New Forest Keeper – back to the Forest
by Lee Knight, Forestry Commission New Forest Keeper
To say that I am overjoyed to have made it to my childhood dream job is an understatement. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the Hampshire village of Tiptoe, where I learnt from an early age (with a little encouragement from my father) all things countryside. I was hooked on paving the way towards my dream ambition to be part of the New Forest Keeper team, in the process criss-crossing the paths of many present and former colleagues and old school folk.
Two firmly inspirational role models in my life have to be both of my dear late grandfathers, one of whom was a local village policeman and one a gamekeeper. Combining their passion for their careers, they taught me many of the fundamental values that are essential to fulfil such a role. From an early age it was clear where I wanted to end up and my Mother often reminds me of how proud she and my Dad were when I reeled off the species names of shed wild deer antlers on forestry stands at the New Forest show back in the 80’s - when I was a mere 3 or 4 years old!
Following on from secondary school in Dorset, I set out to complete a 3 year national diploma in countryside management at Sparsholt College which included a ‘year out’ working in Scotland. During completion of my studies, I joined the Forestry Commission’s Two Trees conservation team in the New Forest back in 2004, where I got my first real taste for what a career with them had to offer. Shortly after starting this I had a job offer at Woburn Abbey to work with their world-renowned deer keepers – an opportunity just too good to turn down. I spent two years in Bedfordshire then onto Norfolk as a fulltime gamekeeper working alongside the Thetford Forest wildlife rangers as a volunteer.
I joined the Forestry Commission permanently in October 2009, young and keen enough to take on the ruggedness of a wildlife ranger’s job in Kielder forest’s 70 odd thousand hectares (that’s 172,900 acres in old money). It put both my skills and fitness to the test! I returned to the South back in 2012 to take a Forestry Supervisor’s position - and have not looked back since. Now I am back to my grass roots I really do appreciate that there’s simply no place quite like home.
Deer management is still one of my keenest interests, and remains a key part of a New Forest Keeper’s role today. In such a special place, where wild deer have roamed for so many years alongside human civilisation, they represent a real connectivity to the surrounding historical landscape. I look forward to this part of the job, getting to know the herds on my new patch. I look forward to meeting you all when I’m out and about on my beat, often accompanied by my three black Labradors Rio, Ruby and Ozzie. For the time being its back to the Forest for me. Know your roots!
The Forest Diary, Al Fresco Dining in the New Forest
by Forestry Commission Recreation Ranger, Amy Howells
At the time of writing, we’ve had blue skies and glorious sunshine for the past few weeks. It’s the time of year when we decide to light up th e barbeque and set off in to the great outdoors for some al fresco dining.
The New Forest has many picnic and barbecue sites that you can use; we just ask that you bear in mind some important guidance when you’re visiting this special landscape. The recent dry weather and lack of heavy rain means the dry ground is more likely to ignite. Hampshire Fire Service has been called out to a number of fires in the last few weeks because of carelessly discarded disposable barbecues, which have got out of control.
The Met Office provides a Fire Severity Index (FSI), which is an estimation of how severe a fire could become if one were to start. The FSI shows the current day's fire severity and a forecast of how likely it is that a fire might happen during the next few days. The New Forest is currently at a ‘very high’ risk of fire and if it increases to an ‘extreme’ risk we will have to stop barbecues from being used across the New Forest.
The forest is particularly vulnerable to the risk of wildfires; the majority are commonly started by arson, discarded cigarettes, barbeques and campfires. Summer fires can cause serious harm to wildlife and destroy rare plants. As you know, we live in a precious place and we all need to think about the impact our visit to the forest has, and take steps to keep this beautiful place safe.
The recent glorious weather has meant that people have been able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the forest. Unfortunately, many have being using disposable barbecues on our forest lawns, which damages the grass and leaves behind unsightly scorch marks. The grass will take many weeks to recover and causes a loss of grazing for ponies.
If you’re planning a barbecue in the forest please take a look at the following guidance and enjoy your sausages and burgers safely:
Disposable barbecues are only allowed to be used at sites where we provide stands and water – these are located at Blackwater and Bolderwood. There are picnic tables with metal plates in the centre at Wilverley Inclosure, making this an ideal location for barbecues.
Raised non-disposable barbecues are allowed on the hard-standing areas of our car parks.
