January in the Forest

The start of the year offers a chance to pause, reflect and make positive decisions. As the County Council has recently published the Worcestershire State of Nature Report 2023, I thought I would look at some of its main points, both good and bad.

‘The crisis facing our native habitats and species is a serious one, driven by threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, invasive non-native species and climate change’, says the introduction.  Fortunately the Wyre Forest itself is designated as a National Nature Reserve (managed by Natural England and Forestry England) covering 1455 hectares, with another 60 hectares of adjoining woods also sympathetically managed. Here the aim is to restore the semi-natural ancient woodland by reducing conifers and creating a mosaic of forest, orchard, grass and heathland habitats. Elsewhere in the countryside woods have succumbed to loss and fragmentation, neglect, soil compaction from machinery, fly-tipping, pollution from adjoining land and other pressures. Even in the NNR there are the threats of fire, flood, drought and storms, new tree diseases, and disturbance to wildlife from excessive recreational pressure (the latter, though, having eased off to some extent from the frantic days of lockdown!).

On the other hand we can be cheered by the success stories. Our forest is one of the most studied in the country, with the Wyre Forest Study Group, Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology and others adding to the picture. This information feeds into the decisions about the way the forest is managed, and as a result we have initiatives such as creating wide rides for butterflies (including the Pearl-bordered Fritillary) and mixed-aged/mixed-species forest plots to support woodland birds. The wildlife of wet areas, meadows and heaths within the forest are also being helped by sympathetic management, often with the involvement of conservation volunteer groups. They in themselves are one of the ‘good news’ stories: volunteers from the Wyre Community Land Trust helped to plant 25 new orchards and restore 14 more in the locality, preserving a beautiful landscape feature and a rich habitat for wildlife.

What will you do for nature this year? You can volunteer your time to monitor wildlife or remove invasive Himalayan Balsam, for instance. Closer to home, plant some pollen-rich wild flowers or make a garden pond. If you see something nasty on your walks such as pollution or fly-tipping, report it: pollution to the Environment Agency on their helpline: 0800 80 70 60 and fly-tipping to Wyre Forest District Council or Shropshire Council (depending where the incident is) via their websites. Most of all, I hope we’ll all be able to get out there, enjoying the natural world, looking and learning.

Linda Iles

Uncllys Farm