Bradley Hill - Woodland Wildlife

With its fine old trees, bracken-clad slopes, quarries and railway relics, Bradley Hill provides an insight into both the natural and the human history of the Forest of Dean.

This walk concentrates on the natural features of Bradley Hill but the hand of Man is never too far away.

Regular woodcraft demonstrations including traditional charcoal burning on the lower slopes of the hill emphasise this intimate and historical relationship between Man and the woods.

Visitors are advised to keep on the main waymarked routes.

woodland on Bradley Hill

The Multi-Storey Woodland

Bradley Hill has a character all of its own. There is more than a whisper of the ancient woodlands in its tall hardwood trees and multi-storeyed habitats. It is undisturbed by modern planting of timber trees from other countries.

Seventeen species of tree are found here, the Beech being dominant. Many of these are 60-80 feet high with trunks up to 12 feet thick. Their enormous spreading crowns form a dense overhead 'canopy' which casts a dark shade, so that little grows beneath except mosses and fungi.

Seedling trees wherever the sunlight breaks though.

Where the canopy is less dense, sunlight penetrates and small Hawthorn, Holly, Yew (the only conifer present) and other self-sown young trees form a form a patchy 'shrub layer'.

At the edge of the wood, by the brook and on the upper slopes there is a luxuriant 'field layer' of Bracken among which in some cases grow tall flowering plants such as Foxglove and Rosebay Willow Herb.

A carpet of herbs and mosses

The short turf of the path edges and quarry spoil heaps supports many small herbs such as wild Thyme, Herb Robert and Tormentil. These and the mosses form a distinct 'ground layer' to the woodland.

By the river banks and in the marshy areas are dense masses of Alder, Willow and Elder. These trees provide an ideal environment for insect and bird life

Treecreeper

A woodland specialist, the Treecreeper is often seen at close quarters as it hops spiralling up a tree trunk seeking out insects from the crevices.

The Fly Agaric fungus

The Fly Agaric fungus is bright and attractive, but poisonous. It is commonly found in woodland in late summer and early autumn.

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foxglovesFoxgloves grow where gaps in the tree tops let daylight through.

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bluebells

Bluebells are not a rarity in the Forest of Dean. In early May the whole forest floor is a carpet of blue!

Woodland Wildlife

During the daytime the Grey Squirrel is often the only woodland mammal to be seen. Other woodland inhabitants emerge only after dark or when it is very quiet: foxes leave their footprints, and no doubt badgers visit the wood on their nightly forays.

A deciduous wood offers many rich and varied habitats for bids. Warblers of several species fill the woodland with their songs in summer, and flocks of finches and thrushes from Scandinavia feed here in winter.

Dead trees are valuable to wildlife

Old trees, and dead trees are left to rot wherethey stand (unthinkable in a commericial forest!) provide nest holes and a rich variety of insect food. Birds often attracted by the 'fast food' available at the garden bird table show that their real home is the woodland. Greta and Blue Tits, with strong legs and gripping feet, perform acrobatics on the thinnest twigs in search of spiders or caterpillars, nuts or seeds. They are so well adapted to life in the woodland that their young hatch just at the time when the caterpillars are most abundant.

Feeding without competing

Nuthatches and Treecreepers both feed on insects picked out of cavities in bark; but while the Treecreeper winds round and up the tree trunks, the Nutchatch searches the branches.

Woodpeckers are also tree climbers, but prey on insect larvae beneath the bark.

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nuthatch

The Nutchatch is named from its habit of wedging hazel nuts or acorns in crevices in trees and then hacking them open.


Fungi

Throughout the year the parasitic fungi lie dormant as thread-like networks beneath the ground. Between August and November they thrust up their familiar fruiting bodies - the puffballs, toadstools and mushrooms which release millions of tiny spores from which the new fungus plants grow.

In this wood the commonest fungi are the Amanitas, most of which are very poisonous, including the Death Cap and the attractivered and white Fly Agaric. Bracket fungi such as the Common Birch Polypore can be seen all the year round on stems of living wood.

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Fly Agaric fungus

Plants that don't flower

Mosses and liverworts, often tiny and of intricate design, abound on shaded banks, rocks, fallen branches and tree trunks. These plants have no flowers but reproduce mainly by spores which are scattered into the wind from capsules suspended on stalks.


In the Museum and Information Centre you can find out where to get more information on the subjects touched upon on this page. A printed guide to the Bradley Hill walk is available, which includes a map. Books and booklets on natural history and wildlife are available at the Museum bookstall.

Forest Walks


Drawing of Treecreeper by Claire Appleby. Photographs by Geoff Mortimer (woodland view); Gerald Smith (plants); Reg Jones (Nuthatch).

Copyright 1983 The Dean Heritage Museum Trust.

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