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Forest Diary - May

Getting outside makes you feel good on the inside

By Esta Mion, Communications Manager at the Forestry Commission

(enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

I have definitely seen more people out on the roads and across the Forest on their bikes recently, making the most of the good weather and beautiful scenery.  I was also keen for some fresh air and exercise however; I discovered that the problem with being an adult cyclist is you don’t bounce back quite as easily when you fall off! 

I didn’t let a few bruises discourage me, falling is part of building stamina and I wanted to show my children that the more time you put into riding, the less falling off will happen! We’re lucky to have lots of Forestry Commission waymarked cycle trails nearby that provide a safe place for those learning to ride their bikes and experienced two wheelers alike. Cycling on the permitted gravel tracks, away from traffic lets you focus on your bike handling skills and it's much easier to practise controlling the bike without stressing about cars.

Nature and exercise are renowned for providing benefits to health and wellbeing and a cycle ride at a Forestry Commission site can provide all you need for enjoyment and relaxation. For me it’s all about spending time with my family, having quality time with no phones, tablets or television.

Exploring the New Forest by bike is one of the best ways to enjoy the stunning beauty that can easily be missed by car. To help protect this unique environment and improve our enjoyment, a permitted waymarked route and road-based cycle network has been created. The network covers over 100 miles and includes many New Forest villages and the railway at Brockenhurst.

It’s important to remember that the New Forest is a working forest, with forestry, farming and equestrian activity on its narrow roads and tracks all year round. Ponies, cattle and other animals are free to roam the Forest and most of its roads, so be careful not to startle them. Please follow the New Forest cycling code, which aims to ensure that cyclists and other users can enjoy this special place in harmony.

Be considerate

Off road, cycle only on the waymarked network of Forestry Commission tracks, bridleways, byways, restricted byways and designated routes
Ride positively and well clear of uneven road edges but with consideration for other road-users. Leave gaps for overtaking vehicles, move into single file when safe to do so and never ride more than two abreast
Plan your route, check for route closures, and try to be off Forest tracks by sunset
Be polite to other cyclists, motorists, pedestrians and residents
When passing people and animals, use your bell or call out a warning and allow them plenty of room. Be prepared to stop if necessary
Do not drop litter or feed the animals; human food and litter are a danger to them
Close all gates behind you so the animals don’t stray
Respect the quiet of the Forest

Be safe

Take extra care near horse riders; a kick or fall from a horse could be fatal. When it is safe, pass wide and at walking pace, to one side only. Look out for any reaction from the horse
Keep to a safe speed, on and off road, particularly on narrow lanes, steep hills and bends. Look out for pot holes, poor surfaces and cattle grids
Look out for and obey safety signs. Do not pass large vehicles and trailers until you know it is safe to do so
Ensure you are visible by wearing bright or reflective clothing
Avoid the use of earphones whilst cycling
You’ll find the code on our website, where you’ll also find information about any of our route closures to make sure your cycling day out goes to plan.

 If you're someone that wants to get out and try something that is more exciting, Moors Valley County Park and Forest has all weather trails, for everyone, right on our doorstep, with great facilities. There is a network of forest road graded trails, as well as blue graded single track through the woods. A cycle map is available from the visitor centre onsite.

 For more information about cycling at Forestry Commission sites across the country and in the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/england-cycling

   Reflections on a year’s achievements in the New Forest

by Nick Wardlaw, Contract Manager for New Forest Higher Level Stewardship at the Forestry Commission.

(enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

 As part of my role as Contract Manager for New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme, I recently presented a review of the hard work achieved by the team at its Annual General Meeting in the Verderer’s Hall. A lot has changed over the last year, and it seemed like a good time to reflect on a side of the Forestry Commission that, day to day, many local people may not be familiar with.

We’re lucky enough in the New Forest to enjoy some really spectacular woodlands – but whilst many of us delight in spending time in the forest, whether it’s walking, cycling or spotting wildlife, few of us realise the depth of studying and planning that goes into protecting and safeguarding the habitat for future generations.

