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Forest Diary - January

  January 2016

Calling volunteers: Your forest needs you!

 By Gemma Stride, Volunteer Coordinator in the New Forest, Forestry Commission, (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

 What’s your New Year’s resolution? I’m sure there are lots of good ideas out there, such as getting fitter, learning a new language or spending less time at work. If it’s not too late, can I suggest another? What about volunteering, joining around 15 million people who give up their time on a regular basis to help make a difference?

 We’re always looking to expand our committed network of volunteer rangers and conservation volunteers, who help us to maintain and protect the forest and prepare for the influx of visitors over the next few months. It’s a great way to keep fit, make new friends and help the environment – what more could you ask for from a resolution?

 Volunteers are a core part of our team and the Forestry Commission’s ambassadors, so we’re incredibly proud and grateful for the support they provide. They help us across a broad range of tasks, including teaching visitors about the forest, enhancing the landscape for nature conservation and protecting the forest to enable future generations to enjoy exploring this beautiful and varied area.

With support from Forestry Commission rangers and keepers, the volunteers deliver the conservation programmes. Until the end of March, they’re busy supporting us with important tasks, such as clearing ride edges (along the paths) to help pearl bordered fritillary butterflies and other wildlife to thrive. You might spot a reptile sunning itself on a south facing bank, thanks to the volunteers’ handiwork! It also means that rare and much loved plant species can flourish, such as the spectacular wild gladiolus, which doesn’t grow anywhere else in the UK.

 Once spring arrives, the volunteers play a key role in being the public face of the Forestry Commission and act as our eyes and ears. This includes patrolling the forest and leading events for people to learn more about the special habitats and species that live in the forest.

 I manage the volunteers’ activities alongside Tracey Churcher. Together we work with the land management and recreation teams to identify the tasks that need extra assistance. We then contact our network to ask for willing volunteers. In return, they meet a fantastic group of like-minded people, who are committed to helping protect our beloved New Forest, and know they’re making a difference.

 We’re always looking for new volunteers, who play such a valuable part of our team – and the bigger our team, the more work we can do. Volunteers can choose how much or little time they’re able to give, and there is a choice about what type of activities they’d like to do. We offer specific training for certain projects, such as biological monitoring, but otherwise you can get stuck in straight away once you’ve signed up.

We’re attending the New Forest Volunteer Fair on Saturday 30 January, which takes place between 10.30am-4pm at Lyndhurst Community Centre. Visitors can find a wide variety of organisations, including the Forestry Commission, that are looking for volunteers. It’s free to enter, so come along and find an organisation that you’d like to support.

 I love working with the volunteers out in the woods and have made some fantastic friends who share my passion for the forest and want to give something back. Sitting around a bonfire at the end of the day is a great way to swap stories and enjoy being outdoors with a group of like-minded people.

 If you’re passionate about the New Forest, enjoy spending time outdoors and want to help look after our forest, then consider becoming one of our volunteers and sign up for the Two Trees team; visit www.forestry.gov.uk/england-volunteer for more details. We’ll be recruiting for volunteer rangers in February, so keep an eye out on the Forestry Commission website: www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.

 

Creating New Links in our Ancient Forest

By Patrick Cook, New Forest Keeper at the Forestry Commission.

January is a busy month for me and my colleagues – it’s the time of year when Foresters spend many hours organising the planting of thousands of new trees across the New Forest.

One of the locations due to be re-planted lies within Busketts Inclosure, near Ashurst, a managed fenced area, which borders the ancient woodland. The conifer trees that had reached maturity, were cut down last year. We are now bringing back native trees by planting 13,500 oak, hornbeam and wild cherry over the coming weeks.

The plan is to link together the ancient broadleaved woodland, removing the hard edge of the conifers and making it more natural. Many plants and wildlife will benefit, including lichen, fungi and butterflies will all thrive here - making the most of the new links that we are creating between the inclosure and the open forest. However, it will take some time; it’s not for decades that the true effect will be enjoyed by visitors, who will see more impressive mature trees here.

