Dark sky at night, a forester’s delight!
by Esta Mion, Communications Manager for the Forestry Commission
We all know that forests are great places for wildlife to live in and people to enjoy, but they are amazing places to sky gaze as well.
I’ve recently been working with colleagues from other Forestry Commission sites, which have forests with Dark Sky Discovery status; Keilder Forest, Dalby Forest, Hamsterley Forest and Queen Elizabeth Country Park all have some of the darkest skies in the UK. Together with our Learning Manager, who is part of our wider team, we’ve been working on a national campaign that hopes to bring science alive for children with fantastic activities for all the family. You simply have to go online to get your hands on our free guide to learn about constellations, how to navigate by the stars, play night-games and become a Forest-Star.
I’ve been amazed by all the fun facts about stargazing that I’ve discovered and how stars support our forests. I’ve tested out the new activity pack with my children, it’s a great after-school activity and we were surprised by the world of stars that we discovered.
Did you know that at this time of year, on a clear night away from light pollution there are about 3,000 stars visible with just the naked eye. Gazing up at a clear sky is a magical way to spend an evening, whether you’re trying to spotting the International Space Station with a little astronomer or just looking for an evening entertainment that beats the TV, the clear nights from January through to March are perfect for stargazing.
Although the moon is not a star, it’s a great way to start engaging young children in the night sky, especially as it’s usually easy to spot! On a clear day you can often see the moon during the daytime, and the first stars can appear quite early in the evening.
Of course, the quality of the night sky and the weather will have an impact on what you can see, so we’ve teamed up the Met Office, to enable you to check out the daily cloud cover, using our stargazing map, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/stargazing-guide
Dark skies are important for many of our forest wildlife; they find their way around the dark forest by using their senses such as hearing and smell. If you do venture out after dark you may hear forest’s predators, such as owls and foxes, which are nocturnal and use the bright, full moon as a source of light for hunting.
Although we close our car parks across the New Forest at dusk, you can still indulge in a spot of stargazing at many local open areas. You don’t need a telescope, binoculars are great if you have them, but otherwise simply find a clearing where the skies are dark and look up.
One downside of clear skies, is the cold so make sure you keep warm and wear a thick coat while you try and make out the many different constellations. Don’t forget to keep your extremities warm too with a hat and a pair of gloves.
A free ‘Beginners guide to stargazing’ in the forest is available on our website to download. The guide includes information on where to go, top tips, constellations to spot and some fun activities. www.forestry.gov.uk/stargazing-guide
Securing the future of rare butterflies in the New Forest
By Simon Holloway, Works Supervisor for the Forestry Commission
You may be surprised to know that in my role as a Works Supervisor for the Forestry Commission here in the New Forest it isn’t just timber harvesting that I get involved with, I’m particularly enthusiastic about protecting wildlife. That’s why I’m so pleased to working with the wildlife charity, Butterfly Conservation, on a really important project to help improve existing habitat and create new areas for rare and threatened butterflies. The Pearl-bordered Fritillary is one of the fastest declining butterflies in the UK and the New Forest is one of the last strongholds in South East England.
I’m very hopeful that through this two-year project, which has been funded by a Biffa Award and the Dulverton Trust, we’ll be able to reverse the decline facing so many butterflies by working with Butterfly Conservation and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to enhance and create essential breeding habitat in parts of the New Forest.
The Pearl-bordered Fritillary is so called because of the string of pearls that run along the outside edge of the underside of the hindwing. These and other declining woodland butterflies depend on dynamic forests, with areas of open ground that shift in both space and time, connected by woodland corridors.
Many plants and animals will benefit from our active management, with areas of the woodland floor quickly becoming 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. From early May to mid-June Pearl-bordered Fritillaries are in flight and for me it’s one of the most beautiful sights to be found amongst the forest during summer.
