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Forest Diary - December

2014  

 Christmas in the New Forest

 By Maarten Ledeboer, Forest Keeper – New Forest, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

 It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the New Forest but we won’t be closing up shop for the holidays.  In fact, Christmas is one of our busiest times of the year, so Forest Keepers are on site all through the festive season.

Forest Keepers have a unique job - because we live within the area we’re each responsible for, in Forestry Commission owned cottages.  This is partly out of convenience – it’s quite nice not having to travel too far to get to work – but it’s also so we can always be on hand to help in an emergency, day or night and even over the Christmas holidays!  But don’t feel too bad for us as it’s certainly not like having to live at school or in an office; the New Forest is a lovely place to live!

During the winter break when the Forestry Commission office is closed, the Keepers are responsible for keeping the forest in good condition.  We take care of the day-to-day jobs like patrolling car parks and checking forest infrastructure and if there’s ever an emergency in the forest, we’re on hand to deal with it.  Sometimes we get called out to find ponies that have wandered into Forest Enclosures and occasionally we help with more serious things like injured deer or people who have lost their way.

There are ten Keepers that work in the New Forest and we share the workload so we can all have a little bit of time off to see our families over Christmas.  At any one time, there will be a minimum of two to four Keepers covering the entirety of the New Forest, so there’s always someone on hand to help when it’s needed.

With lots of hard work comes some fun too and the Keepers on duty over the holidays will have the honour of helping out with the events that take place over Christmas.  We’ll be working on the New Forest Point to Point horse race on Boxing Day this year.  It’s the only authentic Point to Point race in the country as it’s still run according to the original rules that were established 200 years ago.  This sees horses and their riders racing from one place to another without a pre-planned route.  We’ll be helping to manage the event, looking after spectators and managing any problems that may occur.

The New Forest is especially lovely in the frosty months and you’re more than welcome to visit over the Christmas break with family and friends.  But be wary of icy surfaces, make sure you wrap up warm and take a fully charged phone and torch with you. It gets dark and cold very quickly at this time of year and it’s always better to be prepared.  If you do find yourself in any trouble in the forest, you can ring us anytime day or night on 023 8028 3141.  One of the Keepers on duty will be ready to help.

We’d like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year! We look forward to seeing many of you visit the New Forest over the festive break and into 2016.

For more information, please visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.

 

A forest ranger’s day is never done

By Amy Howells, Recreational Ranger – New Forest, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

The stunning New Forest is a busy place all year-round, even during the quieter winter months when many families gather for winter woodland walks or their annual Boxing Day outing. Around 13.5 million visitors come to the New Forest each year, which means that a team of rangers need to be on-hand to help us protect this special place, but also ensure that visitors can safely enjoy a day out in the forest and learn more about this fascinating landscape.

As a Recreational Ranger, I’m able to work outdoors in the New Forest while combining my love of the countryside and leading public events. You could say that I’ve been destined for this job, due to my childhood upbringing and later experience.

My father was a forest craftsman for more than 40 years with the Forestry Commission and we were lucky enough to live in the heart of the New Forest. This gave me plenty of wonderful opportunities and many happy memories exploring the forest and taking up a range of exciting hobbies, which I continued into adulthood. I love horse riding and am an active member within the local equestrian community, competing in many national competitions. I’m also a Commoner and member of the Commoner’s Defence Association, which focuses on the wellbeing of the countryside and the people who live and work within it. As I tend to my ponies in the New Forest, I have a good understanding of the different perspectives about how the land is maintained and how the ponies roam across the area, which is useful when speaking to local people.

It’s this passion, experience and knowledge that have fuelled my commitment to help ensure this special place is protected and preserved for generations to come. I first joined the Forestry Commission as an Admin Officer in the Recreation and Estates team. In this role I helped to co-ordinate events, such as cycling, and liaise with the area and ecology teams to make sure that the required areas were safe and the trails are in good condition.

A Recreational Ranger was the next natural step for me to take, as it would give me more opportunities to work outdoors while interacting with the public to help them learn more about the New Forest. It can be very exciting, as you never know what you might do in a day and it’s quite creative, as I can help to design new events for our visitors to enjoy.

One example taking place next year is a fun day for dogs and their owners. We’ve created this great family day out in partnership with the National Park Authority, which will be held at Wilverley. It’s designed to educate dog owners on responsible dog ownership, with fun interactive activities that test control and also some fun awards, like the dog with the waggiest tail! If you like the sound of that, come and give it a go.

