Watch the winter migrants and the spectacular raptors coming in to roost in the New Forest.
By Andy Page, Head of Wildlife Managment
After over 29 years of working for the Forestry Commission, here in the New Forest, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a stunning range of bird life. The Forest has a unique mixture of habitats and attracts such a diversity of birds that it is an ideal place for a birder, such as me.
March really heralds the lengthening days and the prospect of warmer spring weather to come. This is an excellent opportunity to get out and take a look at the many winter visiting birds that are preparing to leave and the first spring migrants that are just arriving. With the longer days and a cold frost hinting at some late morning warmth I recommend that you get out on the Forest early to make the most of the day.
This winter has been notable for how wet and mild it has been, with night time frosts in single figures. The bumper acorn crop last autumn bodes well for species such as owls and buzzard, which are reliant on the ups and downs of mice and vole populations. However, visiting thrushes including Redwing and Fieldfare have been in low numbers this winter. These birds rely heavily on holly and hawthorn berries and although these shrubs cropped well last year. This lack of birds is probably more indicative of milder weather across Europe and a reduced need to push south and west towards Britain. A quiet walk through some of the Forests, holly holms and old woodland, is still likely to turn up small numbers of these birds.
Crossbills have already started breeding and although scarce in some years, are frequently encountered in the conifer inclosures, particularly Highland Water and Knightwood. Siskin are neighbours in the pines and firs, so look out for the attractive little song flight of the male as he courts a female high in the canopy.
Woodlarks are back on territory and despite a chilly wind will be singing their hearts out for hours in an attempt to attract a mate. These birds prefer the heavily grazed heath and grassland that is unique to large parts of the New Forest. Regular stops to scan the open heath and scattered trees, and bushes could well turn up both Hen Harrier and Great Grey Shrike. These spectacular raptors regularly frequent the New Forest in winter, although it requires a lot of luck to spot them as their numbers have reduced in recent years. Where heath and wood meet, Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers are ever present and one always has the chance to encounter Bramblings, before they depart for northern Europe.
Dartford Warblers can be found wherever mature heather, interspersed with gorse is located and will have Stonechats and Meadow Pipits as neighbours. In severe winters these species can leave the Forest for warmer spots near the coast before returning to reclaim their breeding territories. The mild weather this winter has meant many have stayed.
Now is a good time to pick up on two of the New Forest’s woodland specialities, the Hawfinch and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. If you are familiar with their calls then any area of ancient woodland, such as Mark Ash, Gritnam or Frame Wood could be productive, although a little time and patience may well be needed.
A late morning stop for a flask of coffee while scanning distant woodland is likely to deliver displaying Goshawk. Acres Down, near Lyndhurst, is the best place to see this once rare but rapidly increasing bird of prey in the Forest. A dry, breezy and partially cloudy day around late morning should deliver best results. Common buzzard should also be very evident with the additional possibility of Raven or maybe even a Peregrine.
As with much of Britain and Europe many bird species are sadly in decline. However, the New Forest is still a very special place for birds, but you may need a bit more patience and persistence than in the past to encounter them today.
Time to Start Controlled Burning in the New Forest
by Open Forest Manager, Dave Morris
The soggy conditions across the Forest are currently hampering the start of our annual controlled burning. It’s usually around this time of year that we begin the process of burning areas of heather and gorse to encourage new growth, which will benefit a variety of plants and wildlife.
A ‘test burn’ will gauge the readiness of the vegetation for burning and once satisfied, we will begin our programme – hopefully in about two weeks’ time.
Like many of you, what I’m waiting for is a dry spell of weather! I just need a short window of opportunity to implement our controlled burning programme across the New Forest. The target programme this season is about 304 hectares – which is 2.5% of the total heathland area across the Crown lands. But even this relatively small proportion of heath offers a valuable mosaic effect of different aged habitats, which as well as providing diversity also provides us with effective firebreaks to protect large areas of heathland, woodland and private property from wildfire.
We have two to three teams of experienced burners, a mix of Forestry Commission staff and contractors, who work to complete as many burns as possible in the short time available. They will be assessing ground conditions on a daily basis to ensure that they are suitable. At first, we’ll complete just a couple of sites a day but we’ll progress to around ten controlled burns a day across the New Forest by the end of March. The smoke really does hang in the still air during periods of settled weather and it’s not unusual for both the Forestry Commission and Fire Service to receive many calls about the forest being ‘on fire’!
For several years now, we have worked closely with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service during our burning season, to enable them to build on practical experience and knowledge of fire behaviour on heathlands and how to tackle them in a wildfire situation. It proves to be an essential part of their training, and this year their teams will be out with us again.
