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Forest Diary - May

Safe alfresco dining in the Forest

by Esta Mion, Communications Manager

At the time of writing, we’ve had blue skies and glorious sunshine fo r the past few weeks. It’s the time of year when we decide to light up the barbeque and set off in to the great outdoors for some alfresco dining.

The New Forest has many picnic and barbecue sites that you can use; we just ask that you bear in mind some important guidance when you’re visiting this special landscape. The recent dry weather and lack of heavy rain means the dry ground is more likely to ignite. Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service are often called out at this time of year to attend fires started by carelessly discarded disposable barbecues. 

The forest is particularly vulnerable to the risk of wildfires; the majority are commonly started by arson, discarded cigarettes, barbeques and campfires. Summer fires can cause serious harm to wildlife and destroy rare plants. As you know, we live in a precious place and we all need to think about the impact our visit to the forest has, and take steps to keep this beautiful place safe.

If you’re planning a barbecue in the forest please take a look at the following guidance and enjoy your sausages and burgers safely:

Make sure you place your barbecue well away from any dry leaves, vegetation or wood
Always have water available
No collection of wood from the forest is allowed
Ensure your barbecue is out cold after use and take it home with you (this includes barbecue coals, ash and litter)
Barbecue hearths are available for hire at Anderwood and Wilverley. If you are planning a barbecue for over 20 people you will need to book one of these sites in advance. To check availability of these sites please call us on: 0300 067 4601 or e-mail us at southern.permissions@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

You can bring your own raised, non-disposable barbecue to one of our car parks, as long as it’s used on the hard standing and providing that water is available and you fully extinguish the barbecue after use. Car parks such as Bolderwood, Whitefield Moor, Wilverley Plain, Wilverley Inclosure and Hatchet Pond all have water and toilet facilities available.
Our woodlands are not just a place for relaxation, or important habitats for wildlife; they’re also an important resource and part of our local economy. At the Forestry Commission, all of the timber that we harvest carries FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification – in other words our woodlands and the way we manage them meet strict environmental standards. Importantly, the timber is also Grown in Britain – an initiative which brings together everyone who values our forests, woods and trees, and the products we can make from the wood they produce. Have you considered where your charcoal comes from? Did you know that of the 50,000 tonnes of charcoal consumed annually in the UK, 90% of it comes from abroad. Sustainable charcoal is relatively easy to come by - many supermarkets, garden centres and local stores sell locally grown, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified charcoal, either loose in bags or as disposable barbecues.

 So when you’re planning to next light up a barbecue stop for a moment and consider the different ways that you can help to keep the forest safe from summer fires.

 

Creatures of habit

By Gary North, Recreation Manager in the New Forest

Many of us have our favourite spot we like to always visit in the New Forest, we park in the same car park each time – we are creatures of habit.  I’m the same, I leave the house for work at the same time, eat the same things most weeks, go to bed at a regular time, etc.

I bet you could think of six things that you regularly do every week… now think of completely changing them - frightening isn’t it?

I recently had to change my usual route to work, due to planned roadworks and found that it really affected my routine, but change doesn’t have to be negative, after all my commute to work takes me through a lovely area, and luckily for me the diversion was an even more scenic journey to work.

So why do we hate change? I guess as humans we are habitual in all of our doings, some good and some bad, regardless we often still keep the same habits.

As Recreation Manager in the Forest, my team are involving in keeping Forestry Commission car parks looking good and safe for all users. I appreciate that regular visitors like to park in their usual parking spot in the same car park that they always use, however, we have to carry out essential car park repairs and this means closing some car parks temporarily.

With hundreds of thousands of vehicles using our car parks they are subjected to erosion and the surface deteriorates at an alarming rate. Add to that bad weather earlier this year, and you begin to understand why so many potholes quickly develop.

Regular and ongoing maintenance is a key part of our work and we aim to keep the forest in fine fettle for residents and visitors. The problem arises due to the nature of the materials that are used to maintain the car parks and entrance tracks. We cannot use industrial materials, such as asphalt or concrete, due to the special nature of the Forest we must use naturally sourced hoggin gravel.  The New Forest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is a stronghold for many rare and endangered species, so as responsible land managers we respect the Forest’s fragile ecosystem and don’t introduce non-natural materials.

The hoggin is made up of clay, ungraded sands and gravels, that are sourced locally from areas that have the same geological formations and once it’s been laid and allowed to harden it functions very effectively. The new surface typically needs about two weeks to compress and harden, before vehicles can drive over the surface.  Following heavy rainfall, when the underlying soil gets very wet the process can take longer and unfortunately that means we have to increase the length of time that the car park is closed. 

Essential car park repairs have been recently completed in Longdown, Godshill Cricket, Godshill, Ashley Walk, Turfhill, Cadman's Pool, Puttle's Bridge, Wilverley Plain, Longslade Bottom and Burley. More car parks are scheduled for maintenance works during the coming weeks, Beaulieu Heath, Brownhills, Dibden Inclosure, Eyeworth Pond, Horseshoe Bottom and Setley Pond.

 

It’s vitally important that people observe safety signage and do not enter work sites where machines are working. These short-term closures are needed in order to make improvements and we hope that our regular visitors will understand the need for the temporary closure of their usual parking spot.

While the car parks are being repaired - it’s a good opportunity to explore another part of the forest that you may not often visit. There are plenty of alternative places to park in the beautiful surroundings of the New Forest, so there’s no need to focus on the negatives of this change.

