The Forest of Dean is well known for its Wild Boar and the impact that these animals have on their environment is obvious. Patches of torn up and turned over ground can be found all over the forest whether it is a lawn or the forest floor. They seem to be very much a ‘love them or hate them’ animal locally and getting close to them was always going to be challenging as these are animals that I knew little about.
So armed with a tent, plenty of waterproof clothing, two cameras and the most important bit of kit: my brother, we gave it a go. We had two days to track, find, photograph and learn about these incredible animals but it wasn’t just the time that was against us, the weather was going to unpredictable to say the least and we had no idea where to start!
On day one we were set up and ready for the off just after noon. The sun was shining although there was a chill in the air and there was barely a breath of wind to compete with the sound of the River Wye as it crawled slowly through its steep valley towards the Severn and the freedom of the open sea. Positive thinking was what we needed and all of this helped to keep our spirits up because we really didn’t have a clue where to go or what the day had in store for us.
After an hour or two the Sun was well and truly hidden behind ever darkening clouds and it became clear that we were in for a little bit of rain. Well, as it happens we didn’t get a little bit of rain, halfway up a very steep, little used path through the woods, the heavens opened. Rain quickly gave way to sleet and this began to fall harder and harder. The noise of the downpour drowned out the racket we were making trying to get up the hill but made it impossible to listen for wildlife and with our heads down, both to protect us from the sleet and to help with the climb, the chance of seeing any wildlife let alone the Wild Boar were remote to say the least.
The climb would have been hard in any weather but the path was soaked, slippery and very steep. From the way it had been carved out of the valley side it was obviously not just a track made by animals but was kept clear by flood water too. The track twisted and turned as it snaked up the hill making it impossible to see the the top. At every corner the path continued, at every brow there was another, seemingly steep section. Things were grim and both of us were struggling! Our waterproofs were not waterproof, we were soaked to the skin and exhausted. Finding the funny side of any of this was proving difficult!
We needed a break, just two minutes to grab our breath before carrying on. There was no shelter of course and the sleet showed no signs of slowing down so we just stopped. As it happened a litter of Wild Boar piglets, spotted by my brother, were happily rooting around amongst the Bluebells and had no idea we were there.
Whether it was the sound of the storm that allowed us to get close or just the fact that they were young and inexperienced, I don’t know and to be quite honest I didn’t care. My all weather camera cover (a black bin bag and the only thing that was actually waterproof) came off and I managed to get a few photographs before they decided we were far too close for comfort.
It is strange how the mood can change so quickly! After the litter of piglets spotted us and disappeared into the undergrowth we continued the climb, finally getting to the top and being able to properly catch our breath. The storm continued however as the slight breeze that we were so happy with earlier meant that it was slow moving and sleet fell and fell and fell.
By the time we got back to base we were soaked to the skin, cold and tired but the first day, although difficult, had been a partial success and were looking forward to the morning. A couple of pints and a warm fire in The Saracen’s Head helped to prepare for a cold night under canvas and a 5 o’clock alarm call.
Taking photographs of wild animals and birds in their own environment is always a challenge. Finding the creature can be difficult, getting in position to make the best use of available light is not always straight forward and of course the weather can play a serious part. That being said, I don’t think it is to much to ask that the Peregrine sits still for just 1/500th of a second!
The walk between Anvil Point Lighthouse and Lulworth Cove is not an easy one. Thirteen miles as the crow flies but plenty more than that when you take in to account of the ins and outs of the many bays and hills. It is not particularly straight forward either because the Range Walks that pass through Ministry of Defence land are not always open and the diversion will add even more miles to your walk. What you can be sure of, if you walk the full distance in one go or split it to sections, is that the views you will be treated to are amongst the finest you will find anywhere.
Two young Foxes, maybe five weeks old, out in the Sun on a beautiful Spring morning. There are many good reasons to get up early and wander up to the cliffs, a chance to see things like this is only one of them.
When the mist rolls in and the clouds stay low, the Isle of Purbeck takes on a new personality. It seems to be completely separate from the outside world and retains an almost mystical feel.
Brownsea Island, in the centre of Poole Harbour is a rather special place. My visit this week was to get photographs of the Red Squirrels, one of the few places in the south that they can be seen.
We are lucky, on the Isle of Purbeck, to be able to watch Dolphins from the coast path above the cliffs and lately there have been several sightings.
Photographs are not easy as the Sun is always in the wrong place but that doesn’t matter, just watching these incredible creatures is enough.
..is worth two in a tree.
I don’t often see Peregrines in trees they are more often sat on a rock or a cliff edge. Both Peregrines were very vocal following a failed attempt at a Pigeon dinner. Neither was very happy!
Whatever the weather, a wander along the cliff path is never a waste of time, the views are constantly changing and the soundtrack never gets boring. The walk starts through the woods where Robin competes with Wren, Wren competes with Blackbird, Blackbird competes with Woodpecker all trying to out decibel each other. In the Spring the tiny Chiffchaff joins the band and the airwaves are full.
Reach the cliffs and the sounds are different. The waves of course are constant, beating an endless drum against the rocks, creating the coastline that we know so well. The birds change too although you can still hear the woodland, gulls and Guillemots take over with the occasional screech of the Peregrine as it slices through the sky.
Not a bad start to the day.
Yesterday saw the arrival of the brand new Swanage Lifeboat, a Shannon Class named George Thomas Lacy and numbered 13-13. At noon, right on time, she was lead into the bay by the existing Lifeboat under the watchful eye of what seemed to be half of the town.
The new boat is a fantastic bit of kit and Swanage Lifeboat crew were justifiably proud to show her off.