Always have enough water available to put out your barbecue
Ensure your barbecue is out cold after use and take it home with you, this includes barbecue coals and ash
Do not dispose of hot barbecue coals in the wooden bins in car parks
Barbecue hearths are available for hire at Anderwood and Wilverley. If you are planning a barbecue for over 20 people you will need to book one of these sites in advance. To check availability of these sites please call us on: 0300 067 4640 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our woodlands are not just a place for recreation and relaxation, or important habitats for wildlife; they’re also an important resource and part of our local economy. At the Forestry Commission, all of the timber that we harvest carries FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification – in other words our woodlands and the way we manage them meet strict environmental standards. Importantly, the timber is also Grown in Britain – an initiative which brings together everyone who values our forests, woods and trees, and the products we can make from the wood they produce. Have you considered where your charcoal comes from? Did you know that of the 50,000 tonnes of charcoal consumed annually in the UK, 90% of it comes from abroad. Sustainable charcoal is relatively easy to come by - many supermarkets, garden centres and local stores sell locally grown, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified charcoal, either loose in bags or as disposable barbecues.
So when you’re planning to next light up a barbecue stop for a moment and consider the different ways that you can help to keep the forest safe from summer fires.
Riverfliesby Forestry Commission Volunteer Ranger, Trevor Bumfrey
As volunteers for the Forestry Commission, we are lucky enough to take part in a wide range of different activities that help to manage, maintain and conserve the New Forest and to share our knowledge and experience with others.
However, I never really expected that the role would see me wading through the forest’s streams – or inputting data to my computer back at home! But that’s exactly what I and fellow volunteers have been doing for over a year now, monitoring ‘riverfly’ populations of the forest’s waterways.
Riverflies are perhaps best known for the imitation lures that fishermen use to catch fish, but they are the short-lived adults of caddisflies, stoneflies and mayflies that live most of their lives as larvae on the riverbed.
Riverfly populations are affected by many factors in their environment and as they are fairly localised, long-lived and sensitive to pollution they are excellent biological indicators to monitor water quality.
One of the key objectives of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) is wetland restoration, where the original meanders of rivers are identified and reinstated, with straightened sections being infilled. This past year, I’ve been involved in sampling the riverfly populations in restored sections of river. It’s been a great experience, from the initial training in survey techniques to the work out in the field – and now, we’re starting to see some results.
At Harvestslade near Burley, which was only restored in September last year, we can see a small increase in our sample figures from before and after which is really encouraging. We were also lucky enough to see Brown trout there just weeks after the restoration, spawning in the newly created shallow pools, and often find Bullheads too.
We’ve currently got 4 sites underway for sampling, with another couple beginning soon. Last week, another 10 volunteers were trained up to join us, so we should be producing a lot more data for the Forestry Commission to add to their wider monitoring programmes, creating a clearer picture of the health of our rivers.
This has been a fantastic way to combine my love of the Forest, of being outdoors with real ‘citizen science’. It’s quite amazing how a little training can open up whole new worlds – who knew quite how important these creatures were in our rivers and streams?
We’ve received our training from The Riverfly Partnership, which is a national charity working to ensure healthy river populations and habitats. You can find out more about them, or get involved at: www.riverflies.org
The opportunity to learn something new and see the change in a forest stream over the season with like-minded colleagues has really been something special, and I look forward to more sampling in the coming weeks and months!
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
It’s not game over for kids today, as gadgets lose out to the great outdoors – with a little help from Stick Man
by Forestry Commission Communications Manager, Libby Burke
If you have children or grandchildren of a certain age, you are probably familiar with the story of Stick Man, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, creators of The Gruffalo. Stick Man goes on an adventure through the seasons, ultimately trying to return to his family in the forest.
At the New Forest Show last week, visitors were invited to meet Stick Man himself in the Forestry Commission’s woodland area and take part in related activities and games – and he hasn’t quite left us just yet!
This summer, visitors can follow the Stick Man Trail through the woodland at Bolderwood in the New Forest. The trail leads children and families through the forest using activity points, enabling them to live the epic adventures of Stick Man, whilst also learning about the importance of forests for people, wildlife and timber.
Using popular characters from books is a great way for the Forestry Commission to connect with the younger generation, encouraging them to venture into the forest and discover for themselves the joy of being outdoors.
Whether it’s hunting for minibeasts, or learning about the importance of trees, the positive impact of outdoor learning on young peoples’ achievements and development is widely acknowledged. However, research has shown that children are losing their connection with the natural environment. More than one in nine children have not set foot in a park, forest or beach for at least 12 months, according to a two-year study funded by the government.
A survey by Forestry Commission England has challenged any fears about the gadget loving generation being permanently attached to their electronic devices. Contrary to popular belief, an overwhelming 92 per cent of children shun their gadgets while exploring the forest and prefer to play with the natural items they come across on their woodland walk.
