No turnstile in this gym
By Miriam Jones-Walters, Graduate Trainee Forester at the Forestry Commission
At this time of year, getting out in the forest might be low on your list of things to do as daylight hours seem short, but following the winter solstice the days are now lengthening. Winter can be tough on our fitness routines – but don’t despair summer is indeed on its way. The longer days make it the perfect time to start your New Year’s resolution to get fit and with the ‘forest’ gym on your doorstep, and no gym fees to worry about now is the time to make the most of the woods.
As a super keen runner, when I moved to Lyndhurst last September to join the local district, running in the forest was top of my ‘to-do’ list and it doesn’t disappoint. Exploring new routes is one of my favourite things to do, the springy heath and forest tracks make for great running and, in a new bit of the forest, deciding whether ‘back-to-the-car’ is left or right makes it an adventure. When my legs get tired, watching out for ponies and wildlife takes my mind off the miles.
You don’t have to run, just start with a simple brisk walk in the woods, which can help to prevent cardiovascular disease, arthritis and obesity whilst improving your fitness levels. We are so lucky to have easy access to quality green space in this area – running in our natural surroundings is also good for our mental wellbeing and for me it’s so much better than pounding the treadmill in a noisy gym or dodging cars in town.
There are 124 square miles of rugged, unspoiled New Forest to explore while you burn calories, and within it the Forestry Commission team manages over 100 miles of cycle network for you to enjoy.
Like many New Forest visitors, I like to escape the stress of everyday life and experience the unique feeling of calm that the forest brings. The restorative influence of spending time in woodland can be boosted further by all kinds of physical activity, whether you start with a gentle stroll through the trees, or you’re training for your next marathon - keeping fit in the New Forest is never dull!
As well as an excellent environment for mental wellbeing, the natural forest terrain is great for core fitness when you’re cycling, running or walking. Horse riding can also be an exhilarating way to spend time outdoors while also a great all-over work out – you can ride in the New Forest, as well as Wareham and Ringwood Forests in Dorset.
Dogs love to exercise in natural environments – just seeing them enjoy the freedom of running around in a green space can often be enough to spur you on too. Taking your dog for a long walk through the woods is a wonderful way to get your heart beating faster. We offer mile upon mile of way-marked trails here in the New Forest made for easy walking, or venture further with a good map and explore the varied landscapes. Obviously, we urge all dog owners to take note of the New Forest Dog Walking Code. The New Forest is rich in wildlife and livestock roam freely all year-round. You’ll find a link to the Code on the ‘Walking’ page of our website, visit: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-8yfea4
So this year, do yourself a favour and get fit in the forest with the Forestry Commission.
Year in review 2016
by Tim Oliver, Head of Recreation and Public Affairs at the Forestry Commission
As the dust settles on the chaos of Christmas and a New Year begins it’s a good time for quiet reflection about the past 12 months – the challenges, the milestones and the successes.
Here at the Forestry Commission, 2016 was another busy year and the trees haven’t been the only things on our mind!
In autumn we launched a campaign to highlight the importance of the New Forest for fungi and to appeal to people to support a ‘no-picking’ code on the SSSI. The concept has been generally well received by forest users, enabling more species to be recorded and resulting in fungi being visible to all in some very accessible places. Most people have observed the fungi picking code and respected the natural environment and I’d like to thank local residents and foray leaders for supporting our campaign. Now that the fungi season has finished, we’ll begin to review the outcomes of the current approach and consider how the campaign might be developed before next year’s season.
The year was not without its challenges, as plans to benefit wildlife by restoring deteriorating channels at Latchmore, near Fritham were turned down by the planning committee. However, despite the temporary setback with Latchmore, it has been a productive year for our wetland restoration work in the Forest. We began work on the streams at Pondhead near Lyndhurst and pushed ahead with returning over 2.5miles of artificially straightened Avon Water to its natural meandering stream course through Wootton Riverine Woodland. We also continued work at many other small sites across the forest, to safeguard the New Forest’s internationally important wetland habitats and help to prevent erosion washing gravel downstream. This is part of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, which focuses on agricultural and environmental improvements. Wetland restoration brings significant benefits to many plants and wildlife that inhabit the New Forest's waterways. Our work supports breeding waders such as snipe, curlew, lapwing and redshank by restoring artificial drainage channels to a more natural state.
The New Forest HLS scheme has also been helping us to stop the spread of rhododendron across the open forest, where they can have a terrible impact on our natural habitat. Although famous for its spectacular spring flowers, rhododendron can grow to a grand scale, reaching many metres tall, allowing very little light to penetrate through its thick canopy. This has been shown to reduce the numbers of earthworms, birds and plants in a site, leading to a reduction in the biodiversity of the area. This year, we’ve continued to make positive progress on our target to remove all invasive rhododendron by 2020 to protect the New Forest’s important habitats for the future.
Making sure we have a good understanding and assessment of the numbers of rare and protected species that are here in the New Forest means we need to repeat surveys of different species, to see how they are getting on. In 2016 surveys have identified some pretty unusual creatures, including the much misunderstood medicinal leech. The medicinal leech has been in decline across the whole of the UK for many years, with a number of populations lost altogether. The recent survey of these leeches in the New Forest has shown their continued vulnerability, with numbers improving in two of the ponds, but down at a third pond with none at all found in the fourth pond.
But it’s not all bad news, our staff have been monitoring birds here in the New Forest for over 30 years, trying to better understand why their populations appear to fluctuate from year to year? Woodlarks declined heavily throughout the country from the 1950s, but have shown a steady increase here in the Forest over recent years. Our open forest and heathland management has helped to improve and create new habitats for Dartford Warblers and the Woodlark.
It’s only when we stop and reflect that we can truly see how much has been achieved – and the dedication and commitment of our staff has had a huge part to play. There have been many staff changes this year, which brings new talent and skills to the team. I’m delighted to be part of a good Senior Management Team that’s made up of different leadership styles; a good team needs a mixture, including confident people, detail people, creative people, caring people, etc. Although I’ve only been working in this area for eight months, I’ve been really impressed by the dedicated staff that are on hand, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year helping the public get the most out of their visit and leading the fight to protect the New Forest.
But of course, none of this would be possible without one really critical group of people – and that’s you, the public! We’ve had about 14 million day visits to the New Forest and 850,000 at Moors Valley Country Park this year and every visit really does make a difference. Whether it’s paying for car-parking at one of our forest sites such as Moors Valley, or supporting our forest management, your ongoing support is key, and any money generated goes back into caring for the public forest estate.
So, as we welcome in a New Year, there’s something for us all to feel good about! Thank you for continuing to care about your local woodlands as much as we do, and very warm wishes from all of us here at the Forestry Commission for a happy and healthy 2017.
For more information on events happening in the New Forest or to learn more about the Forestry Commission visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest