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The New Forest is internationally recognised for its extensive tracts of semi-natural vegetation with particular importance being given to the large-scale representation of three ecologically valuable habitat formations: lowland heath (13,633 ha); valley mire (1,450 ha); and ancient woodland pasture (3,692 ha).

Conservation Designations

The New Forest is a highly protected site. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature reserve, a Ramsar site, and unOpen heathland and moorland. New Forest FDder European designations, it is a Special Protected Area and a proposed Special Area of Conservation.
The following text provides a little more information on each of these designations.

National Nature Reserve 1969

In 1969 a Minute of Intent was signed between the Forestry Commission and Natural England in which the Commission agreed to recognise the Forest as having the status of a National Nature Reserve. Under this agreement the Commission acknowledged that Natural England has conservation interests in the area and consultation takes place on every issue of importance.

 Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) 1971

Parts of the forest were designated as SSSIs in 1959, then the whole forest was designated in 1971 under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Renotification took place under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and imposed a responsibility on owners and occupiers to manage the land according to the notification.

This notification included the requirement by any owner or occupier to inform Natural England of any intention to carry out any of a list of potentially damaging operations. The local planning authorities are also obliged to consult Natural England over issues affecting the New Forest.

 A duty to nature conservation is again emphasised in the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act 1985 and at present there are 16 SSSI’s within the total Heritage Area including the whole of the New Forest which covers almost 29,000ha.

Since 2006 the Forestry Commission have been carrying out habitat improvement works on the SSSI areas to bring them into favourable condition.  

 Wetland of International Importance, under the Ramsar Convention 1993

 Special Protection Area under the EC Wild Birds Directive (1979) 1993

Proposed Special Area of Conservation under the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) 1995

Complementing and amending the 1979 EC Wild Birds Directive, this is a major contribution by the European Community to implement the Biodiversity Convention agreed at the Rio Earth Summit. The Directive has established the ‘Natura 2000’ network which includes areas designated as Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

These areas support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats and species of plants or animals (other than birds) and a number of measures designed to maintain or restore habitats and species.

The Directive was incorporated into British law in October 1994 by the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulation 1994 and implementation is being taken forward by Natural England.

Proposed SAC areas are being put to the EC for formal designation after consideration has been given to the views of owners and occupiers.

To download the SAC Management Plan for the New Forest visit the Life2 website.

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Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) 1967
The New Forest forms part of the South Hampshire Coast AONB which covers 7,700ha.
National Park 2005
The New Forest became a National Park on 1 April 2005. National Parks have two main purposes, firstly to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Parks, and secondly, to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities.


Hampshire County Council has identified 37 Countryside Heritage Sites within the New Forest Heritage Area.

 A number of specific Acts govern what is permissable within the New Forest and seek to protect and manage the area. Four of these Acts are shown below.

New Forest Act 1877
Primarily, this Act recognised the Open Woodland of the New Forest as an amenity, and sought to protect these areas as Ancient and Ornamental woods. These areas of woodland have since that time been subject to silvicultural restrictions with a 7,000 ha limit on inclosures.
New Forest Act 1949
Conservation management of the Open Forest stems from this Act. The foundations for clearance of scrub, coarse herbage and self-sown birch and Scots pine, together with burning to rejuvenate gorse and heather form are laid down in this Act.
New Forest Act 1964
This Act requires the Forestry Commission and the Court of Verderers jointly to have regard for the conservation of flora and fauna. It also makes provision for the enclosure of land for ornamental planting and silvicultural work to perpetuate the Ancient and Ornamental Woods, this being subject to the Court of Verderer’s agreement.   

New Forest Act 1970
This Act of Parliament enabled the fencing of the A337 through the New Forest. It also requires that the Forestry Commission seeks the agreement of the Verderers before providing recreation facilities, for example car parks, toilets or campsites, in the New Forest.  This Act also allows the Verderers to improve the Open Forest grazing.
Special Protection Area (SPA)
 Designated in September 1993, the New Forest is recognised as a Special Protection Area for the conservation of a number of species. These are honey buzzard, Montagu’s harrier, kingfisher, woodlark, nightjar and Dartford warbler with the New Forest holding 75% of the UK’s population of Dartford warblers.

The Directive applies to birds, their eggs, nests and habitats. Members are required to preserve, maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and areas of habitats for all species of birds identified in the annex and are charged with the upkeep and management of these habitats.

The members are also asked to take steps to avoid pollution, deterioration of habitats or any disturbances affecting the birds. There are also various directions that apply to the birds such as destruction an damage to eggs, deliberate disturbance and capture of certain species.

 The Convention states that members should promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands and should be kept up to date of any development that could change the ecological character of the designated area.

This designation was applied to the New Forest in 1993 and extends across the Heritage Area.

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Last updated: 2nd September 2017


General Enquiries

0300 067 4601

What's of interest

You can help conserve the forest by following the four codes of conduct. Details of these can be downloaded from  the Related Documents section  below.

Related documents

Useful sites

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