The start of a new river restoration journey
By Keith Mansbridge, Higher Level Stewardship Works Supervisor with the Forestry Commission
As a practising Commoner, I turn out ponies all year round and pigs during the pannage season. It’s a way of life that I enjoy and my children also get involved, they even have their own ponies. I’d like to think they will follow in my footsteps one day, helping to manage the New Forest for future generations.
I’ve always wanted to follow in my forefathers steps, working and living in the New Forest, it’s in my blood. I come from a forest village near Bramshaw and my family is steeped in Commoning history in the New Forest. I can’t help thinking I was always destined to work in this unique environment. Many of my family members once worked in forestry and my Father also works for the Forestry Commission.
I joined the Commission in 2002 as a forest worker and spent over 10 years as a Tractor Operator. I could usually be found working alongside forest teams operating in all weathers with forestry machines on tough projects. It was my dream job that extended from loving what I did and caring about the woodland environment.
This year, I’ve taken on a new supervisory role with the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Team and I’ve learned so much from our team of experts, far more than I can put into this article. The team have been working hard to protect and restore the most fragile assets of the New Forest - to create a more resilient landscape. When I first joined the HLS Team, I didn’t understand what wetland restoration was really all about. I grasped that re-naturalising the habitat was a positive thing, but I was worried about seeing changes to the historic drainage channels in the open forest.
Now I’ve seen for myself how the forest soils, which often contain a greater amount of organic matter and are less compacted than other soils, can soak up a lot of water and release it slowly downstream after the rain has stopped. Within the floodplain, the ‘roughness’ and ‘drag’ of the woodland environment caused by the trees themselves, and features such as fallen trees and branches, tree stumps, shrubs and dead wood on the ground or in woodland streams can hold back and slow down the passage of water downstream.
Wetland restoration brings significant benefits to lots of wildlife and plant life that dwell in the New Forest's waterways. By removing the artificial embankments that were created by soil dug out from the drained channel, the water will once again be allowed to flow naturally and improve grazing land for the forest stock. As a commoner myself, I see the benefits of this Verderers’ HLS scheme and how it’s made a difference in the Forest.
Now I’m five months into my new role as Works Supervisor, I am looking forward to getting involved with a new wetland restoration project – we are about to start restoring the river to the area west of Wootton Bridge car park on 25 July, as long as this dry spell continues. This latest restoration work aims to return the artificially straightened Avon Water to its natural meanders.
I’ll be supervising the contractors on site during the next 10 weeks of the project. The area will remain open for recreational activities while the work takes place and we’ll try our best not to cause any unnecessary disruption to forest users. The Wootton Bridge car park will stay open and just to make sure that everyone stays safe we’ll be putting up signs and information about any diversions to the main tracks that may be temporarily closed to allow machinery to operate. The restoration works will only be carried out from Monday to Friday, so there will still be regular access for people during the evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays.
If like me, you want our rivers to be returned back to their original course as nature intended, you’ll understand that there is work to be done to restore river habitats and this is just the beginning.
If you would like more information about the restoration project visit:
My year in the New Forest.
by Graduate Forester, Ruth Wilson
Last July I joined the Forestry Commission as the Graduate Trainee Forester for England and was posted to the South Forest District, with the New Forest set in the very heart of its area. I can’t believe it has already been a whole year since I arrived - the time has simply flown past. The first year for Graduate Trainees is spent in the South Forest District, followed by a year at Head Office in Bristol. So after a wonderful year spent among the New Forest ponies with frequent visits to the woods and interesting times spent attending sessions of the Verderers’ Court, I now have to pack up and say my farewells. While I am sure I will enjoy the fresh challenges awaiting me in Bristol, I am very sad to leave behind such an incredible part of the world.
I well remember my first sighting of New Forest ponies roaming the open heathland - I was so excited to see them in real life. Even more surreal and delightful was meeting the pigs out for pannage when the season changed and autumn descended. The pigs were so cute out scavenging for acorns and I loved seeing them as I was out, and about in the forest.
During my time here I have established my own official Forestry Commission blog – The Blonde Forester – to trace my journey on the graduate scheme, but also to highlight the huge variety of important work being carried out by the Commission. It has been such an adventure starting my career in forestry and I love being able to share the adventures openly through my blog.
