The latest GNS field meeting took place on 30 March at Forthampton, just across the Severn from Tewkesbury. The main point of interest was the Forthampton Oaks Key Wildlife Site, listed as a KWS because of the rare invertebrates found in the oaks by GNS recorders in the past. The oaks are very aged, some of them dead, on the top of a ridge overlooking the Severn, but the parkland surrounding Forthampton Court supports a large number of healthy oaks in the hedgerows and open country.
There is a variety of different habitats within a small compass, including the old brickpits at Lower Lode, a series of arable fields, and low-lying hay meadows along the river. Signs of the recent gales and heavy flooding were apparent, with a number of trees down and high water marks showing just how far the flood had extended.
Among the birds seen were: on the brickpits at least 20 Cormorants loafing in the trees, several of them in bright nuptial plumage, while on the water surface a pair of Mute Swans were already building a nest, and about 20 Tufted ducks and a Great Crested Grebe were present; over the arable, half a dozen Lapwings were beginning their spring aerial display, an increasingly rare sight in the Severn Vale, while a Shelduck may have been looking for a nesting hole and two Egyptian Geese sat placidly by; in the parkland, the highlight was a singing Lesser Spotted Woodpecker; in the hay meadows a pair of Curlews were holding territory and participants listened to their lovely bubbling song; along the river bank, about 20 Sand Martins had already returned from their African wintering sites, and singing Chiffchaffs were everywhere.
This early in the season, botanical interest was limited, but there was much blackthorn in flower in the hedges; Ground Ivy, Dandelion, White Violet, Daisy, Lady’s Smock and Lesser Celandines were out, and a very aged Black Poplar was admired. Weeds in the arable included Chickweed, Red Dead Nettle, Shepherds Purse and Groundsel. The most interesting plant, besides the oaks and the poplar, was the dried stems of Thorn Apple which probably came in with maize seed; this may be a first record for the hectad, as there are only 11 dots for the county in the Bishop “Flora of Gloucestershire”. The Lichen Recorder felt that the site deserved another, more leisurely visit.
On the way back, the eight participants admired a lovely view of Tewkesbury Abbey, framed in trees behind a long reach of the Severn.
GNS will liaise with the Key Wildlife Sites database (managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust) to ensure that information on this important site is up to date.