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The New Forest today is as beautiful as it was half a century ago and its wonderful traditions have survived through the decades. Yes there have been substantial changes over the past 50 years and I’m privileged to have seen them happen first hand as a long serving District Forester for the Forestry Commission.
Back in 1965, I was just a teenager and, like any young lad, I was in search of a career. My best mate and I lived just down the road from each other in Eastleigh and would spend our spare time out in the forest; exploring and discovering new adventures in this giant natural playground. It was then that I decided to begin a career with the Commission.
I was a Hampshire boy so my first ‘beat’ was Hursley Forest and I was really made to work hard for my money! Every day for three years I’d be working on the young plantations and was getting paid three pounds, ten shillings an acre! Then ‘The Great Storm of 1968’ hit Glasgow and we forestry students were transferred up to the west coast of Scotland to support the Forestry Commission team there.
Later I officially became a Forester after training at the Forest of Dean. Since then I have toured the length and breadth of the country, from the very south right up to Scotland and then across from Wales and over to the east coast. In the late eighties, the New Forest beckoned and I returned to see out my career in my home county.
It’s great to look back on how the management and use of the forest has developed over the years. One of the biggest changes has been the mechanisation of forestry. When I first started out I was using axes to knock down trees, now we use harvesting machinery which carry out the work of ten men! It’s also great to see the New Forest so well used by local people and visitors. Recreation was a new concept for the Forestry Commission in the ’60s and picnicking and walking trails were only just being implemented. Now everyone is so mobile and it’s really pleasing to see that the forest is the place to escape to and explore at weekends.
The New Forest has been my home for 24 years now and I couldn’t think of a more special place to end my career. It’s a forest like no other with two thirds of stunning open woodland and the only place to have commoners who turn out their stock to graze the open forest. Although I’m retiring, I don’t ever intend to stop visiting the New Forest and I’m still planning to be heavily involved in helping to shape the future of the forest. It’s strange to think that all those years ago I was planting thousands of seedlings and now I’m helping to survey and record all the veteran and ancient trees in the forest.
It’s been an incredible journey and one which I hope to share with many visitors to come so that they too can appreciate and look after this unique part of the world.
To find out more about the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.
Harry Oram, District Forester