One of our sites that we’re currently improving is Wootton Coppice Inclosure, with further work due to get underway at Holmsley, Parkhill and Frame Inclosures. Forestry Commission contractors are helping with the work to cut back vegetation so that more light is let into the woodland and restoring the rides so they provide important corridors for wildlife. Our Two Trees Conservation Team will also be involved in maintaining these areas in the future, as part of their conservation tasks.
The success of this project will be a direct result of our partnership with Butterfly Conservation and is an all-important part of the broader work we undertake to manage the Forest.
Another factor which could be linked to this butterfly’s decline is the drying out of our woodlands and whether or not this is happening due to climate change. It’s a vital part of this work that the butterfly population and habitats continue to be monitored long-term as part of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, so we can better understand the impacts of our changing environment.
This project also fits well with our New Forest Inclosures Forest Design Plan, which is designed to enhance the forest’s special habitats and features by making them more resilient to pests, diseases and other threats, such as climate change, to help future-proof the New Forest.
Being part of this truly landscape-scale project that is designed to link-up local populations of threatened butterflies really brings a sense of achievement and satisfaction to my role. Along with many of my colleagues, in the Forestry Commission and our partners we’re looking after the New Forest for wildlife to flourish now and for the future.
Never before found in Britain - rare fungi discovered in the New Forest
By Esta Mion, Communications Manager at the Forestry Commission
I recently found myself with a group of fungi foray leaders discussing the familiar subject of our recent campaign to appeal to people not to pick fungi here in the New Forest. We’ve been working with a number of different organisations and experts who possess the necessary skills to identify the unique characteristics of the many varieties of fungi found here. We share the desire to get more people interested, knowledgeable, and involved in the conservation of our rarest and most vulnerable fungi.
I was fascinated to hear that the local group of fungi recorders from the British Mycological Society had discovered three new species of fungi this autumn, right here in the New Forest.
The discovery was made by visiting fungi expert, Dr Thomas Læssœ, who helped the recording group to identify rare types of fungi that had never before been found in Britain, these included Mycena silvae-pristinae, Mycena tenuispinosa and Mycena scirpicola.
Of course, I know that the New Forest is home to many internationally rare species, some of which exist nowhere else in Britain, so it was wonderful to share in the excitement amongst fungi recorders about this discovery. It was for this reason that I attended the meeting with the educational foragers, I wanted to learn more about the fungi they found this season and how we might find ways to work together to encourage more sustainable foraging practices.
Last autumn we launched a campaign that highlighted the importance of the New Forest for fungi and appealed to people to support a ‘no-picking’ code on the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Reports from our staff have highlighted that the concept has been generally well received by forest users, enabling more species to be recorded and remaining visible to all in some very popular places. Leaving fungi unpicked means they can be studied and allowed to contribute to the fragile eco-system of the New Forest.
We’ve still been tackling the challenge of commercial fungi pickers, but as we begin to look at the results of reported cases that local people and staff have given, we hope we’ve found a way that works for both people and nature.
We’re playing our part to help find a solution that still allows for individuals to collect mushrooms for personal use, as it’s legal, however, we continue to appeal to people not to pick in the important conservation area to help protect the New Forest and leave the fungi in their natural environment and for everyone to enjoy.
One way that we are encouraging people to find out more about the incredible fungi here, is by joining one of the many educational fungi events that have permission to take place on Forestry Commission land. These events allow a limited, small amount of fungi to be picked to help identify their features and discover more about the many species of fungi. After all, the New Forest is home to over 2,700 types of fungi, many are rare and endangered species, and some are still unidentified.
The educational foragers that we continue to work with are passionate about their subject and enjoy helping people to understand the seasonal spectacle of fungi.
Ahead of us still lies the challenge of developing sustainable solutions for people to enjoy the benefits of foraging in the wider New Forest area, away from the protected area / SSSI. We are currently committed to approving licensed educational foragers in the New Forest who can help interpret and raise awareness of the huge value of fungi.
So now that the fungi season has ended, my colleagues here will begin to review the outcomes of the current approach and consider how we will respond to the conservation concerns, and develop a new campaign for this autumn’s season of fungi.
For more information about events in the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/NewForestEvents