I’ve been particularly busy recently selling Christmas trees at New Park, which has really got me into the Christmas spirit. Although I will be on duty on Boxing Day and patrolling in the New Forest, I’ll also be chatting with the public at the annual New Forest Point to Point, so come and say hello if you see me there. Rangers are also on call over Christmas to attend to anything that needs attention in the New Forest, such as fly tipping, fallen trees and obstructive parking.

There’s never a dull moment in a Ranger’s day and it really is the perfect role for anyone who loves the New Forest.

 For more information, please visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.

 Winter wildlife

 By Richard Daponte, North Walk Ranger – New Forest, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

 I’m often asked what it’s like being out and about in the New Forest at this time of year, when the days are shorter, the nights are colder and the winter frosts start to bite.

 Personally, there’s nothing I like more than exploring the forest in my winter coat as the temperatures dip below freezing point. The ice, frost and, if we’re lucky the snow, that often covers the forest at this time of year creates a picture perfect backdrop for any festive walk. But what winter wildlife can you expect to see in the forest?

 We’ve been decking our halls with boughs of holly for centuries. It’s one of our oldest Christmas traditions and some of the oldest trees in the New Forest are coppiced holly. This means they’ve been cut back in the past and allowed to re-grow – ultimately becoming stronger trees as a result. But we’ve noticed that the holly isn’t thriving as much as it used to and we’ve been working hard to reverse this. One possible explanation is that our favourite residents – the New Forest ponies – may be grazing a bit too much in some areas.

 We all know holly’s a prickly customer, but this native species is an important winter food for the ponies. These hardy animals have specially adapted teeth and lips that roll back, allowing them to bite off and chew through whole stems of holly and gorse without flinching. If you look closely on holly trees you’ll see a ‘browse’ line, which is the height that the ponies can reach up to and the bark may be scratched too. One of the reasons we coppice the holly is to help the ponies reach some extra food below this browse line, but it may now be harming the health of the trees.

 To test this we’ve fenced off some of the trees in the open forest to see how much effect grazing is having. If we eliminate over grazing as a cause it may tell us something else is going on, such as disease.

 Don’t forget we sell cut holly from our Christmas tree sites at Alice Holt, Moors Valley Country Park, Queen Elizabeth Country Park and New Park in the New Forest though, so why not visit and buy your own sprigs to create your own festive masterpiece?

 But what about other birds and animals who live in the New Forest during its coldest months?

 The hawfinch is a winter visitor that particularly loves Blackwater Arboretum on Rhinefield Drive. It’s a shy bird that has unfortunately been in decline during the past few years. If you’re lucky enough to spot them, you’ll find them perching high in the trees. Look out for a stocky bird with a powerful bill; hawfinches have a rusty-brown back, grey neck and an orange-brown head with a black bib. They’re easier to spot outside the breeding season when trees are leafless – but also when they’re feeding on the ground and hiding among the foliage.

 The redwing is another winter bird and is the UK’s smallest thrush. It roams the countryside and feeds in fields and hedgerows, looking for berries and worms to feast on. Try to spot the distinctive cream-coloured strip above the eye and orange-red patches on its body. Similarly, you might be lucky if you catch a glimpse of the great grey shrike, which is another rare bird that spends the winter here and finds its way to the plains of Stoney Cross. You can identify the great grey shrike by its long tail, black eye mask and pearl-grey plumage.

 Finally, a favourite of many visitors (but not the foresters!) is the grey squirrel. While it’s with us all the year round, this ‘New Forest monkey’ is easy to find because of the lack of foliage and vegetation at this time of year. It causes plenty of mischief by damaging young trees. Despite this, it’s always a lovely sight to see them exploring the forest and foraging for food to keep them warm during the winter.

 So keep your eyes peeled next time you’re out and about to see if you can spot any winter wildlife. In my opinion it’s a great time to enjoy the Forest, so why not give it a go?

 For more information on the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.

12 days of Christmas

 By Zoe Cox, Community Manager, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

 It’s that time of year again folks – the countdown to Christmas has officially begun. It’s time to don our festive jumpers, pull a cracker or two and prepare to celebrate with our friends and family.

 It’s a busy month and some of you will be looking forward to your winter and Boxing Day walks in the New Forest so you can take in some much needed fresh air after overindulging in too many mince pies! It’s such a magical time to explore the New Forest and we’ve got lots of ways to keep the whole family entertained.