The HLS scheme funds projects in the New Forest to restore natural habitats, including my team’s work programme, which consists of many operations to improve the Open Forest. About one-third of the New Forest is known as the Open Forest – the woodland, heath, boggy area and grassland where commoners’ animals graze. The livestock allows for the species-rich grassland surrounding the magnificent old trees to be maintained in the best condition.  The use of livestock at correct densities prevents land reverting to woodland, whilst allowing for the greatest potential range of species to be found. 

Our work includes the removal of pine and scrub that’s spreading out onto the rich and varied heathlands, such as the work at Longdown, Dibden, Fawley, Norley Mire, Ipley and Markway. It may at first look dramatic, but once we’ve remove the bushes and regrowth, it will allow for the heathlands and wood pasture to be grazed by the New Forest ponies and cattle thereafter.

 

At sites, such as New Park, Busketts Lawn, Boxwood Green and Beechwood Road, we’ve removed invasive Rhododendron to prevent further spread and to prevent shading of native plant communities.

It’s a delicate balance to manage all the constraints, but once we’ve mitigated for restrictions such as seasonal working to accommodate the ground nesting birds and bat surveys to assess for roosting potential, as well as consulting with local stakeholders and engaging with local communities, and statutory consultees this terrestrial work programme can be reflected on with pride.

As well as all this practical restoration on the heathland, lawn and mire habitats, we continue to reverse the effects of the artificial drainage that has occurred over the past 150 years within the mire and stream channels of the New Forest.  Last year we started work to address the drainage that is having a negative impact on the floodplain habitats at Parkhill Lawn, near Lyndhurst and Wootton Riverine Woodland, near Sway. We look forward to completing the restorations at these two degraded sites later this summer. The work aims to re-divert the water into the historical meanders, which will re-connect the streams with the floodplain more frequently during times of high flow, benefiting the species that depend on a naturally functioning system.

Whilst this work continues, there are many more miles of artificial drainage that is having the continued negative impact on the surrounding habitats for us to focus on restoring. Further work to help prevent the unnatural erosion that occurs as a result of past drainage has been completed at many locations across the New Forest, including: Suburbs Wood, Longbeech Mire, Broomy Bottom Mires, Linford Brook Mire, Brick Kiln Mire, Horseshoe Earth, Three Beech Bottom East, Dibden Bottom and Cowleys Heath.

During 2016 we expanded our monitoring programme, including the recruitment of a devoted Monitoring Officer. Environmental monitoring is particularly difficult, as it can often be limited by only being a ‘snapshot’ in time, however, we are committed to developing the monitoring of the work that we undertake in order to inform current and future work programmes. We are delivering this programme with the help from volunteers and specialists looking into a range of effected areas, such as geomorphology and individual species here in the New Forest. For example, last year we commissioned a survey of the Black Bog Ant, one of the rarest ants in Britain, which the New Forest has more recorded sites than anywhere else in England. This particular species relies on a high water table, which is threatened by the past drainage activities with the Forest and is just one reminder of why the wetland restoration is so important for nature conservation.

So much has been achieved within 2016 it gives me great pride to see all the work the team has been able to accomplish. This is before the other project work completed by the New Forest National Park Authority’s heritage team, the educational visits by the NFNPA and further non-native plant removals by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust are factored in.

2017 promises to be just as busy for the HLS Team, with work continuing for all these programmes as well as an expansion of further verge protection schemes and an effort to remove the ridges and furrows on areas of past inclosure that have been opened to grazing. I look forward to reflecting on another successful set of projects protecting the New Forest’s unique habitats this time next year!

The HLS scheme is an agreement with Natural England held by the commoning organisation The Verderers of the New Forest and managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

To find out more about the HLS scheme visit www.hlsnewforest.org.uk .

Last updated: 8th June 2017

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enquiries.southern@­forestry.gsi.gov.uk

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