One of my favourite places to pause is beside the ‘Birdman of Highnam’ woodcarving, dedicated to Peter Jones. You can’t miss it – a fabulously carved hand, encircled by an oak leaf and flying bird. Look for the statue in an open stretch of grass, which in spring is filled with wildflowers and the buzz of insects. Highnam Woods is a fantastic place to cherish the variety of British birdlife.
Tolga Aktas is a conservation biologist and photojournalist from Gloucestershire.