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Oak, birch, pine, Douglas fir, beech, larch and sweet chestnut – the sheer variety of trees in the New Forest is what makes it such a year-round treat to visit.
As well as looking good, all of our New Forest Inclosures are managed sustainably and we plan and consult up to 100 years in advance through our Forest Design Plan (FDP). Delivering the changes to our woods that are detailed in the FDP and maintaining such a variety of tree species takes careful planning and often requires us to give Mother Nature a helping hand.
Where possible, we encourage natural regeneration of our forests – where trees are established from seeds produced by each woodland’s own trees. This method of managing woodland requires careful thought but is useful as it also requires less drastic change and fewer resource inputs from the Forestry Commission. It’s also a critical tool in enhancing the diversity of tree species and the age structure of a woodland.
However, whilst this method of forestry management is more natural and has positive environmental benefits, there are times when human intervention is needed. This is because our woodlands suffer from a range of pressures which can damage tree regeneration. Heavy grazing by wild deer, as well as competition from invasive non-native species like rhododendron, can reduce the chances of trees becoming established.
To counter this, the Forestry Commission often erects fences to limit the damage to young trees caused by free roaming deer. It’s important for us to explain the reasons why we do this. We don’t want visitors to the New Forest to feel that the fences are preventing them from enjoying their local woodlands but we need to protect newly planted saplings or newly established natural regeneration to enable the forests to thrive for years to come.
Without fencing, all species of deer would be free to eat tender tree shoots and leaves, whilst certain breeds of deer will peel and eat the bark. Male deer also clean the velvet off their newly-grown antlers by rubbing them on young trees which can damage the bark and even kill the delicate saplings. The deer fences also protect the delicate ground flora, providing additional biodiversity benefits.
As well as using natural regeneration, clear felling and replanting is also a useful tool to move our Forest Design Plan changes forward on sites that need substantial changes of direction. In Frame Heath Inclosure, near Brockenhurst, for example we are currently clear felling a conifer plantation in order to restore the ancient oak woodland that once existed there. This level of change on a site that has been managed for conifer production for the last 40 years isn’t something we could achieve through natural regeneration.
Another consideration for the use of planting is to plan to reduce the impact of climate change. Our tree crops will take at least 50 years to grow in the case of conifers and up to 200 years for an English oak. With hotter, drier summers predicted in the future, it is expected that some native tree species will be less likely to prosper in the New Forest and summer droughts could mean some young trees die off early. As a result, we are starting to select and plant species more resilient to warmer and drier climates. For example, we recently planted a French provenance of our native Sessile Oak which should be better suited to the future climate in the New Forest as it matures. Yet another example of how we are helping to protect our diverse woodlands for generations to come…
To find out more, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.