 So, to help you make the most of the festive season, we’ve put together our ’12 days of Christmas’ list, which gives you lots of fun and interactive ways to enjoy the countdown to Christmas.

  1.  Experience the joy of buying your real Christmas tree from the heart of the forest this year and help support the UK’s forestry sector at the same time. Alice Holt, Moors Valley Country Park, Queen Elizabeth Country Park and New Park in the New Forest will all be selling Christmas trees this year, along with other festive pieces such as holly wreaths, and holly and mistletoe sprays.
  2. Holly is one of the most popular symbols of Christmas and there is no shortage of this tree in the New Forest. We sell cut holly from our Christmas tree sites, so visit New Park and buy your own sprigs to create your own festive masterpiece.
  3. There are plenty of wintry signs to spot in the New Forest in December. Look for animal footprints on a snowy (or muddy) day or challenge your friends to see how many different types of winter berries you can spot across the forest. Yew tree berries are in abundance at this time of year and are easy to find.
  4.  Visit Father Christmas in his grotto at Moors Valley after a ride on the Santa Special steam train! You can find him there on Sunday 9 and Sunday 16 December.
  5.  Winter conditions mean that the tree canopies are very thin, making it the ideal time to spot the birds that call the forest home for the winter, such as Hawfinches and Crossbills.
  6.  Spot the majestic New Forest ponies which are wearing their thick winter coats to keep them warm and dry. They love feasting on holly and gorse in the colder months.
  7. We may not have reindeer in the New Forest but we certainly have herds of the famous fallow deer! Explore the trails at Bolderwood to see if you can catch a glimpse of these graceful animals.
  8.  Help Santa in the hunt for the golden pine cones on this special family event at Moors Valley Country Park. Booking is essential and takes place on 12 and 13 December.
  9.  There’s nothing better than wrapping up warm for a winter walk and seeing the delicate frost sparkling on the leaves and the crunch of cold ground under your feet. My favourite way-marked walks include the tranquil Blackwater Arboretum and Queen’s Meadow.
  10.  We’re all dreaming of a white Christmas – and if we get a covering of snow for the festive season then make sure you get out and about in your wellies. Make a snowman or a snow angel, start a snowball fight or just enjoy being out in the snow. Please be careful though – especially if you’re sledging!
  11.  If you’d like to give the gift of time this Christmas, then why not sign up to become one of our volunteers? Our Two Trees team will be busy clearing the heath land and ride edges throughout the winter to prepare for the spring planting season. Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/england-volunteer for more details.
  12.   If you get a new bike for Christmas, explore the New Forest’s off-road and road-based cycle network. It covers over 100 miles and is a great way to explore deeper into the forest. Please stay on the way-marked gravel tracks.

 We hope you all enjoy the countdown to Christmas and that you can find time to join us in the New Forest over the next few weeks.

 

Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree!

 By Gary North, Recreation Manager, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

We all know the story of the Christmas tree, don’t we? They were first introduced to the UK in the 1840s, when Queen VictoriFamilies choosing a Christmas treea's husband, Prince Albert brought one across from Germany and displayed it in Windsor Castle.

More than 175 years later, the iconic shape and that pine fresh scent have become as much part of a traditional British Christmas as turkey, trimmings, carols and the Queen’s Speech. You might be surprised to know that we’re still following in Prince Albert’s footsteps though and importing millions of our Christmas trees from the continent. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a tree flown in all the way from Europe – but wouldn’t you rather have one that was sustainably grown here in the UK?

In the New Forest our UK-grown Christmas tree collection goes on sale between 4 - 20 December from New Park Farm and Moors Valley Country Park.

Buying your tree from the Forestry Commission means you’re supporting the UK forestry sector - and while it can take ten years for your tree to be ready for you, we plant more trees every year than we harvest; so we’ll never run out.

The most traditional of trees – the magnificent Norway Spruce – is FSC certified and grown on Forestry Commission land across the UK. The combination of its perfect mid-green colour, delicate foliage and a distinctive festive scent makes it the ideal Christmas tree.

Two of my other favourite conifer species, which are also sold by the Forestry Commission, include Pine and Fir. The giant Scots Pine, which can grow up to 36 metres tall, and the fragrant Lodgepole Pine have soft foliage and hold their needles really well. Similarly, the mighty Noble Fir and popular Nordman Fir also hold their needles and are now among our biggest sellers.

