• Discover Hidden Britain

VISIT | Finding Nature in Nagshead Nature Reserve | Gloucestershire

The Trees Here Are Special Even in Winter
The Trees Here Are Special Even in Winter

Bird's Paradise

Eyes up! Eyes down! Nature is all around

Find your inner bug hunter in this most special nature reserve

And don't forget the trees! The life blood of this place. Tree-bathing? Why not? Pure medicine for the heart

To the Hides and the Trails
To the Hides and the Trails

"...this nature reserve full of bird song and bug life..."

Description |

Birdsong is a beautiful sound.


And this place, Nagshead Nature Reserve deep in the Forest of Dean, is one of those places where you just need to stand and listen. The bird song resonates from tree to tree. High up in the canopies of the trees. It seems wrong to just walk on. So do yourself a favour – shut your eyes and just listen. And there are so many points in this delightful woodland setting where you can do just that.

Nagshead is just a wonderful piece of woodland. It is planted with a myriad of native trees. Some have been there for as long as Horatio Nelson needed ships. For Nagshead is the place of the mighty oak tree. Some of them have been there a long time. It is why places like Nagshead need to be protected and exist, so that it reminds us all of how transitory life is, that trees can outlive humanity, that their presence will live long until the future as long as there are places like this.

The oaks at Nagshead, mainly Sessile Oaks, were planted on these large plantations primarily under the behest for timber for building ships during the Napoleonic War – when England faced France, in part at sea and Admiral Horatio Nelson needed more wood for the faster, buoyant English ships to give England advantage in the war.

In 1802 Nelson visited the Forest of Dean. He saw a misuse of the Forest being predominantly used for charcoal burning and a lack of new trees. So instead pushed for a massive re-planting of the Forest with acorns. And the enclosure of the Forest. It happened. The Dean Forest (Timber) Act was passed in 1808 leading to a mass enclosure programme and the planting and protection (against rogue pigs and sheep) from eating the precious acorns. This would lead to large-scale riots in the 1830s as the Foresters viewed this a mass over-step by the state against their rights of free movement.

The war passed, as did others after, but the trees remained. And now Nagshead Nature Reserve is under the joint custodianship of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Forestry Commission. It is a gem.

Nagshead has many birdboxes and is a wonder in spring when the birds begin to sing. All kinds of birds are identified here ranging from the busy blue tits to flycatchers. There are hides here to sit and watch. To be quiet. To be still. To listen.


But one of the magical things about Nagshead are the trails which take you on circuits of different parts of the woodland reserve. The kids love to charge down the paths. To fossick through the fallen leaves, to roll over logs gently looking for centipedes, to study woodlice and spiders, to listen with their eyes shut as bird song sings over their heads.

In the weekends of the summer, the lodge opens and allows people to borrow pond-dipping equipment for use on the platforms on the pond. But in early spring, frogspawn and tadpoles proliferate.

The trails loop around with places to perch and sit. Watch the canopies. Watch the bird boxes. The paths can get muddy in rainier times but that is half the charm of this place. For this is a slice of Gloucestershire not often seen, where the wildlife gets to take over and the humans take second place. Despite attempts to keep them out, there are still signs that the boar venture in this woodland. But mostly this place is for the bugs and the birds.

And in the life cycle, the success of one bringing success to the other. And the trees are a singular important part of this eco-system.

But the stories of Nelson’s oak trees was not finished. In 2004, once again navy men were in the Forest of Dean looking for mature sessile oak trees. This time to complete the job that these oaks were planted for – the refurbishment of HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship. Two oak trees were felled and were taken on the journey down to the historic dockyard at Portsmouth where Victory was being readied for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005.

Built for war, valued now for the peace. This is Nagshead. Peace for us. Peace for the birds. Peace for the bugs. Peace for the trees. Live and let live.

Directions and Map |

Find Nagshead Nature Reserve on the outskirts of the village of Parkend in the middle of the Forest of Dean signed from the Coleford road

Also accessible off the Forest of Dean Cycle Trail

Longitude: -2.565328

Latitude: 51.76821

what3words: ///bandstand.boring.surgical