At the beginning of the year, I had no experience whatsoever in the world of forestry, but as time has gone on I have learnt so much. Although I still have a great deal to discover, I feel my time in the New Forest has provided me with a very solid foundation of knowledge. The Graduate Scheme accepts people of all academic backgrounds so the jump in knowledge was substantial as my background is in Ancient History, which didn’t really prepare me for working out in the woods! Over the course of the year I have participated in all kinds of work in the forest including creating maps and contracts, helping during pony drifts, planting trees, engaging with visitors, operational site visits and so much more.
Looking after the region’s woodlands takes all sorts of people, with a variety of skills. There are almost 27,000 hectares of woodland in the New Forest alone, and it’s surprising what goes on beyond the scenes to ensure that these woodlands flourish.
There has been a lot to learn, not just from a forestry perspective, but also about the local area. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes I was delighted to visit the final resting place of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in Minstead and of course I have also paid homage to the memorial to the original Alice, from Alice in Wonderland in Lyndhurst. These literary links to the area are lovely and have helped me to make a connection to the New Forest, which feels like such a magical place.
I’ve had such a wonderful time in the New Forest and I’m very sad to leave it behind. There are so many lovely little features that I will particularly remember that you just can’t find elsewhere; such as my quiet afternoons spent working in the gloriously historical Verderers’ Court or taking a walk in the open forest and seeing the ponies running free and happy. My year has gone past so quickly and although I feel melancholy about leaving, I am sure I will be back to visit the New Forest in the very near future.
My blog ‘The Blonde Forester’ can be found at: https://theblondeforester.wordpress.com/
Finding a Sense of Place in the New Forest
By Zoe Cox, Community Manager for the Forestry Commission
Have you ever walked amongst the tall Douglas fir trees and Redwoods along Rhinefield Drive in the New Forest? Here you’ll find som e of the tallest and oldest Douglas fir trees in Britain to wonder at as you stroll along the trail. As you walk, stop to inhale the soft scent of wood, or reach out and touch the bark of these magnificent old trees and listen to the sounds of the branches swaying. Woods are places that excite all our senses, the sights, sounds and feel of being amongst trees is a unique experience that I’d like more people to be able to enjoy.
That’s why we’re working on a project that will help to stimulate visitor’s senses at one of our key sites in the New Forest, Blackwater Arboretum. The Senses of Place project will improve the onsite interpretation, including information boards and signs, and provide a sensory and inspiring learning experience for our visitors.
The project is part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Our Past, Our Future project, a Landscape Partnership Scheme for the New Forest – awarded £2.89million from the fund and with additional contributions from the New Forest National Park Authority and 10 key partners, including the Forestry Commission, with a total of £4.3million. 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.
You may have already visited Blackwater Arboretum, situated along Rhinefield Drive. Blackwater is maturing into an excellent arboretum with an interesting range of trees in an atmospheric location. There is a total of over 400 species within this specific collection. The trees and plants are there to inspire investigation and understanding about trees, their cultural heritage, and value to our society. The trees, landscape and habitats within are conserved and enhanced for the enjoyment of visitors. The site is also included as part of the National Arboreta project and is now receiving national support to help with future planting with an accessions policy, labelling and plant health issues.
It’s a popular location for visitors and we’ve identified that a high percentage of special needs groups visit, as the site very naturally lends itself to offering a sensory experience with the added feeling of security in the forest, due to the contained perimeter of the Arboretum.
To help get this project off to the best start, we need to set the aims and objectives based on what visitors will get out of it. Of course, we want access for all – not just because we are legally obliged, but also because we want everyone to enjoy their visit to the forest. Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to interpretation – no matter how big or how small the project may be. This interpretation project needs to be a team effort, so we’d like to get residents and visitors involved as well. We want to find out more about who is currently using the arboretum that has specific needs, but aren’t being engaged with or their specific needs met.
We are working with local consultants who will gather feedback and data from visitors and undertake outreach to excluded groups at Blackwater Arboretum. We expect the final advisory report to include feedback about what barriers are preventing excluded groups from using the site and what the Forestry Commission can do to remove any identified barriers, what improvements can be made to interpretation proposals, to improve existing user’s experience when visiting Blackwater.
If you use the Arboretum and would like to help us improve the experience for visitors who have specific needs, please do get in touch with us by calling 0300 067 4601, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the Landscape Partnership, visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/landscapepartnership.
For more information on the Heritage Lottery Fund, visit www.hlf.org.uk/heritagelottery.