Autumn in Stansfeld Forest – by Annabelle Skerritt
At seven o’ clock on a Sunday morning, shortly after the clocks had been turned back, Mike Stranks and I headed out over the frosty ‘playing field’ (the first frost of the year perhaps?…) to enter the Stansfeld Woodland along the western boundary with Quarry Road, and headed over to where the woodland meets the Glebelands, to see if we could capture any wildlife audio in the forest. At this time of year – at the end of October – we weren’t quite sure how much wildlife would be in evidence, the family of Canadian pond geese have already long left, and UK winter bird migrations tend to take place anytime between September and November. However with a warmer climate in recent years, migrations have been taking place later and later, with some birds even over-wintering here.
At first we were spotted by some domestic dogs being taken for a walk in the Glebelands and their barking hampered our initial attempts. But we stealthily managed to sneak into the forest to avoid them and had more luck on the next few attempts. We managed to capture some bird song, and we were also lucky enough to get some recordings of the foxes barking (although you might say this was less luck and more that we had walked past their dens and disturbed them!). As we couldn’t speak, Mike signalled to me to say there were two foxes and indicated with his hands as to their location in the forest. This was an exciting moment!
You can listen to the two recordings here – one of the bird song and a separate one of the foxes.
The Stansfeld site is a place that not many in Oxford (or even in the local area) know exists, or have had the opportunity to visit – unless they have had the good fortune to attend on a school trip. The site has been owned and managed by Birmingham City Council since as far back as the 1930s and run as an outdoor field and education centre (residential for those from out of town but also as a forest school for day trips for the local Oxford schools – including Wood Farm School on Titup Hall Drive and Windmill School on Margaret Road.
With the help of local voluntary groups over the years, the site has been developed as an educational resource, with paths cut out through the woodland, information boards erected and a number of purpose-built animal ‘dens’ and lookouts constructed, (such as the foxes’ den and the bird look out over the ponds), and that’s in addition obviously to the large number of wild and animal-made habitats! There is also a variety of different wildlife areas – meadow land, woodland and ponds – and geology – chalky and clay areas – making for a diverse habitat in a relatively small area. By the way, on older maps you can see where kilns were located around the site, with a Roman road along the eastern boundary, which was the focus for an important and extensive second to fourth century AD pottery manufacturing industry, running from Otmoor, through Oxford, to Nuneham Courtney.
The newly formed Friends of Stansfeld group, amongst others, is campaigning for the day trips by local school, scout and guiding groups to the forest site to continue, once the site is sold, and there may be the possibility of camping in the meadow areas. There is also the aim of opening up the site on a number of days in the year to the general public, so that local residents too can appreciate this beautiful, natural and hidden, local resource that exists right in the middle of Headington Quarry.
In the audio recordings you will hear the hum of the ring road traffic in the background. A nice reminder of the fact this wildlife site is in such an urban area – and actually borders on the busiest road in Oxford. Something you could easily forget whilst wondering around on a crisp autumn morning!
Can you identify the birds in the audio? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!