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Forest Diary

Colour yourself happy this autumn half-term in the New Forest

By Esta Mion, Communications Manager at the Forestry Commission.

With half-term week round the corner, planning what to do with the children can get stressful, if like me you’re a busy working Mum, you like to organise days out for the children. Well how about trying to get them out of the house to enjoy all the forest has to offer, there’s loads of space for children to run around, walks in the ancient woods and it doesn’t cost the eChildren playing in autumn leavesarth.

Autumn is a special time of year in the New Forest not least because of the onset of beautiful seasonal colours. In a recent survey carried out by Forestry Commission England a staggering 96% of people said that beautiful autumn colours improve their mood and to celebrate nature’s most colourful season we’ve created a ‘Colour me Happy’ trail to help you discover the sights, smells, and sounds of autumn, along with lots of fun activities for families this half-term.

Throughout the holidays, the ‘Colour me Happy’ trail will be located at Blackwater Arboretum, which is located on Rhinefield Ornamental Drive next to the majestic Douglas firs and redwoods. It’s ideal for children, with buggy-friendly pathways that are fairly smooth gravelled surfaces with one very gentle slope. Short level paths with seats and picnic tables make this a pleasant destination in any season. The arboretum is safely enclosed, allowing young children and families to discover and explore the trees during this vibrant time of year.

We are so fortunate to have the New Forest on our doorstep, so make the most of it and enjoy the wealth of opportunities we have to explore with all your senses – from tasting juicy blackberries, to smelling the damp earth, and enjoying the amazing array of colours of the trees.

We hope that our trail will really get your children, or grandchildren excited about being in the forest this autumn, and that they will also learn something about the trees and wildlife that they find during their visit.

And if that’s not enough, for even more fun in the forest you can download our free activity pack - jam-packed with a variety of activities guaranteed to keep the children coloured happy during half-term, visit

You can also join in the #autumnleafwatch phenomena of our woods by sharing photos of autumnal colours on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. Throughout October the favourite pictures will be shared across our social media. As autumn draws to a close the public will be asked to vote for their favourite autumn image. The winner will win a year’s Forest Discovery Pass, £100 Go Ape vouchers and £100 photography vouchers.

For our details about the Blackwater Arboretum walk and further information about events and exploring the New Forest, visit




Making Scents in the New Forest,

By Andy Page, Head of Wildlife Management at the Forestry Commission

As you walk past a bakery do you stop and take in the swirl of lovely scent that wafts up your nose? Compared to the other senses, the sense of smell is often underappreciated. However, this is not the case in the animal kingdom, where many creatures use scent to communicate and most importantly during courtship.

It’s currently the deer breeding season here in the New Forest, often referred to as the ‘Rut’. Five species of deer are found here, Fallow, Red, Sika, Roe and Muntjac. Each species behave slightly differently, for example the Red, Sika and Fallow have a similar breeding period, but for Roe deer rutting happens in late July/early August.

We manage the Red and Sika deer in their own separate areas, using the Southampton to Bournemouth railway track as a man-made barrier, to stop them interbreeding and making a hybrid species. Red deer can be seen north of the railway track and Sika to the South. The Japanese Sika herd in the New Forest is considered to be the purest herd of this species in the UK.

During the first few weeks of October in the New Forest, Red stags and Fallow bucks start sparring with other males, as their testosterone is rapidly rising for the rut (coinciding with daylight hours becoming shorter). The scent trail of another buck will be investigated to see how he fits into the chain of dominance being established among dominant bucks in the area. These sparring matches often help establish the pecking order among males. As the peak of the breeding season approaches, sparring matches will sometimes end up in antler fights, although many encounters are settled without physical clashes.

A dominant stag, or buck, uses their scent glands to promote their sexual identity to receptive does (female Fallow deer), or hinds (female Sika and Red deer).  They also mark their territory to warn other male deer in the area during the rut. Deer scent gland contains sex-specific chemical messages, known as pheromones, which are made up of tiny scent particles. Scent pheromones travel through the air weightlessly, rather like smoke drifting up from a fire.

 At this time of year I’ve often observed a Fallow buck, or Sika stag, vigorously rub their antlers against young trees to clean the velvet off their newly-grown antlers. You may have seen this type of tree damage to the bark of small trees yourself if you’re a regular forest user. Bucks choose a specific area to mark with their scent, this is known as Fraying.

Another whiffy behaviour associated with rutting is ‘making scrapes’. Generally, Fallow bucks begin ‘making scrapes’ a few weeks after the first rubs can be seen. This activity will intensify as the breeding season peaks and then reduces throughout the remainder of the rutting period. A scrape is made by a Fallow buck, or Red stag, pawing a spot of bare soil on the ground and urinating in that soil to mark his territory.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are getting too close to the deer herds and disturbing them. This has dramatically affected deer behaviour with the herd not able to move freely and can have an adverse effect on their breeding success. Due to people unsettling the male deer during the rutting season, a lot of their natural behaviour, including rubbing and scraping has become nocturnal.

The New Forest has always been renowned for deer, with the largest areas of wild heathlands and ancient woodland in lowland Britain; it’s an ideal place to support populations of deer. Today the population is managed to around 2,000 deer and if you are keen to catch a glimpse of these normally secretive animals, you might like to visit the viewing platform at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary to see a wild herd of Fallow deer.

For more information about visiting Bolderwood go to:




Last updated: 21st October 2016

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