Branching out at Dalby Forest
Outwardly Dalby looks like yet another 20th century conifer plantation but you'd be wrong to think it has nothing going for it in the way of natural history. The Forestry Commission's Brian Walker explains...
The Dalby landscape is one of steep sided valleys carved out by an immeasurable volume of glacial meltwater. At first glance it might not appear to be anything more than a man-made plantation, but scratch the surface and you'll find it is home to wildlife of national importance.
The forest owes its present day existence to the First World War, which left Britain with almost no forest cover and no strategic timber supply.
Towards the end of the twentieth century people began to realise that modern forests could and needed to be, more than timber factories, they could provide great recreational and environmental opportunities.
Mountain biking at Dalby Forest.
Three things shape the modern Dalby; time, the force of nature and human need and greed. It is an immense task to manage the requirement for a forest that can produce a sustainable supply of timber, accommodate the recreational desires of more than a third of a million people and maintain an important and varied diversity of wildlife.
This is achieved through a forest design plan that pools knowledge and understanding of landscape, heritage, soils, climate, trees and recreation. This is used to determine which trees will be cut down and when and what sort of trees will be planted and where. In many respects caring for the forest is like creating a sculpture that will never be finished.
Some of Dalby Forest's wildlife is of national importance and interest.
Close up of a soldier fly.
Nightjars are well known birds that migrate to the area every year from Africa but how many people have heard of the soldier fly Odontomia hydrolean? Dalby Forest is the only place in England this small fly is found. To live it needs a lime-rich grassy mire that is trampled by cattle.
The small pearl-bordered fritillary, a butterfly, has just been added to the United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan list as a species causing concern. The forests of the North York Moors, including Dalby, are home to some of the most important populations of this attractive insect. It thrives among herb rich grassland where its caterpillars feed on violet leaves.
The Forestry Commission works with a lot of partners, from private individuals to national conservation groups, to ensure the forest is managed to ensure these and other rare species.
Dalby is at its best in autumn. The blues and greens of pines and spruces being complemented by the golden needles of larch, the bright yellow of ash leaves, the red leaves of wild cherries and the spangled greens yellows and browns of oak.
At this time of year, as vegetation dies down and is less nutritious, it becomes easier to see roe deer picking their way through the mature trees or, on a bright and sunny morning, feeding amongst replanted young trees.
This is also the time of year when some of the forest birds are beginning to show themselves. Crossbills often arrive in parties of up to a hundred or more to feed on seed in the cones of spruce pine and larch. Siskins, also in big numbers will fly up and down the valleys searching the alders along the beck for seed.
Another seed eater, the lesser redpoll - with its red cap and pink blush breast, is more in evidence occasionally coming down to drink at temporary pools.
Wierd and wonderful fungi!
On the forest floor the caps, spikes and spheres of fungi put in their annual appearance. Russulas and agarics - with their brightly coloured caps - grow amongst the conifer needles and faded grasses, while yellow spikes of stags horn fungus and the aptly named candle snuff sprout from decaying stumps.
In the many clearings and open spaces butterflies such as the peacock, tortoise shell and red admiral make the most of the warm autumnal sun.
Adders, slow worms and common lizards can also be seen basking before the ensuing winter cold forces them to spend the coming months securely underground and flocks of goldfinches pick seed from thistles and burdocks.
The message is there's plenty to see - if you look for it.
Brian Walker is the Wildlife and Conservation officer for the Forestry Commission at Dalby Forest.
Access to Dalby Forest is via Thornton le Dale on the A170 Pickering to Scarborough road. Watch for brown tourist signs. Access is also possible from the north of Scarborough via minor roads through Hackness and Langdale End.
Entry is via a toll road - as of 31/03/08 the admission charges were:
Dalby Forest Visitor Centre is situated along the forest drive just beyond the forest village of Low Dalby. Facilities within the centre include an information desk, Forestry Commission shop, exhibition area, external and internal toilets and a restaurant.
last updated: 22/07/2008 at 09:56