So, what are my top tips to help your Christmas tree last throughout the festive season?

  • Give it lots of water – trees drink around a pint a day, so make sure you keep it topped up.
  • Keep it cool – conifers thrive on cooler conditions, so leave it in a garage or shed until you’re ready to add the festive sparkle.
  • Shake it off – make sure you cut off at least one inch from the bottom of the trunk before you add your decorations and shake to remove any loose needles.
  • Recycle – take your tree back to a Forestry Commission site in the New Year, so it can be turned into compost and used to help nurture other trees.

Buying a real Christmas tree is a wonderful way to kick-start your family’s Christmas, so why not make a day of it by heading down to New Park Farm and Moors Valley Country Park to choose one?

If you visit New Park on 5th and 6th December, then you’ll be able to enjoy the 2015 Christmas Fair with some festive fare, delicious foods and Christmas trees galore; the gates open 10am-4pm. While the conifers love this chilly weather, the temperatures have definitely now reached winter levels, so wrap up warm and enjoy the season.

For more information on Christmas tree sales in the region, please visit www.forestry.gov.uk/christmas

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2014

A word on winter woodfuel

By Partnership & Expertise Manager, Matthew Woodcock, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

Few things sLighting the log burner at Rosliston Forestry Centreymbolise the Christmas season as well as friends and family gathered around a roaring fire, but did you know that up until the industrial revolution wood was the main source of fuel in Britain?

Over the last two hundred years, it’s been replaced by oil, gas and coal, but as interest grows in renewable, low carbon heat sources, woodfuel is making a major come-back. It offers a cost-effective, sustainable way of not just heating businesses but keeping our homes warm and cosy too.

So what do you need to know?

 The financial case

It’s worth taking a look at the Government’s domestic Renewable Heat Incentive. Launched in Spring this year, the scheme is designed to encourage a switch to renewable heating by offering financial incentives. So if you install a renewable central heating system in your home, you could be eligible to receive quarterly payments for the next seven years, making a significant dent in your annual fuel bill.

The scheme is open to everyone, from home owners, to social and private landlords, and even people who build their own homes. It covers a range of different renewable technologies including biomass heating systems – in other words, systems that burn fuel such as wood pellets, chips or logs to provide central heating and hot water in a home.

As winter well and truly sets in, updating your heating system in this way is a great opportunity to cut fuel bills and reduce your carbon emissions to boot. You can find out more about the scheme and the eligibility criteria at https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/domestic-renewable-heat-incentive . There’s also a helpful video from a member of the public who chose to install a log batch boiler central heating system at www.highweald.org

Sustainable supply

Of course, if you’re going to make a commitment to woodfuel – whether it’s for an entire central heating system, or simply a log burning stove for the lounge, you need to feel confident that there is a consistent and sustainable supply of wood available locally.

Many people worry about trees being cut down for fuel. In fact, the reality is that growing trees for woodfuel contributes to the sustainable management of our region’s woodlands.

As part of a responsible forest management approach, trees are felled selectively to ensure we retain diverse woodland habitats, and local wildlife can thrive. It makes a difference economically too. The timber and timber processing industries contribute around £90 million to the south east economy, and provide in the region of 41,000 jobs. This really is a heat source that is sustainable in every sense of the word – but it’s critical you use trusted and accredited suppliers.

For anyone with a wood-fuelled central heating system, that is claiming under the domestic RHI, fuel must be sourced from an organisation registered with the Biomass Suppliers List http://biomass-suppliers-list.service.gov.uk/ . You can be confident that all firms on this list have met stringent standards in terms of both greenhouse gas emissions and land management.

Meanwhile, if you’re simply looking for fuel for a woodburning stove, you’re in the right place! The New Forest is one of the areas leading the woodfuel charge, with a growing number of suppliers in the area able to provide chips, briquettes, pellets or logs. You can find these at www.woodfueldirectory.org.

Choosing the right fuel for you

Once you’ve made a commitment to woodfuel, there’s a couple of key things to keep in mind– and that’s moisture content and density. About half the weight of a freshly felled cubic metre of wood is water, but this reduces to a third when the wood is air dried for a year. If wood is damp, it will smoulder and burn inefficiently (the energy in the wood is wasted in evaporating the water in it!), so it’s important to either buy dry ‘seasoned’ wood or green logs and ‘season dry’ them out yourself.

