Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Welsh Marches: Clun Forest

Spent today exploring well off the beaten track in deepest Shropshire, right up against the Welsh border. This is Clun Forest, once a royal hunting "forest" full of deer and no doubt rich in other wildlife - long since converted to grassy meadows, conifer plantations and a scattering of arable.

Clun Castle is the starting point: the ruins sit on a grassy hillock next to the Clun river and town, surrounded by much larger hills.  A buzzard and red kite drift overhead whilst numerous house martins and swallows hawk for insects around the ramparts.

Driving up into the hills it is great to see more red kites - gathered around fields where grass is being cut. They drift overhead, not bothered too much as I capture a few pics. These birds are in wing and tail moult and look a bit tatty, note how bleached the old tail feathers look compared to the much darker newly sprouted feathers that are just starting to grow.

Next stop is the Rhos Fiddle Shropshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, where about a hundred acres of precious wet heathland habitat has been saved from agricultural improvement and is managed by light grazing from a herd of Highland cattle and a few sheep.
Wandering around following sheep paths I first encounter mountain pansies, lots of foxgloves and a family of stonechats.
Skylarks and meadow pipits are common here, with yellowhammers around the farmed edges and a couple of reed buntings are singing in the wetter areas.  To couple of nutrient-rich "flushes" look colourful with ragged robin including quite a few elegant white-flowered plants.
I'm delighted to see half a dozen small pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies nectaring on the blooms.  Sadly, this butterfly is now extinct in Oxfordshire; in the past it was a typical species of coppiced woodland whereb the larval foodplant - dog violet - would have flourished in years immediately after the cutting of a coppice coup.  Little coppcing take place these days and very little suitable habitat remains. 
A hobby adds a bit of drama dashing past hunting for insects. Roving around the countryside it seems that redstarts are in every shelter belt and patch of hawthorns.  

Running along Offa's Dyke in the afternoon, there are some nice remnants of ancient woodland and meadow along the ancient earthwork, yet more redstarts and a couple of jays.  Another wildlife trust site,  Lower Shoreditch Turbary, is quiet for birds and a heavy crop of bilberry provides a welcome fresh fruit snack.

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