Strawberry Cottage Wood nature reserve

Gabi Horup

Strawberry Cottage Wood is one of GWT’s less-known reserves. But it’s our local one, just over five miles from Abergavenny. Usually, we’d be there on the second Sunday of every month, doing maintenance work on paths, hedges and trees, and trying to keep the bracken and bramble under control.

During lockdown, though, we’ve just been visiting for what the Japanese call “forest bathing”: relaxing, enjoying the place and its wildlife. That starts as soon as you step off the road onto the footbridge over the Honddu. Dippers nest nearby, Grey Wagtails are usually on the shingle and rocks, once we even saw an otter. In winter, flocks of small birds use the line of trees as a combined motorway and service station. In summer you may see Swallows, House Martins and Spotted Flycatchers catching insects above the meadow.

Dipper

WildNet - Mike Snelle

Across the meadow, turn left through the reserve gate. The first thing you’ll notice is the remains of several Ash trees – affected by dieback – that the Trust has had to fell for safety reasons. Sad to lose the trees, but the clearings they leave, as well as the natural gaps away from paths where trees fall naturally, create a more varied wood-scape that should suit more species of wildlife.

Green Woodpecker by Andrew Mason

Green Woodpecker by Andrew Mason

Look closely and you’ll see older signs of human influence: three Yews and an ancient pear tree on the left are remnants of the garden and orchard of the original Strawberry Wood Cottage. Climb steeply up to a bench where you can rest and enjoy the spring flowers that have emerged since we started clearing scrub several years ago. You may see Buzzards, Ravens and Kites flying over the trees or hear a Green Woodpecker yaffling from the field above.

Turning right at the bench, you pass two fields, abandoned early in the 20th century, which have been taken over by Birch trees. These are particularly good for lichens and fungi, so look closely at dead branches. At the high point of the path there’s a sudden change to Oakwood. This may look natural, but was almost certainly planted in the 19th century. This doesn’t matter to two of my favourite summer visitors: Redstarts and Pied flycatchers, which nest hereabouts.

Redstart

Lee Parsons

After descending a short flight of steps, turn sharp right through a gate, out of the reserve. The path now descends steadily back towards the meadow. Don’t take the left turn, which eventually takes you to Llanfihangel Crucorney. Listen out for Jays here; if you are really lucky you may see a Tawny Owl sleeping away the daylight hours.

Tawny Owl

Pete Hadfield

Hepburn Photography