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Forest Diary - February

 The return of longer days in the Forest

by Communications Manager Libby Burke

Daylight hours are finally lengthening and there are little signs of life returning. Walking into work, along the pathway and lining the ro ute up to The Queen’s House, the Forestry Commission’s Lyndhurst office are daffodils, snowdrops, crocii and irises. To see such bursts of colour after the grey and windy days of the past few months brings hopefulness that spring will soon win out.

This is the perfect time perhaps to contemplate brighter days ahead, getting out in the forest and planning for summer events.

I’ve been putting together the new edition of our ‘New Forest Essential Guide’ for 2018, which this year is a new, compact A4-size, but still bursting with information about this very special place. Look out for your free copy, available at all main Forestry Commission car parks in the next few weeks, as well as campsites and visitor information centres throughout the forest.

Along with our partners at the New Forest National Park Authority, we’ve pulled together a great programme of events for 2018 and ideas for different places to explore in the forest, whether you fancy a change of view or have friends and family staying for their holidays. You can find out about more sustainable ways to get around the forest using one of the New Forest Tour routes, or simply join an organised event to learn more about the wildlife, history and culture of the National Park.

Families are invited to join us at the Reptile Centre, near Lyndhurst, from 1 April, to see lizards, snakes, frogs and toads and also watch the live camera footage of birds busy feeding.

Very soon the Date with Nature project, run by the Forestry Commission, New Forest National Park Authority, RSPB and Carnyx Wild gives you the opportunity to watch live footage from the nest of a bird of prey.

Join our local Forester for a chance to learn about the working forest, on a guided walk on Sunday 11 March from 10am - 12pm (booking is essential). There’s also the return of the popular New Forest Walking Festival from 18 - 28 October to look forward to.

The Guide also features an article about the Forestry Commission and National Park Authority rangers, who you’ll often meet out and about in the New Forest. Some of the team answer some of the most commonly asked questions by visitors to the New Forest.

At this time of year, it’s easy to assume that the ‘quieter’ days of autumn and winter are over and that we’re preparing for the ‘busy’ spring and summer season. But it doesn’t quite work like that at the Forestry Commission…

Over the winter months our work programmes are as hectic as ever, but with a different focus. The autumn saw a successful hardwood felling programme, with timber presented at roadside and sold at the annual Hardwood Auction in Gloucestershire. Christmas tree sales occupied many staff throughout December – though would you believe that the first Christmas tree meeting of 2018 has already been held with more planned soon!

Tree planting programmes began in earnest early in the New Year and continue until around Easter, with orders having being placed and chased throughout the autumn.

There’s also the annual burning programme for heathland management, planned throughout the year and carried out from January through to March – although the unsettled weather is hampering best laid plans this year.

 Our Recreation Team are currently focussed on sprucing up our visitor sites and ensuring that trails and car parks are in good condition for the coming season. Again, much of this work has been planned and prepared for during the winter months. Publications, signage and new interpretation has all been designed and produced in advance of the season. The events programme has been painstakingly put together by Rangers and Volunteers, and the order of works for our Civil Engineers has been drawn up and agreed.

Timber harvesting and operational sites are active all year round, but teams have also been busy refining their plans for future works, tendering contracts and adjusting their plans as the poor weather hampers progress on sensitive sites.

So, as we begin to enter the next phase of the year, we look forward to longer days and greeting new and returning visitors to the New Forest.

For more information about events, or to download a copy of the Essential Guide visit:

www.forestry.gov/uk/newforest

A burning desire for winter to end

by Open Forest Manager, Dave Morris

(enquiries.new.forest@forestry.gsi.gov.uk )

Amongst the sunny patches in our gardens primroses and bulbs are already popping up – a sure sign that spring is just around the corner. Meanwhile, here’s lots of work to be done by the Open Forest Team before the weather warms up and winter finally comes to an end. You might well spot us around those areas of heathland that have been proposed for regenerative controlled burning in February and early March. The recent cold snap with winds from the north-west helped to dry out the wet heathland and offered us a brief window to carry out some test burning, in preparation for our annual controlled burning programme.

The open heaths of the New Forest may look wild, but they need to be managed to control the vegetation and provide good habitats for birds and other wildlife, as well as grazing for ponies, cattle and deer. By control burning small areas of heather and gorse it rejuvenates the plants and encourages new growth that supports a wealth of rare and threatened heathland birds and reptiles for which the Forest is internationally recognised.

