Autumn 2017 at Moors Valley Country Park
PUBLISHED: 11:00 26 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:00 26 September 2017
Welcoming over 800,000 visitors each year, Moors Valley Country Park and Forest near Ringwood offers plenty of reasons to enjoy the great outdoors. Viv Micklefield goes behind the scenes to find out what the autumn holds
Strolling beneath the soaring canopy of Scots pine, you could be forgiven for thinking this forest and country park is deserted. There’s barely a sound save that of a scampering squirrel and an unidentified bird flapping briefly nearby. Yet appearances can be deceptive as despite the shortening days, there’s little sign of hibernation amongst the other visitors to one of Ringwood’s most popular attractions. Elsewhere, excited youngsters burn-off energy wriggling through the ‘snake pit’ or scaling the ‘crocodile crossing’; striding through meadows, a column of Nordic walkers enjoy a work-out; and on the banks of the lake, a patient angler reels in his catch.
Come back tomorrow, and adults might be swapping four wheels for two to hone their cycling skills, whilst schoolchildren stare intently at animal footprints instead of at their mobile phones. Because when it comes to inspiring us to embrace a healthier lifestyle and to be more active, the countryside takes some beating. And nowhere more so, than at Moors Valley Country Park and Forest.
“Although we’re a very busy site, you don’t need to go very far from the visitor centre, or play trail, to find peace and quiet,” says communication ranger and accessibility champion Katie Davies, who’s worked here for the past 13 years, adding: “The majority of our visitors travel from up to 45 minutes away but we do have some who are season ticket holders and who come from further afield.” There is, however, she admits a balance to be found both between the differing needs of walkers and horse riders, for example, and between increasing usage of the countryside and conserving natural habits. “The issue of land use is important so we try and be sensitive by having footpaths and waymarked trails, with the nature area reserved just for events,” Katie says.
And, recently, the site’s estates ranger has been working with a local heavy horse group, which means “by going back to traditional countryside methods”, bracken can be cleared without the use of damaging chemicals or machinery.
This said, according to Katie, the coming months will be busy with lots of seasonal activities. “We’ll have a new Ranger Den running throughout the school half term which is an opportunity to come in and meet the rangers, to find out what wildlife is around at this time of year, and to handle some of the animals.
“We love the face-to-face interaction with our visitors, but can’t do this all the time so if we can open up more ways for people to access information about Moors Valley that’s really helpful too. There’s already an audio trail around the lake - it’s like having ‘a ranger in your pocket’ - and shall soon be producing some videos with deaf signing.”
So, what’s her favourite area of the site?
“It changes with the seasons,” says Katie. “This time of year, around Moors Lake is a lovely spot with the autumn colours of the dogwoods and willows. And, because the deciduous trees lose their leaves, it’s easier to see some of the other wildlife; there’s a better chance to see the birds of prey, and also the water voles and otters that we have here in the rivers.”
What’s in a name?
M is for… Moors Valley: Comprising 750 acres of plantation forest historically used for producing timber, and a 250 acre country park originally created from two farms, Moors Valley is a jointly run venture between the local council and the Forestry Commission. Next year will be its 30th birthday.
O is for… Outside organisations: As well as its in-house team of rangers who offer seasonal recreational and educational activities, independently run attractions at Moors Valley include: a forest stroll with free flying hawks (hawksintheforest.co.uk); an 18-hole game of golf or family footgolf (mackgolf.co.uk/moors-valley-golf-course); and high wire fun with Go Ape Tree Top and Segway Adventures (goape.co.uk/days-out/moors-valley).
O is for… Orienteering: With permanent courses suitable for both beginners and more experienced orienteers (including a mountain biking orienteering course) this is a great way to test your skills of exploration and discover the countryside. A family session introducing map reading, identifying features and compass work, suitable for ages eight and over, is on Saturday September 9 at 1.30pm and costs £2.50 per person.
R is for… Railway: Two stations give visitors the chance to hop aboard an authentic steam railway in miniature for a one mile round trip along the banks of Moors Lake at weekends and in school holidays. On Saturday and Sunday, September 16-17, a Steam Gala, featuring visiting engines, will puff down the line.
S is for... Site of Special Scientific Interest: the logo for Moors Valley is the dragonfly and that’s because over half of all British species can be found here, and 80 per cent of those found in the county. With its river system formed of the River Crane and Moors River designated SSSI since the 1990s, the re-introduction of water voles has been one of several projects designed to enhance this important natural habitat.
V is for… Volunteers: A team of up to 40 conservation volunteers is engaged in a variety of tasks, from clearing vegetation and de-silting wetland areas to removing invasive holly and coppicing in woodland. More volunteers help to run the growing recreational programme throughout the year, whilst others help with events for schools.
A is for… Accessibility: Having achieved a Gold award for access and inclusivity at the Dorset Tourism Awards, a National Lottery funded scheme to assist visitors with mobility and sensory impairment will soon enable more people to make the most of Moors Valley. Additionally Sport England’s Activate Coast and Countryside initiative has introduced visitors to new sporting opportunities.
L is for… Lake: Moors Lake, dug in 1985 to control flooding south of the country park, gives budding and seasoned anglers the chance to get hooked on fishing, with day tickets available until March 14 2018. Pond dipping sees youngsters searching for some of the native invertebrates.
L is for…Learning: Whether it’s seeking-out spiders, making sure our feathered friends don’t go hungry or uncovering factoids about fungi, there’s plenty to discover in the busy events diary.
E is for… Everyday: With the exception of Christmas Day, Moors Valley is open throughout the year and the changing seasons constantly brings new surprises, even for regular visitors.
Y is for… Young and old: From fitness walks with children in buggies to a weekly community Parkrun age is no barrier when it comes to enjoying some fresh air and fitness. A rewarding cuppa awaits at the onsite restaurant.
A full list of what’s on and when is at moors-valley.co.uk or call 01425 470721.