Open burns across the forest can look alarming to passers by, but the controlled nature and planned programme of works have real benefits for the forest environment. Heathland is a low nutrient habitat and needs to be maintained. Otherwise, the vegetation would rot and decay in-situ, returning nutrients to the soil which would affect and ultimately destroy the delicate balance of our heathlands. The wildlife and vegetation actually benefit from our involvement. For example, heathland birds, such as woodlarks thrive on newly bare ground and reptiles and insects benefit from the ‘edge’ effect that is created.
What looks to so many like the ‘natural’ heathland of the New Forest is actually a habitat that has been managed for many years by human intervention.
Enjoy a romantic stroll in Millyford Bridge this Valentine’s Day
By Richard Daponte, Recreation Ranger, Forestry Commission, (firstname.lastname@example.org)
St Valentine’s Day traditionally conjures up images of red roses, candlelit dinners and telling that special someone you love them.
This romantic date is all about spending time with the people you love – and spending time in the places you love.
We believe woods and forests are some of the most romantic places on earth. The poet Joyce Kilmer once wrote “I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree…” and we find it hard to disagree.
So St Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to make the most of the beautiful woodland on your doorstep and we’re spoilt for choice for romantic strolls in the magical New Forest. We’ve picked the Millyford Bridge walk - a tried and tested favourite of mine, which I think you’ll love too.
This easy 6.6 kilometre walk has a few gentle inclines and takes about two hours to complete, so it’s a great way to spend time with that special somebody out in the open air. Don’t forget to take a map, wrap up warm and wear your wellies, as some woodland tracks can be particularly muddy at this time of year!
The route starts at Millyford Car Park, beside Highland Water and follows the circular loop of the cycle trail (available via www.newforestnpa.gov.uk) through the Holmhill Inclosure and back again.
Highland Water provides a beautiful romantic backdrop, so take a moment to relax while taking in the spectacular woodland views and sound of gentle flowing streams, which all add to the romance of this picture-perfect location. Here you’ll see stunning old beech trees, sometimes known as ‘The Queen of the Woods’, with their elegant over-hanging boughs and smooth grey bark.
Moving on, you can take in the majestic mature oak trees at Holmhill Inclosure, which date back to 1815. You can also see a variety of conifers, such as larch trees, which are loved by twittering finches to feast on. You might even spot green-yellow siskins, redpolls (with their distinctive red patch on their heads) and blush-faced goldfinches.
If you’re looking for a romantic gesture en-route, keep an eye out for the heart shaped clover-like leaves of wood-sorrel, which start to appear across the woodland floor once spring arrives. They don’t flower until later on because of the shady tree cover, but the distinctive trefoil leaves can provide a romantic plant to spot and photograph during your walk.
And it’s not just about trees and birdlife. Be sure to keep an eye out for the swish of a tail, flick of an ear or the outline of a deer’s body during your walk. Deer by nature are secretive creatures and are harder to spot in the winter months, when their coats are darker and they blend perfectly into their surroundings. However, if you know what signs to look for, you may catch a glimpse of them at dusk, when deer are more active, making your Valentine’s Day walk even more special.
After your walk, make sure you treat each other to a cosy cup of tea at a local café or a hearty pub lunch in the nearby village of Lyndhurst. What better way to end the day?
We hope you agree the New Forest is the ideal backdrop for a romantic day out with your loved one – why not make it a St Valentine’s Day to remember?
For more information, please visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.
Helping to Spring Clean the New Forest
by Gary North, Recreation Manager, Forestry Commission
The New Forest has long been recognised as a beautiful place, rich in cultural history, wildlife and habitat, superb for visitors and relaxation. Caring for the core of the Forest, known as the Crown Lands, and its unique wildlife is central to the Forestry Commission and that’s why we’re supporting the Clean for the Queen campaign. As you may know, the New Forest has a very long association with the monarchy since it was declared a royal hunting forest by King William in 1079. This year, her Majesty the Queen celebrates her 90th birthday and across the country we are being encouraged to mark the occasion with litter picks to transform the country into a place “fit for a Queen”.
We are working together with the New Forest District Council, New Forest National Park Authority and other partners to inspire communities to get involved and spend a few hours litter picking together to make the New Forest even more beautiful in time for the Queen’s Birthday celebrations.
