The Forest Diary, Five things you didn’t know about the Forestry Commission
by Nick Tucker, Head of Recreation and Public Affairs at the Forestry Commission
Our role at the Forestry Commission is to protect, improve and expand the UK’s woodland cover, but that’s a huge task and means we do an awful lot of things people don’t always realise we’re doing. In the South of England alone we look after more than 48,000 hectares of land– equivalent to some 48,000 football pitches or 389,000 Olympic sized swimming pools– and that means our work can be very diverse.
So here are some things you might not know about what we do in Southern England...
- We’re the largest single source of harvested timber in Southern England – harvesting over one hundred thousand tonnes of wood each year. The wood we harvest is saw milled and finds its way into everything from firewood you can buy at local garden centres right through to furniture and construction. Harvesting wood is a core part of our role to keep woodlands healthy and well-managed, and supports the local economy and job market.
- It’s not just about timber though. Each year, we need to keep heather and bracken growth under control in the New Forest and other open habitats. The heather we harvest we bale and provide to London Zoo as bedding and foraging areas for the Zoo’s resident gorilla family amongst other uses. The bracken we harvest is stored and composted down to produce a low-nutrient peat alternative for use in horticulture – most famously by RHS Kew Gardens and Wisley. You can pick up our compost up in Macpenny’s Garden Centre based in Bransgore. It’s also been used as compost for flower beds for the newly developed Ringwood Town Council Gateway building.
- We maintain over 47km of public footpaths and 225km of cycle paths across our sites to welcome more than 20 million leisure visits to the countryside and woodland in Southern England each year. These visits are very important and annually contribute towards the £220 million tourism economy of the New Forest area. The money that’s spent at our local visitor sites – like Alice Holt and Moors Valley - goes straight back into managing the woodlands and visitor facilities.
- We have the UK’s longest wireless linked Goshawk Nestcam at our New Forest Reptile Centre near Lyndhurst and have even used satellite bouncing technology to monitor Hobby’s. Over the past seven years we’ve been following the entire breeding season of these rare and beautiful birds – which were once hunted to near extinction in the UK. As well as working with the RSPB to monitor nest sites, we’re also working to protect their habitats and understand more about their nesting and breeding habits. Visit the Reptile Centre from April to October to find out more...
- We manage and protect 155 Scheduled Ancient Monuments and eight listed buildings on our land in the New Forest. The sites are listed as sites of national archaeological important and cover everything from ruins to ancient battlegrounds. We’ve also granted permission for four very important war memorials at Bolton’s Bench, Lyndhurst, Sway, and Burley and Nomansland in the New Forest. It’s our job to protect these monuments for future generations.
People love their woodlands, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to keep them healthy and well-managed so we can all enjoy them. Each woodland tells a different story, so next time you’re out walking in one of the Forestry Commission’s sites take a look around you and see if you can work out what we’ve been doing to make the woodland better.