The heathlands of the New Forest, often referred to as the Open Forest, cover approximately 18,000 hectares.
The open forest is made up of a variety of habitats from areas of dry heath to wet valley mires. In order to maintain its traditional character and value for the grazing commoning stock there is an extensive Open Forest management programme which includes:
- Controlled burning
- Bracken management
- Mowing and swiping
- Birch and pine clearance
In order to promote the regeneration of fresh young growth, the Forestry Commission undertakes controlled burning of gorse and heather, and the harvesting of bracken.
Burning of gorse and heather encourages new growth which is beneficial to a variety of flora and fauna, and creates food for commoning stock. It also results in a mosaic of different aged habitats which creates effective fire breaks to protect large areas of heathland, woodland and private property from wildfire.
Burning starts on the first working day in November and ends on the last working day of March each year.
Bracken is a vigorous and dominant plant that can create a tall, dense canopy up to six feet in height. When it collapses each autumn, the understorey plant species can be smothered.
It encroaches onto the open heathland areas and it is here that the Forestry Commission controls the growth by swiping it down, chemically treating it or cutting the foliage and turning it into garden mulch which is sold in local nurseries and garden centres.
All bracken control takes place during the summer.
Much of the vegetation actually benefits from cutting or burning as vigorous new growth helps to create a diverse Open Forest environment.