It’s also worth thinking about the density of the wood you’re buying - hardwoods tend to be denser than softwoods and will therefore burn for longer, meaning fewer top ups are required. For example, oak, beech and ash have the same energy as about 250 litres of heating oil, whereas pine – which is less dense – equates to about 180 litres of heating oil. So if storage space is an issue, hardwood logs are a better solution for you.

 As temperatures drop this winter, why not consider a local and sustainable solution that not only offers a competitive way of tackling the cost of heating, but helps to lower carbon emissions, and support local jobs and employment too.

To learn more about the Forestry Commission visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

by Gary North, Recreation Manager, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

It’s finally December and, all of a sudden, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Or at least it is for me, having spent the last week surrounded by hundreds of Christmas trees!A family choosing their Real Christmas tree

As recreation manager at the Forestry Commission, a key part of my role is helping sites across the region prepare for Christmas tree sales, which started last Saturday, 29th November, and will run right through until the 21st December this year – or at least as long as stocks last!

For many of us, buying a Christmas tree is symbolic of the start of the festive season, and something to be enjoyed with family and friends. These are my top tips for making the most of the experience...

Pick the real deal

Whilst a fake tree might seem like a practical option, the real deal is the best choice every time! Not only do they smell divine, real trees also use about ten times fewer materials and five times less energy than artificial trees. And nowadays, there’s no need to worry about the mess either, with varieties such as the Nordman Fir keeping their needles right the way through the Christmas period.

 Buy smart, buy British

In the excitement and magic of Christmas, it’s easy to forget that the way your tree is grown and cared for really does make a difference, not just to the environment but to the quality of the tree you’re buying.

At the Forestry Commission, all of the trees we sell are sustainably grown here in the UK. The Nordman Firs come from specific plantations in Scotland that are managed by private growers, but regularly inspected by our team to ensure they are being well cared for, and replanted. Meanwhile, we’re really proud of the fact that the most traditional of trees – the Norway Spruce – is FSC certified and grown on land in the North York Moors that is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission.

Growing around a foot a year, the trees need a lot of care, with regular sheering to achieve the right shape, and careful spacing to ensure the trees become bushy and full. Buying from the Forestry Commission means you can be confident that your tree has been cared for and loved, not just at Christmas but all year round!

Embrace all shapes, sizes, and varieties

In my book, there’s no such thing as the perfect Christmas tree – beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and what works for one family, won’t work for another! Some people have pets and will want sturdy trees with needles that won’t fall off when dogs brush past or cats climb up them. Others want a tree to fill their home with a fresh pine scent, or soft needles so they don’t have to worry about children playing nearby. Whatever you choose, the Forestry Commission will have the tree for you – just ask our staff for advice.

Make a day of it

Buying your tree can be a magical experience so why not make a day of it! Sites across our region – from Alice Holt, to Moors Valley Country Park, Queen Elizabeth Country Park and New Park in the New Forest will all be selling Christmas trees this year, along with other festive pieces such as holly wreaths, and holly and mistletoe sprays. There’s always a great atmosphere, so why not wrap up warm, grab a hot chocolate, and experience the beauty of our woodlands in winter. There’s nothing better than the delicate frost sparkling on the leaves, and the crunch of cold ground under your feet.

Love your tree

Once you’ve chosen the tree for you, you need to take good care of it to ensure it’s looking its best this Christmas. Just like a bunch of flowers, if you cut an inch off the bottom of your tree, it will help it to absorb water and stay looking good for longer. Our staff can help you with this as well as advise on the best type of stand. Water stands are great, for example, because they help your tree get the pint of water it needs every day. Once you get it home, keep it outside for as long as you can, and then – once you’re ready to bring it in and decorate it, keep it away from radiators.

Recycle it

When you buy a real tree you can also recycle it. A lot of Forestry Commission sites will take back their trees after the Christmas period to be chipped and then turned into compost, helping your tree go full circle back into the ground. Just ask for the options when you buy your tree.

What would I choose? Well, it has to be the good old Norway Spruce every time. When that festive fragrance fills the room, you know Christmas is well and truly underway! I wish you all a fun-filled festive season and happy tree hunting!

For more information on Christmas tree sales in the region, and the array of festive events that are running this season, visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/christmas . Christmas tree sales at Moors Valley and New Park, Brockenhurst are open 29 Nov - 10 Dec from 10am - 4pm.

Last updated: 26th May 2016

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