Why I volunteer
By Wendy Woodhouse, Volunteer Ranger with the Fo restry Commission.
Being outdoors has always been one of my passions, so I just couldn’t resist the chance to volunteer for the Forestry Commission. I enjoy being out in the woods and really feeling the changes in the seasons. There’s nothing better than sitting quietly in less frequented parts of the New Forest and absorbing the sights and sounds all around.
When I initially signed up in 2011, I hoped the experience would give me the chance to discover new things, but I wasn’t expecting to learn so much! Now I understand more about the workings of the forest, what happens, what doesn’t happen and why that is. I have discovered the hidden history of the forest both in its landscape, wildlife and people, and continually marvel at all the hard work the Forestry Commission undertakes in managing woodlands.
I love talking to members of the public at the Bolderwood Information Unit and helping them to enjoy and learn about this special place. The New Forest is my favourite spot in the whole country with its wonderful mixture of habitats and its fantastic wildlife. Offering to give up some of my time to help out seemed so natural. This can involve many different tasks, it may be assisting with public walks, devising children’s activities for a specific event, conservation tasks - I get involved with all kinds of things.
One of the key responsibilities of the role is patrolling areas of the Forest in the Ranger van, in order to protect the woodlands and assist the public. Jobs can include; checking cycle tracks, gates, putting up and retrieving public information notices, litter picking, talking with visitors, spotting fly tips, and much, much more. Whatever I’m doing, I am just happy to be making a difference and working with other like-minded people who are committed to helping protect our beloved New Forest.
To celebrate National Volunteer Week, 1 to 12 June, the Forestry Commission is offering you an opportunity to experience a whole host of activities across the New Forest, led by the Volunteer Ranger team.
Why not join one of our volunteers and take a Ramble with a Ranger, setting out from High Corner Inn car park (grid ref:SU196107) on Saturday 4 June, 9.30am–3.00pm. You can explore the stunning Ashley Walk area of the forest with two of the Forestry Commission’s Volunteer Ranger team. Discover more about the history of this unique landscape and how it is managed and protected. Join us after the walk for an optional visit to a local pub.
On Wednesday 1 June, meeting at Appleslade car park (Grid ref: SU185093) at 10.00am, there’s a chance to Walk Through Time on a four mile circular walk with wonderful views. The route encompasses signs of mankind's influence on the landscape, via Stone Age, Bronze Age, Roman, Norman, and Mediaeval periods through to World War Two. This tour is offered to anyone from eight years upwards and will finish at 1.00pm.
Alternatively, why not bring your children (8 years plus) along to our Explore the Woods events on Wednesday 1 June and Thursday 2 June, from 2.00pm – 4.00pm, starting from Bolderwood car park (Grid ref: SU242086). You’ll get to experience the sights and sounds of the trees as well as lots of hands on activities and become a wild child again!
The cost for attending each event is £5.50, per person, please book in advance. Dogs are welcome at some of the events if kept on a lead, so please check when booking, call 0300 068 0400.
If you’re passionate about the New Forest, enjoy spending time outdoors and want to find out more about our forest, join us at one of these events. There’s more information on the Forestry Commission website: www.forestry.gov.uk/newforestevents
Ponies need their own space
By Forestry Commission Rangers, Amy Howells and Linda Laker
As Rangers for the Forestry Commission we come into contact with visitors on a daily basis. We often get asked lots of questions about New Forest ponies, in particular ‘who do they belong to?’ and ‘can we feed them?’ As a nation of animal lovers our ponies are a local icon that people can’t help but want to get up close to. But it’s important to admire from a safe distance and not to feed or pet the ponies. The donkeys and ponies that you see in the forest are indeed owned, they’re owners are New Forest Commoners that practice the ancient right to graze their livestock on the open forest.
Today about 5,000 ponies are quietly thinning out the undergrowth and keeping vegetation in check in the New Forest. And while they’re a familiar and much-loved part of the landscape, for the many millions of tourists that visit every year their heritage and significance to the local landscape isn’t at first always understood. It’s a message we’ve been helping to communicate, in partnership with the New Forest Verderers and the National Park Authority.
This summer we are re-launching a campaign called ‘New Forest Ponies-Do not touch’, to protect the wellbeing of our ponies and those that visit the forest, particularly during the school holidays. It’s a busy time of year for us, managing the responsibilities of a working forest and one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions keeping visitors, local residents and wildlife safe.
A unique way of life exists here, where the ponies roam freely. People naturally want to get close to them, but as a result we’re seeing bad behaviours develop in some ponies. Unfortunately, this means that many young children and adults get bitten or kicked by ponies that feel threatened by people approaching them. Also, some ponies have become partial to human food and with over 14million people visiting the New Forest every year – there’s a veritable feast on offer!
It’s a serious issue and we are trying to spread the message about not feeding or petting the ponies – human food, even discarded fruit and vegetables, can make them ill and could even kill ponies. Some ponies will spend time at locations which are popular with visitors, because they are attracted to people with food. We want to encourage local residents and visitors to keep a safe distance, especially at this time of year when there are foals on the forest. Although they look cute and you may want to take photos, do avoid coming in between a mare and its foal, as they are very protective of their young.
Most New Forest ponies and donkeys are even tempered animals and often come close to visitors while they’re out enjoying the open forest. Although many people understand that they are semi-wild animals that live and find their own food naturally, they are surprised to find that it’s possible to get so near to the animals without them running off. However, approaching livestock can be dangerous for you and your family. Also, it can lead to the ponies becoming more reliant on humans for food and draws them off the open forest, and closer to busy roads, and car parks. For some ‘problem’ ponies it could even result in them being removed from the forest altogether if it’s deemed to be unsafe, which leads to an uncertain future for that animal.
We hope that by helping people to have a better understanding and awareness of ponies behaviour we can reduce the number of injuries and allow our beloved ponies to remain on the forest for as long as possible. Everyone loves the New Forest ponies, as horse owners ourselves we too love them, but we all need to act responsibly for our own protection, as well as the ponies. Remember that just like us humans, ponies also need a bit of their own space.
For more information on events happening in the New Forest or to find out more about the Forestry Commission visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest