Nagshead RSPB Reserve
Situated near the village of Parkend in the Forest of Dean (Grid Ref:- OS Map 162 - SO611078), it is famous for Pied Flycatchers in spring where they nest in the extensive nest boxes that have been erected on this site.

At Nagshead RSPB reserve, there are two marked trails, the Long and the Short Trail. The former is about 3 miles in length and the latter 1 mile. Both trace a common path for about half of the short walk.
(Offically opening at the end of June 2003, a new information centre has been built in the car park at Nagshead. The old one has been demolished but it is still possible to follow the information given below by going through the gate from the car park which you will see on your left if you stand in the doorway of the new centre looking outwards.) At the end of this track through the avenue of Birch trees, go through the gate with the chain on and follow the path along the edge of the field towards the woods. For snake lovers, take a look on the bramble piles which dot this field. Dead grass has been laid on some of them and it is here that Adders bask on warm days in spring and summer. Go through the second gate and into the woods. Keep an eye and ear open for Firecrest in the holly bushes and conifer trees immediately you start your walk through the woods. There are plenty of Goldcrests too. After 15 metres you join the Gloucestershire Way, one of the major designated long distance footpaths in the county. (If you proceed from the new information centre using the trail signs, they indicate that you go through the gate almost behind it and then after about 50m fork to the right along the Gloucestershire Way (post indicates this). After about 20m, you will join the old trail from the old information centre which comes up from your right at this point). In a tree opposite the 'Nature Trails' sign at this junction, a Nuthatch has bred (2002) in one of the extensive (400+) nestboxes. From this point watch the nestboxes in late spring for Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit which all use them. After the next gate you will find yourself in much more open woodland and it is here that Redstart occur in spring/summer. It is also easier to see Pied Flycatcher here. At all times, listen and look through the gaps in the canopy for Raven which frequent the forest. Continue to walk along this track until the trails turn sharp left and up a slope. You will leave the Gloucestershire Way at this point which continues to descend towards Cannop Ponds. It is worth lingering here in a relatively open aspect where Redstarts seem to occur in most years. At the top of this slope is another gate and it is here that the Long and Short Trails diverge.

Let us go left and complete the Short Trail. This path returns directly to the car park. As you descend you can look to your left and below is the trail that you have just passed along. But the aspect here is different because you are higher and it is easier to see into the canopy. However take a look to the right of the trail for honeysuckle, the food plant of the White Admiral Butterfly. As you descend out of the woods, you will join a shale track which approaches you and bends to your right. The car park is on the other side of the gate you can see ahead of you. However you may want to detour for a hundred metres or so and go into one of the two hides on the reserve. Turn right along this drive and you will see the signpost to the Bruce Campbell hide. In dry summers it may be worth spending some time here as apart from the ponds at the bottom of the reserve near the other hide and the pond near the car park, there is little water. In wet years, however, there is plenty of water in the many tiny streamlets. The pond in front of this hide is home to Grass Snakes which often swim in the water. Various dragonflies and damselflies frequent the area in the summer months and several bird species come down to drink as do some of the deer of the Forest. Hawfinches sometimes can be seen here.

If you want to do the Long Trail, let us continue from where the Short and Long Trails diverge. Go right along a straight track though mixed beech and oak trees. Up to the left through the trees you will make out a cleared area (see later) which in spring hosts Tree Pipits. You may be able to hear them from here. At the end of this long track, the path bends to the left and after about 50 metres. look out for a small cave on the left. It is easy to miss this. With a torch, enter this short cave and look at the ceiling. In winter, there are a number of hibernating butterflies hanging there as well as a host of other insects and spiders. After the next stile, cross a track and in about 10 metres the Long Trail goes over a stile to the left. After a short distance, the aspect becomes more open and it is worth spending a few minutes scanning the sky for Buzzard, Raven and Goshawk which may be passing. There is a small seat halfway along this open area. After the open area, the path turns left and rises steeply for a few metres and then crosses a main track. It may be worth going up this track to the left to view the open area, mentioned previously. Returning to the trail, the path descends through the woods to rejoin the short trail within sight of the gate to the car park.

The other hide is not far from the Information Centre. Go through the gate opposite this Centre and turn immediately right and descend on the path through the middle of the field and cross the stile at the end. By this stile you will pass what looks like the remains of a well but is in fact an old, blocked up, ventilation shaft for one of the many mines which used to be worked in the Forest. Follow the wide path for about 30 metres until you see a green topped, round post. Turn left through the conifer plantation and follow the path which dead ends at the hide. There are two pools here and are very good for Odonata in the warm days of summer and for watching the nesting birds in late spring. At night, several species of bats fly around, hawking insects over the water. Mandarin Ducks also occur here but they are more guaranteed at Cannop Ponds, just down the road from Parkend.

Highnam Woods RSPB Reserve
This reserve is only about two miles from the City of Gloucester and is signposted (Grid Ref:- OS Map 162 - SO778190) on the A40 towards Ross on Wye. Its speciality bird is the Nightingale which begins its season in late April/early May.

There is a hide just a few metres from the car park and during the winter season, there is a feeding station maintained there. The species likely to be seen at or near the feeders include Blue Tits, Great Tits, Marsh Tits, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Dunnock and Brambling.

There is a trail marked out along which Nightingales can be heard singing in May and maybe into June. Beware that this site is very wet and the trail may be muddy even in a warm summer but in winter, some kind of waterproof footware is needed. Try and find the Wild Service Tree in the wood - there is only one as far as I know.

NOTE – As from March 2013, the car park is closed for the foreseeable future. 

New Fancy Viewpoint
This viewpoint in the Forest of Dean (Grid Ref:- OS Map 162 - SO629095) is the site of a coal mine which was closed many years ago. (Information Board in the car park tells more). The whole site has been landscaped and the spoil heap forms a magnificent viewing area with almost 360 degrees of view over the whole of the Forest.

During the months of February and March it is generally regarded as one of the best sites in the country to see displaying Goshawks. Park in the area of the car park to the right as you enter and then walk up the path which starts in the corner of the car park. The walk is fairly gentle except the last 10m which are steep but generally ordinary shoes will do. There are two benches along the path to rest as you ascend.

Apart from Goshawks and Buzzards, you will be able to look down into the tops of the near trees and it is possible to see parties of Crossbills, Siskin and Redpoll on occasion. On the ridge to the north east is the town of Cinderford and during the winter of 2001/2002, a Great Grey Shike could be seen in the half distance in this direction.

There is free foot access at all times BUT, as you enter the carpark, note the time displayed which tells you when the barrier will be locked.

Ashleworth Ham Nature Reserve
This reserve, managed by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, is on a flood plain of the River Severn and is situated about 5 miles north of Gloucester City centre on the west bank (Grid Ref:- OS Map 162 - SO827264).

There are two hides along the lane at this reference, one is situated in the copse on the bank alongside the road and the other is a screen hide on the opposite side of the road at a lower level. The latter gives better views to the extreme right and left but the former gives more far reaching views towards the river (hidden by a distant floodbank). Park at the side of the road but as there is a bend in the lane nearby to the south, care should be taken to get your car completely off the road.

During the winter, over one thousand duck, including Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Pintail appear on the reserve. A small party of Whooper Swans sometimes can be seen here but they do range widely in the area. Parties of Bewick's Swans also drop in from time to time and the large flock of Canada Geese are well worth scanning as feral Greylag, White-fronted, feral Barnacle, Egyptian and Bean Geese have been noted amongst them in the last two years. Also in winter, it is worth checking the line of electicity pylons as viewed from the hide for raptors which daily sit on the cross spars.

In spring and summer, warblers generally replace the wildfowl with Common Whitethroat, Redstart, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff seen regularly. The various watercourses along the public footpath are a source of odonata in summer. This public footpath goes all around the reserve (see the OS map) but this would be impassable in winter because of deep water on what is a flood plain. Indeed, there are occasions when it is not possible to get down the lane to the hide because of flooding and in severe conditions the main road (B4213) to the north east is also underwater and thus the whole place is inaccessible.

Nearby on the other other bank of the River Severn is the reserve at Coombe Hill Canal. (see below).

Coombe Hill Canal Nature Reserve
This reserve, also managed by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, is on a flood plain of the River Severn about 6 miles north of Gloucester City centre and can be found on the east bank of the river. The canal extends from (Grid Ref:- OS Map 162 - SO850266 to SO886274.

The whole length of the canal can be walked although there is better car parking at the eastern end. It is also the nearest end to view the newly dug scrapes (Oct 2002) (SO878272) to the north of the canal and which will form part of a new reserve.

The car park at the eastern end is accessed from the traffic lights at Coombe Hill on the A38 Gloucester to Tewkesbury road. The lane is very narrow and many people do not realise that this is a 4 way junction and consider it a 'T' junction with the other road going to Cheltenham (A4019). Nevertheless, go down the lane and in about 200m, there is a small car park with information board. Walk down either side of the canal but if you choose the car park side, you will come to a bridge after 600m and you will have to continue on the far side. (From 2005, the south side at the bridge has been opened up but the easiest way to get to the two new hides is to cross the bridge here) For a short round trip you can go back to the car park using the other side as the canal dead ends at the car park.

Continue on down the canal and about 150m after the bridge, there is a public footpath across the fields to the north. This will eventually become part of a circular route back to the canal. (Full details of the circular route and access to the two hides can be found on the information boards which are sited at both ends of the canal). If you choose to stay on the canal towpath, continue past the line of trees on your right which gradually comes close to the towpath and then you will be able to see one of the scrapes.

Here in winter, the scene is much as described above for Ashleworth Ham and birds regularly commute between the two reserves. Information on access in floods is similar in that the reserve can be inaccessable although the A38, being on high ground never floods. Similarly, the birds of the spring and summer are very similar to the Ham.

The above descriptipns are for information only and the author accepts no responsibility for any accidents or injuries incurred as a result of following these directions.