My role, as a Keeper, is to manage the wildlife and I also put forward suggestions about how we can improve the different habitats here in the New Forest. I’ve helped develop plans to put an open strip, a ‘wildlife corridor’, in the centre of the new planting that will allow light to pour in so that an area of the woodland floor will quickly become home to plants and vegetation, such as Dog Violets, Bugle, and Brambles. These plants are a good source of food for insects, especially butterflies, which will be able to use these areas to lay their eggs and provide food for caterpillars. Through the Winter they remain a pupae and emerge the following Spring as an adult butterfly. From mid-June to late August you will be able to see Silver-washed Fritillary in this area – it’s one of the most beautiful sights to be found in this woodland in high Summer. I’m very keen to see more butterflies flying along these wooded lanes, such as the rare dark-form of Silver-Washed Fritillary, known as Valezina, whose females have wings that are bronze-green coloured.

This planting is taking place in the area that I care for, my beat is one of five areas that make-up what we call, ‘South Walk Beat’. It’s my job to manage the wildlife here and make sure that as the young oak trees grow, they aren’t eaten by the deer that live here. Busketts Inclosure is home to a variety of deer, including Roe and Fallow, and the occasional Muntjac. We have to control the deer numbers in the forest and help keep all the wildlife of the forest in balance.

The new trees are being planted according to our ‘Forest Design Plans’ which are regularly consulted upon by local parish councils and representatives from local interest groups. The Plans set out which woodland inclosures should be re-stocked with young trees, after having been previously harvested for sustainable timber.

In total, this year alone, the Forestry Commission has ordered more than 32,400 trees for the New Forest area. 31,100 of these are native broadleaved trees and the remaining 1,300 are conifer trees, all of which are being planted between now and the end of March 2016.

As with past years, we are planting a variety of trees as part of our work. This is to respond to climate change and also to develop the ‘mosaic’ effect which our local wildlife depends upon to thrive. A complex woodland structure that includes a ground layer, shrub layer, trees of various ages and species, with an overarching tree canopy is the ideal environment for ensuring a wide variety of plants and animals.

Planting new trees is an important job for the Forestry Commission; we are breathing new life into the forests, ensuring that they are here for the next generation to enjoy.

 A time for reflection

by Bruce Rothnie, Deputy Surveyor at the Forestry Commissionon
For many, the New Year is a good time to reflect on the past 12 months – the challenges, the successes and milestones that we’ve achieved and find ways to learn from these experiences. Here at the Forestry Commission, 2015 has been another busy year with much to celebrate.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), which is a ten year environmental improvement scheme. After five years, it’s a good opportunity to look back on what the scheme has delivered.

The improvements made are helping protect the New Forest’s precious habitats and ancient way of life, preserving this beautiful landscape for future generations to enjoy. The scheme is funded by Natural England and is worth £19m, which is held by the Verderers and managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

As part of our work managing woodlands, we’ve cleared overgrown areas of the New Forest, which would formerly have been heathland or grassland. These habitats are important for rare ground nesting birds, such as lapwing.

So far the scheme has cleared more than 326 hectares, equivalent to 456 football pitches, and over six hectares of ‘lost lawns’ have been returned to their former glory, which has increased the grazing for commoners’ livestock.

In addition, invasive rhododendron bushes have been removed from just under half of the New Forest to ensure they don’t overrun native plant life.

 

Funding from the scheme has enabled us to carry out bird surveys. The results showed that the New Forest is a stronghold for birds such as the Dartford warbler, nightjar, woodlark and nesting waders. The survey illustrated how important it is that the HLS scheme continues its work to improve habitats for these rare birds to make sure numbers are conserved.

 

It’s only when we stop and reflect that we can truly see how much has been achieved – and the commitment of our staff has played a huge part. Our team of experts has been making positive progress in tackling wetland restoration in the New Forest.


Their work involves re-instating former natural bends in streams to increase their length to slow the flow, infilling deep man-made drains that replaced them, and reducing the erosion of boggy mires. Research by independent experts The River Restoration Centre has shown considerable success for this scheme. At Fletchers Thorns, near Brockenhurst, restoration ‘achieved significant nature conservation and ecosystem service benefits in a very short period of time.’ So far, nine miles of drainage channels have been restored to natural streams, protecting the New Forest’s internationally-important wetlands for future generations.

