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Forest Diary - March

Tree-top nests of the New Forest

By Andy Page, Head of Wildlife Management at the Forestry Commission

I've been climbing up trees since I was a young boy, but never before have I been filmed by a BBC film crew doing it! Why you might ask? Well, BB C One's Countryfile Team were keen to film their presenter, Matt Baker, finding out more about one of the New Forest's most impressive birds of prey, the goshawk.

For the last eleven years I've been involved with a project that's based at the New Forest Reptile Centre, run by the RSPB, New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Carnyx Wild. Each year the project, called A Date with Nature, uses ‘raptorcam’ technology to allow viewers to follow the lives of birds of prey such as buzzards and goshawks in their nests as they breed, hatch eggs, feed chicks and teach their young how to fly.

Part of my role in this project is to help locate suitable nesting sites in the area, and once found I climb up the tree to carefully position a camera high up in the canopy. The scenery from the tree-tops of the New Forest is breath-taking and hopefully you'll be able to share these spectacular views on Sunday 2 April, when it features in an episode of Countryfile.

We hope to be able to capture footage from the nest camera of the birds as they guard their eggs, with the chicks likely to appear during May. Once they've hatched the camera will send images of the family life of these enigmatic birds, up close and personal.

I should explain that this is very sensitive work, for which I'm properly trained and have a license, as these top predators are schedule 1, listed birds. Disturbing any breeding bird is wrong, but it’s also illegal if a protected bird is involved. Positioning the camera is carried out at the correct time of year, before the birds begin to prepare their nest.

I've been monitoring birds here in the New Forest for over 30 years, trying to gain a better understanding of why different species' populations fluctuate from year to year. Birds of prey have been a passion of mine since I was a boy and there's nothing quite like seeing a magnificent goshawk soaring high in our skies across the Forest.

The female goshawk is almost the size of a buzzard and the male is smaller. It looks like a large sparrowhawk due to its rounded wings, but its tail is relatively shorter and rounded at the edges rather than cut square across the tip. The male is grey-brown above with a dark patch behind the eye giving a hooded appearance. Close-to, yellow eyes and white eyebrows create a fierce-looking expression. The under parts are pale and closely barred and the tail is also barred. The female is browner than the male. The juvenile has a buff, streaked breast and moults between April and September. 

Over the past fifteen or so years I've witnessed a steady increase in the number of goshawks and we now have 40 nesting pairs thriving here in the National Park. A combination of the special qualities of the Forest, with its varied habitat, that we keep in good condition, along with an abundance of food is helping these birds to successfully breed.

The New Forest is home to some of our rarest and most exciting birds, thanks to the careful management of this beautiful landscape. And now that the cameras are in position you'll soon be able to visit the Reptile Centre to watch the drama unfold, or go online and watch the coverage. We hope to show the lives of a buzzard and a goshawk, but as it's wildlife we cannot know for certain yet as the birds may decide, for example, to move nests.

I've put the cameras up in anticipation, but we won't go live until a female has settled down in the nest. The goshawk may not choose the nests where I've set-up the cameras, we'll have to watch and see what happens over the coming weeks.

A Date with Nature in the New Forest runs daily from 1 April to 3 September, 10am to 4.30pm. Entry to the Reptile Centre is free although donations for parking are very welcome.

Watch live footage of the birds in their nests online at www.newforestgateway.org or www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/datewithnature.

 

Search is on for the New Forest’s top tree

by Esta Mion, Communications Manager at the Forestry Commission

Ancient oaks and beeches of the New Forest have been loved b y generations of local people, for centuries, artists, poets and musicians have been inspired by trees. They’ve provided us with shelter; we’ve climbed in them and admired them, but is there one tree that is special to you?

Few of us really stop to think about the fundamental role that trees play in almost every part of our day to day lives. So, to mark International Day of Forests on 21 March, we’re asking you to take the time to celebrate trees by nominating your favourite tree here in the New Forest.

One function of this global celebration of forests is to get us all thinking about what we can do to value and protect our forests. Here at the Forestry Commission we’re working closely with the New Forest National Park Authority who is inviting nominations for the shortlist of the New Forest Tree of the Year, which will go to a public vote this summer to decide the winner.

In the New Forest we’re lucky enough to have more ancient and veteran trees than anywhere else in Western Europe, with many dating back hundreds of years.

The search for the New Forest’s top tree is one of a series of events that are running throughout this year to mark the 800th anniversary of the implementation of the Forest Charter. This charter followed on from the Magna Carta and helped establish important rights for people in the New Forest.

You can nominate a tree for the shortlist until 14 May and it could be for any tree that simply has an interesting personal or historical story, or is an impressive or unusual specimen. Perhaps there’s a tree that has a personal significance to you and your family, or is especially old for its species – an ancient or veteran tree.

Of course, one that will probably make the shortlist is the Knightwood Oak, which is the largest oak in the New Forest, at just under 8 metres girth, and surely one of the oldest.  It’s still going strong today and is a spectacular example of the ancient art of 'pollarding', the traditional way of harvesting wood without killing the tree.

Personally, I’ve chosen to nominate a beautiful mature beech tree at Bolderwood, it’s always had a special place in my heart and has all-year round beauty. In the spring I love to see its buds sprouting, then as the fresh green leaves appear it gives us shelter in the summer months and in the autumn it produces the most glorious colours, turning yellow through to that classic Beech bronze.

