June in the Forest

Living in the middle of the forest, as we do, one is always aware of being in someone else’s territory. The cuckoo has been calling every day to establish its ‘pitch’, the sparrows have moved into their customary holes in the house walls and the bats are beginning to do their circuits During the night we are visited by deer, which leave their droppings as a calling card, and badgers, which dig and roll back the turf in our orchards as they look for earthworms and cockchafer beetle larvae. (As I don’t like to tempt fate I won’t say too much about our defences against visits to the garden).

The territory of a badger, that is, the area which a family group living in the same sett will defend as their own, is on average 50 hectares. It will be larger where the habitat is poor and smaller if there is plenty of food available. They particularly thrive around arable fields where the supply of worms is good and they might get away with some of the crop too. I once saw a big pile of stripped corn cobs at the edge of a field in Arley, and can easily imagine the farmer’s annoyance. They are very persistent animals, so I hope they don’t start to show any interest in our hen house, which wouldn’t withstand a concerted attack.

The fallow deer also move fairly freely through the forest and beyond its limits. Excursions into neighbouring farmland are not without their dangers as the landowners are within their rights to shoot them. The numbers of mature bucks have dropped in recent years, possibly because they were in the habit of wandering where they were only welcome as trophies or Sunday dinners. There could be serious consequences for the vigour of the Wyre herd, which relies on the selection of the strongest males during the autumn contests of the rut. By this stage of the year the bucks will have shed their old antlers and the new ones will start to appear, covered in the velvet which carries the blood supply to the growing bone.

During the winter the does stay in small, family groups but can sometimes congregate with the young males in bigger herds. This month they will give birth to their fawns, which are hidden in foliage for the first day of their lives so that the mothers can go off to graze. For most of the summer the doe and fawn will move about the forest together. There is a white doe that has visited our fields regularly with a dark fawn from last

year - I wonder if we’ll see a new baby with them towards the end of the month?

If you would like to own a copy of an informative guide to the wildlife, geology, history and present day management of England’s largest ancient oak woodland I still have plenty of copies of ‘The Wyre Forest’ left. The booklet is beautifully illustrated and costs £5. Contact me on 01299 488083 or get your copy at Bewdley Museum/TIC.

Linda Iles