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Forest Diary

 Bracken clearance in the New Forest

by Forestry Commission Open Forest Manager, Dave Morris

 We are just beginning this year’s programme of clearing bracken across about 90 hectares of open heathland in the New Forest. Bracken is a vigorous and dominant plant that can in some areas create a tall, dense unbroken canopy, growing up to two metres in height. In the autumn, this canopy collapses forming a thick litter mat (known locally as ‘thatch’) that rots down slowly. Over a period of several years, there’s a build-up of mat that smothers most other low growing plants, which is why it needs to be cleared.

 Forage harvesting is part of our bracken control programme and takes place each year between now, and the end of October. We target different areas, on a rotational basis, where the bracken is rapidly expanding at the expense of other plants and flowers that are important for wildlife. The cut material is removed and this will improve the site for Forest stock to graze.

 The bracken is cut using one of our FC tractors with a tractor-mounted forage harvester and two contractors will also help us get this year’s programme of work completed. We focus on clearing bracken over acid grassland in primarily flatter, easy access sites that are free of obstructions. The cut material is blown into a hopper, enabling it to be removed from site and therefore leaving the ground free of the accumulated litter mat.

Before we select work sites, surveys are undertake to check for the presence of rare plants, Scheduled Ancient Monuments and the team works outside of the season for birds that nest of the heathlands.

Once cut, the bracken is transported to a central storage site in the Forest where it is heaped to enable the composting process to take place. The huge pile reaches minimum temperatures of around 60°C and the heap is regularly turned (2-3 times per year) water is also added to aid this process. Maintaining this temperature eradicates any traces of carcinogens that may be present in the bracken, especially the spores.

On average, we produce 2,000 cubic metres of forage harvested material each year, which would almost fill an entire Olympic-sized swimming pool! The composed bracken is sold as a soil conditioner, potting medium and for flowerbeds, its ideal for plants such as heathers and azaleas. With a pH of around 5-6 (acidic) it’s really suitable for ericaceous species and we market the product to local garden centres and some national nurseries, including RHS Garden Wisley.

 For more information about the New Forest, visit:

 Many benefits of volunteering

by Zoe Cox, Community Manager at the Forestry Commission

 Research has shown that the more you volunteer the happier you are, combine that with the fact that spending time outside has proven physical and mental health benefits, and there’s a real argument for letting the outdoors beckon you this autumn.

The Forestry Commission’s Two Trees Conservation project offers an opportunity to do just that. Getting muddy, keeping fit and meeting new friends is all part of the enjoyment for any volunteers signing up – and what’s more it provides an opportunity to play a really active role in the management of the New Forest, a place that is treasured by the whole community.

Members of the Two Trees Conservation Team work closely with our New Forest Keepers and Rangers on a wide-ranging programme of conservation tasks. Anyone can sign up, so long as they are 18 or over, and we have a really fantastic and mixed bunch of people involved.

The great thing is, you don’t need any prior knowledge, and there’s no minimum commitment so you can book on to as many or as few events as you like. This makes it the ideal volunteering option for those with busy lives and ongoing work or family commitments!

The sorts of activities you can get involved in vary, but mainly take place between October and March. They’re focused on protecting and creating wildlife habitats across the New Forest. 

From clearing small trees from track edges to removing non-invasive plant species such as Himalayan Balsam, no one day in the life of a volunteer is ever the same. You’ll always be meeting new people and learning unexpected facts about the trees, plants, birds and animals of the New Forest!

It’s this – and the real sense of achievement that comes from working with the team, that our volunteers love the most. They really do play a critical part in helping the Forestry Commission and our partners look after the New Forest – all 145 square miles of it - for people to enjoy, and for wildlife to flourish.

There are many great examples of that work visible across the Forest. With lots of success stories for wildlife as a direct result of our volunteers’ continued efforts – and an important part of the broader work we do to actively manage the woodland, so that the delicate balance between people, the environment and the economy can be maintained.

Here at the Forestry Commission we’re responsible for managing the Crown lands of the New Forest. Encompassing about half of the national park’s total area, it receives approximately 15 million day visits a year, so there’s always work to be done and we simply couldn’t operate without the vital support of our volunteers.

In October, the next programme of conservation activities will begin. With regular events happening, there are opportunities for everyone to get involved in managing their local woodlands.

You can find full details of the Two Trees Conservation Team and how to join at



Last updated: 21st September 2018

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