When I moved to Purton at the end of 1997, I soon discovered Ravensroost Wood and the surrounding meadows. It quickly became my local birding patch. When I started training as a ringer in 2009 I was keen that we should ring the site. I contacted the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, a wonderful gentleman called Piers Mobsby and, after some discussion, and a memorandum of understanding and risk assessment provided by my then trainer, we were given access. In mid-2012, having got my C-permit, I took over the site. The Trust also offered me the Firs, as they had very little information on the bird life in that woodland. Leaving Ravensroost one day I bumped into a representative of the Forestry Commission. On a whim, I asked if it was possible to get access to their woodlands in the Braydon Forest. He gave me a name and a number and, a couple of meetings later, I had the key to the gates and permission to work them.
Since then, for ten full years, I and, latterly, since I got my A-permit and training licence, my team, have ringed these sites as part of an ongoing project: the Braydon Forest As A Living Landscape. I have started to do some analysis on the results so far. These are the various woodland sites:
Ravensroost Wood was my primary focus initially, as I was running a specific project looking at the impact, if any, of the 8-year coppice cycle on its usage by the local bird life. After 8-years of the project, Covid and lockdown made a natural breakpoint and I brought the project to a close. The short answer is that there was no obvious impact, almost certainly because each of the four coupes is quite small, and they are surrounded on the perimeter by much longer established woodland, which almost certainly exerts the greater influence.
Over 10 years all sites have undergone periods of change. Ravensroost has its coppicing, which also includes a 25 year coppice, that has just started to be harvested. The Firs, when I first started working there, was a dark, closed in woodland. It was very wet and the only place in the Forest where there was (and still is) a good growth of ferns. Over the years it has been thinned considerably, opening up the central glade to encourage the butterflies and moths found on the site. At my suggestion, the Trust installed two wildlife ponds halfway along the glade. Of course, it had always been in the plans, it just took someone to nudge them into action. Right now it is being trashed, as the owner (the Trust manage but don’t own the wood) has decided to remove all of the Ash, because of die-back, and is mitigating the cost by allowing the contractors to also remove significant numbers of mature oak trees. Ironically this is happening just as a new paper has been published suggesting that not all Ash trees are susceptible and resistant trees can help repopulate those other areas.
The Forestry Commission, as was, Forestry England as it now is, obviously have plans for both the development and the commercial exploitation of their woodlands but with a strong focus on conservation. Somerford Common is the most obviously commercial of the sites in that 50% of it is conifer plantation. As a result I only make occasional forays into that part of the wood. Where we tend to work is a mixed woodland / mulched paddock area (think of the Ravensroost 8 year coppicing project only, instead of coppicing, all of the brush is slashed out, leaving just the mature trees). Webb’s Wood was clear felled after World War 2 and replanted as part Beech and part conifer. Over the last 15 years or so, the conifer has been cut back and the land left fallow or replaced with native species. Over the winter of 2020/21 the Beech was heavily thinned and harvested. Red Lodge is a long-established plantation. These days, where we ring is primarily Beech, further into the wood it is primarily Oak, but there is a lot of odd stuff in between: including stands of bamboo, and there are small ponds throughout the wood. There is also a larger pond near the entrance. When I first started there the pond was drying out and pretty well useless. A word with Forestry England and the next month they brought in a JCB and restored it brilliantly. The Beech was thinned out and harvested in winter 2014/15.
Since this project began we have ringed 11,914 birds from 38 species and retrapped birds on 5,097 occasions, from 26 species, making 17,011 birds processed from 38 species.
This is just a brief overview of either a few firsts for the woodlands or otherwise notable catches for me, done in chronological order. The first is an adult Tawny Owl caught in the Firs on the 1st October 2014. I had ringed one adult as a trainee and several nestlings on and around Salisbury Plain as part of a team, but this was the first (and only, so far) adult I had caught myself:
Next up was the first ever Firecrest seen, let alone caught, in Ravensroost Wood on the 22nd November 2015. Although I had done several previously, this was a stellar bird for this wood. Not only that but it was Jonny that came across it in the net, extracted it and ringed it: his first ever. After it had been ringed I got quite a few reports from other users of the wood that the bird had been seen all over the wood.
On the 3rd August 2016 the first bird out of the nets at the Firs was the first Spotted Flycatcher ringed in the Braydon Forest. Again, it was Jonny who extracted it, but I ringed it. At the end of the session we caught another, which Jonny ringed. Both were juveniles. They have been seen around the Forest for years, and they definitely breed there, but this was the start of ringing them. 18 days later we caught another in Red Lodge: Ellie found and extracted this one. We have subsequently caught them in Ravensroost Wood and on Somerford Common. Only Webb’s Wood to go for the whole set.
The next new bird highlight wasn’t until the 11th February 2019 at Somerford Common:
I had been jealous for years at hearing tales of Brambling being caught in the woods to the south and east of the Braydon Forest, but hadn’t seen sight nor sound of them until we caught two on the 11th, two more there on the 20th and a singleton at Ravensroost Wood on the 16th. This was also a first for Ravensroost, although someone had once reported one flying over. Another two were caught on Somerford Common in the November of the same year. They are not a common catch, being pretty hit and miss, but great when we do. Another was caught in Red Lodge in 2021, with another new and a retrap at Somerford Common. Most recently, we caught another two on the 30th October 2022 in Webb’s Wood. That just leaves the Firs for them to have been found in all sites.
However, perhaps the most astonishing catches we have had happened in the conifer plantation of Somerford Common:
Not one but two Buzzards found their way into our nets!
On the 6th November 2021 we had a very surprising catch: a Grey Wagtail (for which I, inexplicably, have no photograph). We associate them mainly with streams and rivers, but this was caught in the middle of Webb’s Wood, nowhere near any obvious water source.
For me there is only one place to start: JJP007 a Goldcrest ringed in Ravensroost Wood as a juvenile on 22nd November 2015 and recovered on the Isles of Scilly on the 8th March 2021. Not only is this the oldest ever recorded Goldcrest (1,933 days or 5 years 3 months and 14 days) but it looks as though it is a migratory bird so it boggles the mind as to how many miles it has flown in its lifetime.
Goldcrests have provided a couple of other good records: two of them were ringed at the Calf of Man Observatory, one in April 2019, retrapped in the Firs in October 2019, the other ringed in September 2019, recovered in Ravensroost in November 2019. That same year, a Goldcrest ringed in the Firs in the October was recovered on Bardsey Island at the Bird Observatory in March 2020. Those three movements rather establish that there is a Goldcrest migration flyway running up the west coast of the UK.
Perhaps the oddest recovery was a Blue Tit. Obviously it is a resident species and, as my previously blogged analysis shows, those that reside within the Braydon Forest are not that prone to long movements. However, in early January this year we caught AVF6109: ringed in the Highland of Scotland in December 2019. It had travelled a distance of 640km: the second longest movement recorded for a Blue Tit within the UK.
Webb’s Wood had a Blackcap, ringed in Spain in September 2014 was recovered by us on the 4th June 2016: a distance of 1,041km. Another, ringed in Webb’s on the 18th July 2014, was retrapped at Faro in Portugal on 9th October 2018: a distance of 1,667km.
Red Lodge served up a Lesser Redpoll, ringed in Yorkshire in September 2020, retrapped by us on the 24th November 2021: 422 days and 227km later. The only other movement of note from there was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, ringed in August 2018 that was caught in Northamptonshire, 77km away, in February 2019. I just think of them as being highly sedentary.
The boring stuff, numerical analyses, will follow in a subsequent post, as I am still working on it.