Our staff are out assessing ground conditions on a daily basis to make sure that they remain suitable. At first, we’ll complete just a couple of sites a day but we’ll progress to around ten controlled burns a day across the New Forest as conditions improve. The smoke can hang in the still air during periods of settled weather and it’s not unusual for both the Forestry Commission and Fire Service to receive many calls about the Forest being ‘on fire’!

There’s no cause for concern, we are fortunate to have staff who are dedicated countrymen and many in the team are also commoners. Their practical knowledge is derived from many years of working in the Forest and carrying out controlled burning.

Over the next few weeks our programme of work will really get underway, as there’s only a small window of opportunity and we aim to burn about 250 hectares – which is only 2% of the total heathland area across the Crown lands. Even though this is a relatively small proportion of the heath, it ensures we have a healthy and vigorous range of heather heights and ages, which as well as providing diversity also provides us with effective firebreaks to protect large areas of heathland, woodland and private property from wildfire.

Other landowners managing publically accessible Sites of Special Scientific Interest land take a similar approach to burning, which encourages the heather to regenerate.  This includes the National Trust and we’ve recently been advising Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust staff about the use of controlled burning as a tool to help manage heaths which they look after.

We have two to three teams of experienced burners, made up of Forestry Commission staff and trained contractors, who work to complete as many burns as possible in the short time available. Whilst it may look dangerous at first, I can assure you that we have work closely with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service during our burning season. This enables them to build on practical experience and knowledge of fire behaviour on heathlands and how to tackle them in a wildfire situation.

Open burns across the Forest can look alarming to passers by, but the controlled nature and planned programme of works have real benefits for the Forest environment and the area will quickly recover.

Heathland is a low nutrient habitat and needs to be maintained. Otherwise, the vegetation would rot and decay in-situ, returning nutrients to the soil which would affect and ultimately destroy the delicate balance of our heathlands. The wildlife and vegetation actually benefit from our intervention. For example, woodlarks do well on newly bare ground and reptiles and insects thrive from the ‘edge’ effect that is created. Far from tampering with nature, this work is in fact protecting it and ensuring the local landscapes we know and love are here for many years to come.

For more information about forestry operations in the New Forest please visit:

www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest

 Keep running

By Leanne Sargeant, Senior Ecologist at the Forestry Commission

January is finally over - we’ve made it through the dullest, greyest month of the year! Many of us made resolutions that we hope will make a positive difference in 2018, mine was to keep up with running and live a sustainable and active life. This is always a popular choice among those making resolutions and I know from past experience that it’s not easy to maintain the enthusiasm, but the best thing is to start small. If you’re serious about your ambitions, set yourself one broad goal, and several mini-goals along the way. This means you’ll know that you’re on track, and will get that extra satisfaction for hitting each milestone along the way. Here in the New Forest we are lucky to have so many off-road, easily accessible gravel trails - so getting some much needed fresh air and enjoying the Forest is easy.

One of my favourite locations to run is Parkhill Inclosure, as there are a variety of cycle routes that mean I can do any distance all on gravel track. In the winter this not only means my feet keep dry, but also I don’t damage the sensitive habitats. I like to run alone so that I can hear the bird song and catch glimpses of wildlife, provided I keep my puffing to a minimum as I push myself harder. The two-mile Wilverley Wander trail winds through the mixed woodland of conifer and broadleaf trees along smooth gravelled surfaces and short, steep slopes, which is great for those hill repeats when you want to make your running stronger.

If your motivation for running begins to run dry, I’ve found it really helps to take time to enjoy the wonderful scenery and changing patterns of the year, taking a snap of the sun setting through the trees or the deer crossing the gravel track ahead oblivious of my presence. Sometimes I arrange to run with friends or colleagues, this helps to commit me to going if we are meeting at a specific time and location. I can share with them the pleasure of running in such a special place. They have accepted now that I have to choose the route, as I don’t want us to run near the heathland and open areas during March to August when there are so many important species nesting in these areas. It’s lovely to see Lapwing displaying in the spring, but I don’t want to see them in flight because we have disturbed them off their nest in our passing.

