Be alert to natural dangers!
by Forestry Commission Community Manager, Zoe Cox
The New Forest is a great place to get out and enjoy the fresh air. I always encourage people to experience their natural surroundings, as a lifelong love of nature can take root in these carefree days of spring.
However, as the weather warms up and we see the new season starting it’s worth a reminder of the small things we can do and be aware of to keep ourselves and our loved ones fit and healthy.
We all need to be mindful of the risks that Mother Nature can sometimes pose. One such (albeit small) risk is contracting Lyme Disease from ticks.
Ticks are tiny blood-sucking insects found across the UK, in city parks, as well as in rural areas, heathland and moorland, particularly in places where deer live. They can attach themselves to passing animals and humans and a small proportion of ticks carry infections, the most serious of which is Lyme disease, although it is very rare.
Although the chances of contracting Lyme Disease is very small, we still encourage visitors to the forest to protect themselves and their families with insect repellent. Also, avoid walking in long grass and bracken, and stick to the footpaths as much as possible. Try and wear light-coloured clothing, so ticks are easier to spot and brush down, and check your skin for ticks before leaving the forest. If a tick is found, it should be removed with a tick tool (which are readily available at chemists, vets and other outlets) as soon as possible. If you are at all concerned that any part of it may be left in the skin a doctor or vet (if found on dogs) should be consulted.
Diseases from ticks are not immediately contracted, they need to be attached to the body for at least 24-36 hours to transmit the disease and when coming into contact with them, it should be possible to detect, and remove them before any harm is done.
The highest risk is in late spring and during summer when ticks are most active so with the warm weather experienced recently, we expect them to be active now. Please don’t be fearful – it’s more a case of being aware; knowing how to reduce the chances of being bitten, how to remove a tick and knowing what to look out for. For further information and guidance about ticks, preventing bites and what to do if you are bitten visit NHS direct or the Public Health England website.
The New Forest truly has a lot to offer over the next few months so come and enjoy its splendours. We’ve pulled together a great programme of events for 2016 and ideas for different ways to explore the forest, whether you fancy a change of view or have friends and family staying for their holidays. So make the most of these brighter days by getting out in the forest - enjoy nature and stay safe.
Rare birds beneath your feet!
By Andy Page, Head of Wildlife Management at the Forestry Commission
It was a gloriously bright and sunny spring day, once again, a great day to be out in the New Forest watching for birds. There was a bit of a breeze, which meant that the Stonechats were mostly keeping down in the brambles and gorse, but I eventually found one which perched up in view.
The New Forest is home to many of the UK’s rarest birds, with some of the largest areas of heath in Europe, it’s particularly important for heathland birds such as Nightjar, Woodlark and Dartford Warbler. Much of the New Forest is a Special Protection Area because of these species.
These rare birds have evolved superb camouflage and distinctive behaviour to take their chances nesting on the ground. By choosing not to make their nests in trees, these unusual birds are extremely vulnerable to predators, such as crows, badgers and foxes, and are very prone to disturbance by dogs being walked in the forest.
At this time of year, I urge you to help these ground nesting birds thrive by keeping to the main paths while you’re out walking, cycling or horse riding and please keep your dog on a lead until July, so the birds and young chicks are not disturbed.
This was also the purpose of inviting BBC One’s Countryfile Team to take a close-up look at ground nesting birds, to foster support for these exceptional creatures. I took the Spring Diaries presenter, Keeley Donovan and the crew to a quiet area of heathland near Fritham, which is ideal for nesting Woodlarks and Stonechats. These rare little birds prefer areas with mainly short and open vegetation, with the occasional taller tree for a singing post.
Woodlarks are recognised by their off-white eye stripe and a spikey crest on their heads. They have a rather short tail and an almost bouncing flight pattern. They thrive in wide open areas of short vegetation, scattered bushes and few trees, with an abundance of insects to feed on. A combination of grazing by livestock, controlled burning, heather cutting and selective tree felling keeps the habitat in top condition. Woodlark’s nest are very well camouflaged, usually nesting within a grass tussock, heather or bramble bush, often digging a shallow scrape, which helps to shelter their nest.
I’ve been monitoring birds here in the New Forest for over 30 years, trying to better understand why their populations appear to fluctuate from year to year? Woodlarks declined heavily throughout the country from the 1950s, but have shown a steady increase here in the Forest over recent years.
The mature heathland of the New Forest is also home to summer visiting Nightjars and resident Stonechats and Meadow Pipits. Stonechats are well-known for their song with its sharp loud call that sounds like two stones being knocked together. Males have prominent black heads with white around the side of their neck, orange-red breasts and a mottled brown back. Females have brown backs and an orange tint on their chests. She lays her eggs in a small nest on the heathlands and open areas of the New Forest in low growing gorse and bracken.
Spring is a great time for spotting birds as the leaves on trees are not yet fully out, so I encourage you to get out with your binoculars. Our woodlands are a good place to enjoy the sound of birdsong with males advertising their territories and attracting a mate. Once paired the busy time of nest building begins - you may have already seen birds near you gathering nesting materials. The breeding season is a demanding time of year for them and for a short while all their attention will be focussed on their precious eggs. We can help ground nesting birds by limiting our activities where they nest and keeping to the main tracks during the spring and summer.