With the recent flooding in the UK, the result of this work is very visible and demonstrates the importance of delaying the flood flow to reduce the impact of flooding downstream.

The New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme funds projects to increase the New Forest’s resilience in the face of modern day pressures. It is a rare opportunity to conserve these fragile habitats and support the commoning community, and help build resilience into long term management of this important landscape.

To find out more about the HLS scheme visit www.hlsnewforest.org.uk.

 A resolution is for life, not just for the New Year

By Zoe Cox, Community Manager, Forestry Commission, (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

As we waved goodbye to 2015 and said hello to a new year, many of us will have made resolutions that we hope will make a positive difference in 2016. Whether it’s a commitment to spending more time doing things that are good for us - or simply spending less time doing things that are bad for us, New Year’s resolutions are an opportunity to set out our priorities for the year ahead.

Living a more healthy and active life is always a popular choice among those making resolutions and I know from past experience that the secret is to start small. Here are a few ways to take up a healthy new hobby this year, while getting some much needed fresh air and enjoying an array of activities in the New Forest.

Cycling

The beautiful New Forest has a fantastic way-marked cycle network spanning more than 100 miles, which can be enjoyed by novice cyclists and experienced two wheelers alike. There’s plenty to see, including fascinating wildlife, famous ponies and impressive landscapes. As it’s a working forest, it’s important to follow the Highway Code and New Forest Cycling Code, which help everyone to enjoy the forest safely, while also minimising any disturbance to wildlife and protected species.

The Parkhill area is perfect for cycling, offering many options for circular off-road cycle routes within adjoining Inclosures that are clearly signposted. You can download a cycle map from our website that explains the terrain, identifies the numbered way-marker routes and bike hire locations.

Walking

Whether it’s the ancient and ornamental woodlands; the open forest with its broad sweeps of heather and rusty-red swathes of bracken; or the uniform conifer plantations that offer welcome shelter, there are plenty of different walks for you to enjoy with family, friends and four-legged friends.

A popular choice is the Bolderwood Jubilee Trail, which leads you past the deer fields and alongside some majestic trees that date back to 1860. Another wonderful spectacle not to be missed is the Blackwater Arboretum Trail, where you can amble through the towering tree trunks and experience a variety of smells, textures and sounds. Please also remember to follow the New Forest Dog Walking Code when walking with your four-legged friends.

Nordic Walking has become very popular and the New Forest is a great location to take up this fast-growing fitness activity. Local walkers frequently meet at Deerleap Car Park and Longdown, near Ashurst. There is good varying terrain, which suits all abilities and weather conditions.

If you want to keep the little ones entertained while enjoying a family walk, you can join Stick Man on his forest adventure at Moors Valley Country Park and help Julia Donaldson’s much-loved character get back to his family tree through a number of fun activities.

Running

If your resolution is to take up running, the easily accessible and way-marked paths are ideal. Dibden Inclosure is a popular trail with a variety of tracks that allow you to change your regular running routes, which is key to keeping up your motivation. Similarly, the two mile Wilverley Wander trail winds through the mixed woodland of conifer and broadleaf trees along smooth gravelled surfaces and short, steep slopes.

Volunteering

A great way to try something new in 2016 is to sign up as a volunteer and help to conserve our wildlife and habitats. Join our dedicated Two Trees team by registering at www.forestry.gov.uk/england-volunteer and choose the days and locations where you’d like to volunteer. There’s no long-term commitment and you can get involved in lots of activities, including clearing small trees from track edges to improve butterfly habitats or removing non-native invasive plants such as Himalayan Balsam. It’s a great way to get some exercise, learn new skills, meet new people and help to maintain woodlands that can be enjoyed by future generations.

There’s so much to do in the forest and a New Year’s resolution is a great incentive to get outside and enjoy the freedom of the vast open spaces! Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest for more information and have a great 2016.

Last updated: 18th November 2016

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England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.