The weekly Parkrun at Moors Valley Country Park and Forest is proving ever more popular and a great way to start if you are new to running. You can walk/run your way around, slowly building the time spent running until you can run the whole 5k! I always like going there on a Saturday morning as I can follow it with a lovely coffee in the café. It’s a great way to introduce children to running as well, as you could agree to let them stay longer afterwards and follow the new Highway Rat trail on his adventures around the forest.

Being out in the great outdoors has proven health benefits and helps me clear my head and breathe in the fresh air. Running in the countryside is known to help people improve their mental wellness, so renew those New Year’s resolutions, and get out in to the forest. Remember these easy ways to help you to stick to your plans, enjoy the beauty of the forest whilst leaving the wildlife in peace.

Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest   for more information about the gravel tracks, appropriate for cycling and running.

 

Sprucing up the New Forest 

by Gary North, Recreation Manager, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

It seems that not a week goes by without our office receiving a call about rubbish being dumped on the Forest. Litter and fly-tipped rubbish is unsightly and potentially dangerous to humans, and grazing livestock in the Forest. Litter can be a particular problem at heavily used sites although the whole of the New Forest is vulnerable to fly-tipping.

That’s why I felt so passionate about supporting last year’s national litter campaign, when communities were encouraged to take part in clean-ups to mark Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday. During last year’s events more than 40 community groups went out across the New Forest area and collected over 800 bags of litter.

This year we want to get even more local people involved with attacking the blight of litter! We’re working together with the New Forest District Council, New Forest National Park Authority and other partners to inspire communities to get involved and spend a few hours litter-picking together to make the New Forest even more beautiful.

For many of us, the New Forest is the perfect place for walks and enjoying quality time together in a wonderful location. So I’m challenging you to do your bit and give up just a few hours to get involved in one of the local litter-picks. The Great British Spring Clean, which is a national event, promises to be the most monumental of all litter clear-ups and will take place from Friday to Sunday, 3 – 5 March 2017.

We’d love to have your personal support in making this event truly spectacular and promote a sense of pride in the Forest we all love. Although at first it may not sound like a fun activity, you’ll be amazed at how many other like-minded people you’ll meet at our community litter-picking events. So why not join in one of the special events run by the Forestry Commission and our partners? You’ll find us at the following locations:

Bolton’s Bench Car Park, in Lyndhurst on Friday 3 March 10am - 12pm

Beaulieu Heath Car Park, on the B3054 on Friday 3 March 2pm - 4pm

Wilverley Plain Car Park, near Burley off the B3058 on Saturday 4 March 10am - 12pm

Roundhill Campsite, Beaulieu Road, near Brockenhurst on Saturday 4 March 2pm – 4pm

Ocknell Campsite, Fritham on Sunday 5 March 10am - 12pm

Holmsley Campsite, Forest Road, near New Milton on Sunday 5 March 2pm - 4pm

We are all prepared for these events, with everything required, gloves, bags, grabbers and bag-hoops for volunteers to use.

In the weeks running up to 3 March, I’ve arranged for extra cleaning to be carried out by our contractor. A total of 152km of New Forest road verges will be litter-picked, in addition to the regular litter collections that we carry out across the Forest.

We work hard to make sure that bins in Forestry Commission car parks are regularly emptied to cope with increasing footfall across the forest. However, during the spring and summer, with the rise in visitor numbers and better weather, there is an increase in litter. So should you find that a bin is full, or you visit a site where bins are not available, please take your litter home with you. Leaving it next to the bin, even if it’s neatly bagged up, might seem like the right thing to do, but it poses a real threat for the ponies and cattle that roam freely across the New Forest. Sadly every year, a number of animals have to be put down because they have swallowed plastic or metal left by unsuspecting people. Our bins are animal-proof, but even the most tightly tied bag of rubbish isn’t, so if in doubt, take it home and dispose of it there, not forgetting to recycle what you can of course!

I’m looking forward to working together with the local communities to demonstrate that there are many, many of us that care passionately about this issue and are prepared to do something to help sort it out.

I really hope you’ll join us for the Great British Spring Clean and keep this jewel in Hampshire’s crown a great place to live and visit.

More information about this year’s campaign can be found out by visiting:

www.greatbritishspringclean.org.uk

 

 

 

 

Last updated: 10th March 2018

Contact

General Enquiries

0300 067 4601
enquiries.southern@­forestry.gsi.gov.uk

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