The New Forest is a semi-natural landscape which has been shaped since prehistoric times by man and his animals.
It is the largest remaining area of lowland heath in Britain and the mosaic of different habitats provides for a rich flora and fauna.
Here we provide just a glimpse of the diversity of animal life that inhabits the forestbut illustrates the importance of the area for nature conservation and provides examples of how the Forestry Commission manages wildlife in the New Forest.
The New Forest is very rich in invertebrate species with 55% of butterflies and moths, 46% of beetles, 74% of dragonflies and damselflies, and 67% of grasshoppers and crickets that are found in Britain living here.
Up to 10,000 species of invertebrates are found in the Ancient and Ornamental woodlands and are mainly associated with the large quantities of dead wood found in these areas. One of the New Forest's most striking of the species that are dependent on dead wood is the stag beetle. This large and impressive beetle can sometimes be seen flying at dusk in mid-summer. The males have large "antlers" which they use for fighting with each other, hence the name "stag". The larvae spend several years eating a rather boring diet of rotting wood before they finally emerge as beetles.
The old oak woods of the forest are home to some special moth species such as the scarse merveille-du-jour and the dark crimson underwing. You will also find the goat moth whose caterpillars feed on the bark of oaks for up to 4 years before pupating and emerging as adults (imagos).
All six native reptiles are found in the New Forest, in addition to three species of newt, the common frog, the common toad and the introduced, so called, 'green' frog.
Habitat destruction elsewhere has meant that the New Forest has become an important haven for these creatures. Careful, traditional management has provided a relatively stable range of environments important to the different species, although some have shown decline in recent years.
The adder, our only venomous snake, is the most commonly seen snake in the forest. The plentiful open spaces on the heath and grassland, particularly on the edge of woods and besides tracks, provide ideal habitat.
Grass snakes are found in the damper areas such as the valley mires and streams.
The rare smooth snake prefers dry, sandy hillsides with heather and gorse, sloping down to marshy valleys - conditions found on the lowland heaths of the New Forest. These creatures are protected by law but are in danger from the destruction and over use of their heathland habitats in Britain.
Sand Lizard Breeding Programme
Sand lizards are a rare and endangered species preferring dry, open country and coastal dunes. In Britain they are found only in the sandy heaths of Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, and the Lancashire coastal strip.
Sand lizards were extinct in the New Forest by 1970. A reintroduction programme was set up by the British Herpetological Society in 1985 in liaison with the Forestry Commission. New colonies of sand lizard were established on suitable sites in the New Forest. By the 1990's protection for other colonies around the country had been achieved and emphasis shifted to 'topping up' these colonies, including the New Forest sites, with captive bred young. This process was continued by a collection of conservation and zoo bodies, including Marwell Zoo, and directed by the Herpetological Conservation Trust (now ARC - Amphibian and Reptile Conservation trust). Breeding pairs were captured and bred at Marwell Zoo and the New Forest Reptile Centre and the young released onto selected sites. The programme continues to be a success and monitoring is ongoing. Young, bred at Marwell, the Reptile Centre and other 'vivaria' in Hampshire and Dorset, are released not only in the New Forest but in other areas across the counties, as specified by ARC.
An ideal site will have a good depth of heather for protection and a south facing, sandy aspect to gain warmth from the sun. If no suitable sites are available then a site is prepared. Patches of bare sand are exposed to encourage egg laying and natural heath is retained.
Natterjack Breeding Programme
Although natterjack toads have been living at the New Forest Reptile Centre for many years, their origin in the wild was not certain. Therefore their progeny were not able to be released into the wild. As far as we're aware natterjacks no longer live on the forest itself - the nearest colony is to be found at Hengistbury Head. However, the Reptile Centre took on a captive colony from Marwell Zoo in 2009 and this is part of a captive breeding programme run by ARC to repopulate a pond in Whitbeck, in Cumbria. Since the very first year of their introduction to the Centre, there has been a steady amount of spawn or tadpoles supplied to Cumbria and there is ongoing monitoring to see if the toads will successfully sustain themselves at Whitbeck for the future.
Click here to find out more about the New Forest Reptile Centre.
Plantations in the New Forest support a number of birds of prey including sparrowhawks, common buzzards, hobbies, kestrels and the rare honey buzzard, all of which are protected by law. Before any felling is carried out in the inclosures, trees must be checked for nests, which if present are recorded and felling will be delayed until the young have left the nest.
New Forest Keepers are involved in a goshawk monitoring programme which looks at the numbers of adult pairs and size of broods in the forest. The young are ringed to provide information on their movements once they have left the nest. Goshawks first bred in Hampshire and, more specifically, the New Forest in 2002 and since then the population has steadily increased to over twenty pairs in 2012. We have seen a corresponding drop in the numbers of sparrowhawk, but buzzard numbers remain stable.
In 2006 the Forestry Commission formed a partnership with the RSPB, the National Park Authority and Carnyx Wild, to provide a regular webcam, viewing breeding raptors' nests each year, based at the Reptile Centre. To view live images in season or highlights out of season, visit www.newforestgateway.org
The rare firecrest and its commoner relative, the goldcrest, share the habitats of the birds of prey.
Valley mires support nationally important populations of snipe, curlew, lapwing and a few redshank. Sadly the breeding successes of the latter three are adversely affected by disturbance from recreational users and their dogs so have not fared so well in recent years. The Forestry Commission, with funding from the Progress Project, carried out a three year consecutive survey into the population numbers of breeding waders from 2006-2009. This has provided a baseline to measure success or decline in population.