So if you want to get involved and meet like-minded people to share your enthusiasm with, why not consider joining one of the three, community litter picking events run by the Forestry Commission and our partners? You’ll find us at Bolton’s Bench car park in Lyndhurst from 10.00am – midday on Friday 4 March, at Linford Bottom car park, near Shobley from 10.00am – 12midday on Saturday 5 March and lastly at Bolderwood car park from 2.00pm - 4.00pm on Sunday 6 March. We are all prepared for the events, with everything required, gloves, bags, grabbers and bag-hoops for volunteers to use.
In the weeks running up to 4 March, I’ve arranged for additional cleaning to be carried out by our contractor. A total of 152km of New Forest road verges will be litter picked, in addition to the regular litter collections that we carry out across the Forest.
The Forestry Commission provides over 130 car parks throughout the forest and each one needs to be kept clean all year round. Throughout the winter months we’ve been carrying out repairs and installed new design litter bins at our car parks. This is in preparation for the influx of visitors during February half-term when many residents and visitors enjoy a day out and make the most of all that the New Forest has to offer.
We work hard to ensure that bins are regularly emptied to cope with increased footfall across the forest. If you do find that the bin is full however, or you visit a site where bins are not available, please take your litter home with you. Leaving it next to the bin, even if it’s neatly bagged up, might seem like a sensible and considerate thing to do, but in reality it poses a real threat for the ponies and cattle that roam freely across the New Forest. Sadly every year, a number of animals have to be put down because they have swallowed plastic or metal left by unsuspecting visitors. Our bins are animal-proof but even the most tightly tied bag of rubbish isn’t, so if in doubt, take it home and dispose of it there, not forgetting to recycle what you can of course!
Ultimately, we all have a role to play in ensuring the New Forest is kept clean whether we’re a resident, or just visiting, we can all enjoy its beauty. More information about the Clean for The Queen campaign can be found out by visiting: www.cleanforthequeen.co.uk
Heritage Lottery Fund put to good use
By Zoe Cox, Community Manager, Forestry Commission, (email@example.com)
We all dream about winning the lottery. The phrase ‘you need to be in it to win it’ gives us hope that there is the smallest of chances that one day we’ll win the jackpot, even though many of us are happy winning just £25. While you’re dreaming about spending your fantasy winnings, it’s good to know that you’re also supporting many organisations across the UK each time you play – and the New Forest is just one of them.
Thanks to National Lottery players, the Heritage Lottery Fund invests money to help people across the UK to explore, enjoy and protect the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. We were thrilled that Our Past, Our Future – a Landscape Partnership Scheme for the New Forest – was awarded £2.89million from the fund. With additional contributions from the New Forest National Park Authority and 11 key partners, including the Forestry Commission, the total now stands at £4.3million.
Maintaining and protecting the New Forest to its current standard requires a lot of investment, so this funding support is a fantastic way to boost the hard work we’re already doing.
The Landscape Partnership Scheme will deliver a range of projects to restore lost habitats, develop forest skills and inspire a new generation to love and care for the New Forest. The partnership focuses on the enclosed lands which surround the Open Forest. With the support of funding partners, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the scheme’s 21 projects will have a real, lasting impact on the New Forest over the next four years. Three of these projects will be led by the Forestry Commission.
A £164k refurbishment of Verderers’ Hall, the home to the ancient Verderers’ Court that stands at the top of Lyndhurst High Street, will make it more accessible to the public and allow more groups to book the Hall for activities, such as educational film screenings about the history of the Hall and New Forest. As many of you will know, the Hall is an active court and plays an important role in the commoning community, so it’s the ideal place to tell the New Forest story. The work begins this summer and we hope it will be finished before the end of the year.
As part of the ‘Conserving the Forest Fringe’ sub-project, we’ll also be able to appoint a new Trainee Estate Officer to work with our Estates Keeper to raise awareness about the importance of the existing historic boundaries, why they need to be maintained and how we can protect the unique character of the landscape. They’ll be working with parish councils and landowners, who can act as champions for the project. We’re recruiting for this position at the moment and we hope they’ll be in post this spring.
The Senses of Place project will improve the onsite interpretation (including information boards and signs) across two of the key recreation sites at Blackwater Arboretum and Bolderwood. This will provide a sensory and inspiring learning experience for our visitors, and will start appearing on site from the end of this year.
This funding has already started to build upon the existing work within the New Forest, and will continue to help us celebrate and promote its fascinating story. Every penny will help us improve the experience for you, our visitors and inspire a new generation of New Forest fans. Soon there’ll be many more activities and learning opportunities at the New Forest, so we’ll keep you posted on our progress.
For more information on the Landscape Partnership and how you can play your part, visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/landscapepartnership.
For more information on the Heritage Lottery Fund, visit www.hlf.org.uk/heritagelottery.