If you go down to the woods today…

Last weekend, I decided to take a trip up to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire with my friend Ed Drewitt, to try and get some shots of autumnal leaves.

However, setting out in shorts and T-shirt in near 28 degree heat, it was clear I was not going to get the photos I had envisioned – the sun shining through a myriad of red, yellow and orange leaves, hopefully with some atmospheric mist and perhaps some autumnal dew on the ground. It seemed the trees were also unaware that it was the start of October, as for the most part they were still resolutely green, with only the yellowing bracken and occasional fungi hinting that it was not, as the weather was suggesting, late August.

Not so autumny leaves, Forest of Dean
The trees, not quite looking autumnal yet!

Despite the lack of an autumnal feel, it was still a glorious day, and strolling through dappled light near Cannop Ponds it was also very peaceful – despite the large number of cyclists hurtling down the path and noisy squirrels in nearly every tree! Those leaves that had started to turn were floating down from the canopy in a gentle flurry, but still contrasting with the unusual weather and the summery chirr of grasshoppers.

Although relatively quiet, there were plenty of great birds around, including my first ever marsh tits, plus nuthatches, goldcrests, siskins and some beautiful robin song. The last time I visited the Forest of Dean, back in the early summer, there were summer migrants everywhere, including swallows, warblers and flycatchers, plus some new species to me such as firecrests and crossbills – it’s definitely a magical place.

Sunshine through the trees, Forest of Dean Fungi, Forest of Dean

After a brief stop at a local view point, we decided to drop in briefly at RSPB Nagshead Reserve… and managed to go on to have possibly one of the best wildlife encounters of my life!

Wild boar adventure

I knew there were wild boar living in the Forest, and there were clear signs of them all around Nagshead – the road verges and even the car park at the reserve have all been churned over by their activity. We had been planning for some time to try and get to the reserve one day after dusk or in the very early morning in the hope of staking the place out and hopefully getting a glimpse of a boar, but didn’t really expect that on a sunny afternoon we would stand much chance of seeing one – especially as I’ve read of other people who have spent days if not weeks trying to get close to them. I would have happily settled for even a fleeting glimpse of one running across the road!

As we headed into the woods, there were even clearer signs of the boars, and we could smell the fresh earth they had been turning over beside the path – clearly they had passed that way recently.

Soil turned over by wild boar
Soil turned over by wild boar
Wild boar prints, Forest of Dean
Wild boar prints

Even so, I was not really expecting, as we walked along chatting, that Ed would suddenly stop and call out “wild boar!” – nor that there would be a large adult boar standing right amongst the trees ahead of us!

Trying not to move or even to breathe too loudly, we watched as she sniffed the air and looked right at us, me cursing the fact that the long lens was not ready on my camera. After a brief pause, the boar slowly carried along on her way, soon followed by several more animals. Hearts racing, we slowly crept along the path in the hope that they might cross it ahead of us. Thankfully, they did, but then scooted under a fence and headed away down a hill.

Ed guessed – correctly – that the family had gone down to a stream to drink, so we crept as quickly but as quietly as we could around and down onto a lower path to try and catch up with them. Unfortunately, a couple walking past had frightened the boars back amongst the trees (we never did work out if the couple realised what they had walked straight past!), but as soon as they had passed we were treated to the wonderful sight of eight boars on the path barely 20 metres in front of us, calmly tucking into acorns amidst occasional sniffs, snorts and squeals, and constantly swishing tails.

Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Nagshead Reserve, Forest of Dean Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Nagshead Reserve, Forest of Dean

Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Nagshead Reserve, Forest of Dean Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Nagshead Reserve, Forest of Dean

Wild boar (Sus scrofa) family, Nagshead Reserve, Forest of Dean Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Nagshead Reserve, Forest of Dean

The boar clearly knew we were there, as they occasionally looked up at us, and we were soon able to stand in full view, talk and take pictures – as long as we were quiet, made no sudden movements and kept a respectful distance they didn’t seem too concerned. We even had to back off at one point as the adult female (we think it was a female with large young) starting sauntering up the path towards us – she seemed to just be curious but we decided it was better to be cautious and treat her with respect!

Thankfully remembering that my camera has a movie mode, I was able to get a few short clips of the boar, and Ed was even able to give some commentary – I’ve given the links below. I was a bit disappointed that the photos didn’t come out better, but I struggled a bit with the low light and the fact I was so excited that my hands were somewhat shaky!

After treating us to their peaceful feeding bout, the boar eventually moved off into the forest, while we both went home still bouncing with adrenaline from the encounter. It was totally unexpected, and has to be one of the best encounters I’ve had with a wild British mammal. Wild boar are controversial and not everyone likes having them back in our countryside, but I for one think it’s a great thing. 🙂

And the other videos, with some commentary by Ed:

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