These birds are confined to lowland heaths and are being threatened by habitat loss throughout Britain. The population in the New Forest is approximately 500 pairs, making it the most important population in the country. Management of the open heath is closely linked to the requirements of this nationally rare bird, with mature, dry heath and gorse its optimum habitat.
In contrast to the long heather preferred by the Dartford warbler, the woodlark likes heavily grazed vegetation with a short sward and scattered, small trees along woodland edge. So, you can see how difficult it is for those planning the management of the heathland, with these two birds in common with many more types of animal, to provide for the contrasting preferences of differing species. This is why (as well as for logistical reasons) there is a rotational aspect to the management of the heathland landscape, creating a 'patchwork' of habitats with different age structure.
The woodlark, in common with most of the groundnesting birds, is extremely vulnerable to disturbance, as the short vegetation is highly favoured by the public for recreation. As an organisation we try to inform the public of this vulnerability and provide recreational facilities away from nesting sites where possible.
Find out more about woodlark
Another important groundnesting bird is the nightjar, which flies all the way from southern Africa to breed in our clearfell sites in the summer months.
The New Forest is home to five different species of deer - fallow, roe, red, sika and muntjac. The fallow deer (Dama dama) was introduced here by William I when the New Forest was established by him, in 1079. 'Forest' means 'a place set aside for royal hunting' and the New Forest was the king's first hunting ground established in Britain, upon his seizing the throne in 1066. Therefore, deer, and in particular the fallow deer, are intrinsic to the history of the New Forest. The forest wouldn't be recognised as a distinct place were it not for the original herd of fallow deer.
Mediaeval royal hunting and natural predators such as wolves, bear and lynx controlled numbers of deer in the past. Today, in the absence of these controls, it falls to the Forestry Commission keepers to manage them at a sustainable level. Deer cause damage to forest trees and farm crops, and also invade nearby gardens in their search for food. This necessitates a need to regulate their numbers as part of the management of the New Forest.
In order to achieve this objective, forest keepers carry out a census of deer across the forest every April. These figures are then used to develop a shooting plan for control of populations, so that numbers do not rise beyond the capacity of winter food supply and cause excess damage to crops. Culling is carried out using high velocity rifles from specially constructed high seats and is carried out mainly during the winter months.
To find out more about the implementation of deer management click on this link New Forest District Deer Management Plan 2005-2015 (PDF 5578k) (Download the Deer Podcast for your MP3 player)
There is also a separate deer factfile.
Grey squirrels cause a great deal of damage to trees by removing the bark, sometimes ring barking them which will kill them. In order to minimise tree damage, squirrel numbers are periodically controlled by shooting and trapping by the forest keepers. It is hoped that the recent arrival of major predators as resident species, notably goshawks and pine martens, will provide a more natural way of controlling squirrel numbers in the future.
Alas, there are no red squirrels in the New forest. The nearest colony of this species is on the Isle of Wight.
Badgers are found throughout the woodlands of the New Forest, but in lower densities than surrounding areas. This may be attributed to the low numbers of earthworms, their preferred food.
In 1976 the Forestry Commission set up a New Forest Badger Protection Group. A survey by the Forestry Commission in 2001-2002 indicated that 314 badger setts were present, of which 159 (51%) were occupied at any one time. This represents a significant increase in active setts over the 25 years, though more detailed studies of individual setts, by the New Forest Badger Group, suggest that number of badgers per sett has decreased over the same period.
Badgers are protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, under which it is an offence to damage or obstruct a sett showing signs of current use by badgers or disturb a badger within a sett. Following this Act, the Forestry Commission published a Forestry Practice guide, "Forest Operations and Badger Setts", which provides guidelines on how to reduce interference to setts. It states:
"Most forestry operations can be carried out without interference to badger setts, provided they are carefully planned and supervised."
"Locate and record setts - main, annexe, subsidiary and outlying
Time forest operations near setts to avoid the badgers' breeding season
Restrict or avoid forest operations close to badger setts (minimum 20 metres protection zone)
When thinning and felling - take care that fallen trees don't damage or block setts
Do not allow extraction vehicles to enter the protection zone
Fell trees away from holes, runs or latrines
Recreation sites to be kept away from setts"
The Ancient and Ornamental woodlands, heathlands and grass lawns; various ponds and even the conifer plantations provide good feeding areas for the moths, beetles and other insects that bats eat.
The Forestry Commission, in conjunction with Natural England and the Vincent Wildlife Trust, have erected some 200 boxes as secure roosts for bats. Although there is no shortage of natural roost sites for bats, especially in the deciduous woodlands, the boxes provide an excellent means of monitoring bat numbers.
The New Forest habitats are important places for bats. Of the 17 species which can be regarded as native to this country, 13 have been recorded in the New Forest. These include the nationally rare Bechstein’s and Barbastelle bats.
Mature deciduous trees provide natural roosts in old woodpecker holes, cracks, rotten hollows etc. that are important to bats in the summer, as breeding sites, and in winter, as places for hibernation. Pipistrelles, serotines and the long-eared bats frequently breed in houses, the former using gaps behind fascia boards or behind hanging tiles, while the long-eared can be found in the roof space.
In the last few years two new species of mammal have arrived in the forest. Firstly, the polecat has been recorded in increasing numbers, having spread across England from its former stronghold in Wales. They are seldom seen as they are almost exclusively nocturnal and sadly our main method of recording them is as road casualties. Secondly, there have been a few valid reports of pine martens, one being verified as a road casualty. The presence of these two major predators may well have a significant effect on the rabbit and squirrel populations of the forest.