So which tree will win your vote? Will it be the majestic Douglas firs or redwoods that can be found along Rhinefield Ornamental Drive? Or one of the most visited trees in the New Forest, found within ancient wood pasture on the eastern edge of the Forest, where folklore claims that an arrow shot at a stag by Walter Tyrrell glanced off a tree and killed King William II?

There are so many wonderful stories that connect us to trees and we need to celebrate these veteran trees. The rich history of all that’s happened under their branches is fascinating.

Trees are vital ecosystems too and provide a home to more than 80 per cent of our native species of animals, plants and insects. With the New Forest on our doorstep, we know we’re extremely lucky to have such stunning scenery, a vibrant natural environment for animals and birds and a calm retreat from the stresses of daily life.

So, this week, please take a moment to contemplate which tree you’d like to nominate for the New Forest Tree of the Year. Please visit the New Forest National Park’s website and search, Tree Charter. Or go direct to: www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/info/20068/out_and_about/386/tree_charter/2

To learn more about the Forestry Commission visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest

 

A little on the wild side

Leanne Sargeant, new Senior Ecologist at the Forestry Commission

It’s only been a matter of weeks since I joined the Forestry Commission as the Senior Ecologist, but I’ve settled in really quickly. I’m no stranger to our office in Queens House, Lyndhurst, as I previously worked just next door with the Verderers of the New Forest as the Grazing Scheme Administrator for two years from 2014.

I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to my new role, I bring with me over 17 years of experience working in conservation. I started my employed life with TCV (then known as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) organising conservation work parties for volunteers and went on to work with Essex Wildlife Trust before I moved down to the New Forest. I’ve spent the last year working with the Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust on the Hampshire Avon. I am a keen naturalist, which I think started from my fascination with watching birds in my garden as a child. I’ve spent many hours with my trusty binoculars, wandering the Forest, trying to spot different birds. We are so lucky here in the New Forest, where there are so many rare birds and interesting wildlife to spot - there is always something new to see each time I’m out and about.

So what’s my new role all about? Well, as the Senior Ecologist here in the South of England the core part of my job is making sure Forestry Commission staff adhere to all the legislation around wildlife and habitats when they are going about their daily work, such as ensuring consents are in place for all forestry works affecting Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s).

I’ll be involved in the monitoring of the effects of works carried out on all the sites in the South District, we actively manage just shy of 48,000 hectares of land– equivalent to some 48,000 football pitches or 389,000 Olympic sized swimming pools– and that means our work can be very diverse.  I’ll be working right across the New Forest, East Hampshire and Surrey, and in other areas such as Dorset, so there’s a lot to consider in our region. Luckily, I’m not alone, my fellow Ecologist, Jay Doyle, will also be making sure that the Foresters and New Forest Keepers have the support and information they need about the wildlife in their patch.

As custodians of the Forest, our team of staff are helping to protect our woodlands, it’s critical, not just for our future, but for the future of local wildlife too. From the humble bumblebee to the rare and beautiful Goshawk, we have a wildlife haven that we must protect. I am passionate about the wildlife and plant life of the New Forest and enjoy nothing better than walking or riding through its magnificent scenery. One of my favourite spots here is Wootton stream, near Sway, where many interesting plants are supported by the wet woodland. This includes the wonderful smelling Bog Myrtle, whose delicate foliage has a sweet resinous scent, which takes me back to one of my first conservation jobs on the Norfolk Broads.

What I love most of all about this job is the variety it brings. From understanding the unique wildlife in each woodland, to liaising with colleagues, no one day is ever the same! It’s good to know that, as part of a wider team, I’m helping to achieve that delicate balance between the needs of people, wildlife and the environment.

Deliberate choices about tree planting or regeneration help to manage the delicate balance between different broadleaf, and conifer species, and protect our woodlands against pests, diseases and cope with the projected increases in temperature, and changes to the seasonality of rainfall associated with global climate change. Similar deliberate choices to remove trees to restore heathland ensure that wonderful local wildlife such as Nightjar and Dartford warbler can continue to flourish. One of my favourite walks includes all these habitats, going from Wilverley Inclosure across the heath and down to the mire, gives me a chance to see many of the important bird species.

It’s a delicate balance to manage the social, environmental and economic demands on our woodlands, and it’s critical that this is achieved, not just in partnership with colleagues, but by really engaging with local communities. What’s important to local people is what’s important to us. It’s all about protecting and improving our woodlands and associated habitats, and celebrating them.

So next time you visit your much loved local woodland, remember there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to keep the New Forest healthy and well-managed so we can all enjoy it. 

A Burning Need in the New Forest

by Open Forest Manager, Dave Morris

 The recent drier weather has at long last offered us a brief window of opportunity to carry out our annual controlled burning programme across the Crown lands of the New Forest. We usually start the process of burning areas of heather and gorse in early February, to encourage new growth that brings benefits to a variety of plants and wildlife.

 The cold snap hampered our start this year, but the still-wet ground now offers protection to the peaty soil. Last week we began ‘test burning’ at a few small sites, which determined the readiness of the vegetation for burning and once satisfied, we’ll begin our programme in earnest.

 The target programme this season is 263 hectares – which is only 2% of the total heathland area across the Crown lands. But even this relatively small proportion of heath offers a valuable mosaic effect of different aged habitats, 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.

 Our staff have excellent practical knowledge of the Forest and 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.

 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. They are 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. 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’!

 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-closures

 

 

 

Last updated: 20th April 2017

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