Fans of the Stick Man book won’t be surprised to learn that a stick was voted as the most popular ‘woodland toy’ with two-thirds (68 per cent) of parents naming the twiggy companion as the item their children mostly play with in the forest. This mirrors the Stick Man story, which follows the journey of the title character, as he goes on an epic adventure across the seasons and is taken further from home after being picked up by children, parents and animals.
Traditional outdoor past-times still play a major part in childhood experiences, according to three-quarters (76 per cent) of parents. Despite modern children getting lots of fresh air while exploring their local forest or woodland – with 88 per cent playing outdoors for more than five hours per week – more than half (54 per cent) of parents believe their children aren’t playing outside as much as they did themselves when they were younger.
Children often get a hard time because they’re accused of not spending enough time outdoors and being glued to their gadgets. Our survey however reminds us that the under 10s love playing outside and getting close to nature. We shouldn’t be too concerned about how much time they’re spending on their electronic devices and be pleased they’re enjoying the same traditional outdoor experiences that we loved as children, which fuels their imaginations and gives them lots of exercise.
Here at the Forestry Commission we aren’t surprised by these results, as we see thousands of families exploring our forests each year. Almost a third (31 per cent) of parents in our survey said they visit local forests every month, with 73 per cent spending between 2-4 hours there, demonstrating the appeal that the great outdoors has for people of all ages.
The Stick Man trail at Bolderwood runs daily from 11am-4pm throughout the summer. Trail packs can be purchased from the Information Unit for £3.
Further details are available at www.forestry.gov.uk/stickman
Fun and games at the New Forest Show
by Forestry Commission Recreation Craftsperson, Dan Taplin
Creating a remarkable display for the New Forest Show isn’t a simple task; it takes time, money, and a little creative flare! There's a massive amount of stuff that has to go on behind the scenes before the event opens and I’m part of the Forestry Commission’s team that sets up our displays.
If you happened to stroll across the showground, you might have been surprised to come face-to-face with Stick Man, dragon’s teeth or even a heather baling machine. Why? Because at this year’s New Forest Show our displays were better than ever!
The focal point of our display demonstrated how we’ve been making improvements to the Forest’s natural habitat and helping to preserve its ancient way of life, thanks to the New Forest Higher Level Stewarding (HLS) scheme. River restoration is part of the HLS work that goes on and the display showed how we are enhancing the area’s precious wetland habitats and naturally hold water upstream. This work involves re-instating natural bends in streams to increase their length to slow the flow and reduce the erosion of boggy mires, which are a vital natural resource for many plants and wildlife.
There was also a river catchment model, on loan from the British Society of Geomorphology. This ‘river in a box’ was a great attraction, especially to children who seem to be fascinated with rivers and ponds.
We even placed my car in this year’s display to demonstrate how we use dragon’s teeth to protect the Forest’s grass verges. Some don’t realise that the grass verges in the New Forest are also designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which gives them national importance for nature conservation. Vehicle damage can cause harmful impact to grass verges and badly affect the landscape, ecological and grazing value of the area. The Forestry Commission is working with local parish councils and the Verderers to help these roadside habitats to flourish by renewing ditches and banking and installing dragon’s teeth.
Setting up this year was fairly straightforward thanks to our great teamwork. Thankfully, the weather remained fairly dry and things quickly started to look good!
No matter what the weather, our marquee gave ample shelter to members of the public and we had plenty of activities to keep visitors busy. We even had stick-themed excitement for children to enjoy, along with the chance to meet Stick Man himself. The area was packed full of families playing games and activities with sticks trying to become sporting champions.
After the races had finished visitors could venture into the woods and join Stick Man on his quest; he’s lost and wants to find his way back to his family tree to be reunited with his ‘Stick Lady Love’ and ‘Stick children three.’ The Stick Man activity trail led children and families through the forest using activity points, which allowed them to live the epic adventures of Stick Man, whilst also learning about the importance of forests for people, wildlife and timber.
The more daring had a go at cycling with Cycle Experience, who joined us in the main Forestry Commission area; visitors could experience using specially adapted bikes or even try out electric cycling!
In ‘The Heart of the New Forest’ corner, visitors learnt about the history of the royal hunting forest and discovered more about the different species of deer that dwell in the New Forest.
I was my twelfth anniversary of participating in the show and as a local, born and bred in the New Forest; I really enjoy being a part of it. I often visited as a child and loved seeing the animals and big farm machinery. I’m proud to be involved with the show each year, it’s such a beautiful setting at New Park that provides visitors with a really lovely backdrop to the county show and the Forestry Commission’s woodland area always offers the perfect spot for escaping the crowds and enjoying lunch under the shade of trees.