I strongly believe that visiting a different woodland can be a positive experience, and with over 130 Forestry Commission car parks in the New Forest there are plenty of locations to enjoy.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that change is often short-term and in a few weeks the car park maintenance will be completed and everyone can get back to their familiar routine.

Do visit our website to find out more about planned car park closures and take a look at a map of all our car parks.

Visit: www.foresty.gov.uk/newforest-closures

 Wetland restoration springs into action 

By Sarah Oakley, Higher Level Stewardship Ecologist

Much as the future of nature on our planet depends on the richness of biodiversity, which includes creatures of all shapes and sizes from butterflies to blue whales, it is often the captivating mega-fauna that grabs our attention and motivates us into action.  Most people are far more likely to support the protection of elephants in Africa than a black bog ant in the New Forest.

As an Ecologist, I’m passionate about conservation and committed to doing the best I can for the New Forest. My role involves helping to restore stretches of river that will bring significant benefits to the vast majority of wildlife and plant life that inhabit the Forest’s waterways and wetland habitats – mires and bogs.

I’m part of a small team in the New Forest that has over 40 years of experience in re-instating the natural curves in Forest streams, infilling deep man-made drains, and reducing damaging erosion in our fragile mires.


Last year, we re-created the old meanders on the upstream half of the course through Wootton Riverine Woodland, near Sway (as far as Wootton Bridge), but there is still work to be done downstream. The next step begins this week, when we continue the work on the stretch of river downstream of Wootton Bridge car park.

This latest restoration work will slow the water flow, allowing time for the wetland habitats to absorb the rainfall and help to prevent flash floods that can pose a risk to local properties downstream. By restoring the natural path of the river we are helping to make sure that the Avon Water and surrounding area is more resilient. Long-term, the restoration will improve water quality and produce diverse habitat for everything from water plants to insects.

I’ll be working closely with the contractors on site during the next 10 weeks of the project. This is truly invaluable work and it’s sometimes pretty exciting to see what can be achieved.

The area will remain open for recreational activities while the work takes place and we’ll try our best not to cause any unnecessary disruption to forest users. The Wootton Bridge car park will stay open (and nearby Brownhills, Broadley and Osmond Bushes) and just to make sure that everyone stays safe we’ve put up signs and information about any diversions to the main tracks that may be temporarily closed to allow machinery to operate. The restoration works will only be carried out from Monday to Friday, so there will still be regular access for people during the evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays.

If like me, you want our rivers to be returned back to their original course as nature intended, you’ll understand why this work needs to be done to restore our river habitats.

If you would like more information about the restoration project visit:

www.hlsnewforest.org.uk/projects/wetland-restoration

Hues of blue in the New Forest

by Communications Manager, Esta Mion

 The cold snaps we had in March this year mean that we’ve seen a delay in the flowering of our favourite woodland plants. You may have seen the wood anemones and enjoyed the primroses, and if you’re quick you are still in with a good chance of enjoying the splash of blue hue that bluebells bring to our woodlands in late spring.

 Now is the ideal time to see carpets of the sweet-scented blooms, as they flower before the surrounding trees come out into full leaf.

 Native bluebells are predominantly found in mature broadleaf woodlands or along hedgerows in moist, shady conditions – but here in the New Forest, you’ll have to restrict your search to those woodlands enclosed from grazing animals!

 You may be lucky enough to enjoy bluebells in your own garden too, but increasingly, these are found not to be of our native variety but a Spanish form which is quickly hybridising with our native bluebells. Easy to tell apart immediately due to their lack of that familiar springtime scent, the Spanish bluebell also has blue stamen, curved petals and lighter blue flowers that grow on both sides of the stem. Our native bluebells have dark blue, scented flowers that grow from only one side of their curved stems. Their stamen and pollen are cream coloured and their petals usually curve backwards or inwards.

 Carpets of bluebells are the iconic symbol of British woodlands, but the native bluebell may soon be a rarity. Experts predict that the native bluebell could be overtaken by hybrid varieties within a generation. Growth of hybrid bluebells is vigorous and overtaking the native variety in many places. This means the British bluebell landscape, however beautiful, is changing. Native bluebells may be much harder to find for the next generation of woodland visitors.

 The Forestry Commission website lists some of our top woodland sites across the country to see bluebells each spring, but if you’d like see them more locally, try a gentle walk through Pondhead Inclosure near Lyndhurst which is an ideal spot to see bluebells, or head to the north of the New Forest, where it’s often quieter and seek out the bluebells in Sloden Inclosure, near Fritham. Also, the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve, Roydon Woods, near Brockenhurst, is an excellent place to look at the stunning displays of bluebells.

 Just remember at this time of year there are birds nesting on the ground, as well as in trees, so please keep yourself and your dogs to the main gravel tracks while you’re out walking, cycling or horse riding, so the birds and young chicks are not disturbed.

 And one final reminder about bluebells and the forest’s other wild flowers, they are protected by law and should be left for everyone to enjoy, including the bees and other insects that need their nectar.

For more information about the New Forest, visit: www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest

 New Volunteers give back to the New Forest 

by Zoe Cox, Community Manager

There are many reasons why people volunteer with the Forestry Commission. For some it’s to meet like-minded people, whilst others want to gain experience. Volunteers can learn new, and develop existing skills, meet people, and help to give something back to the area. What unites us all though, is caring for the New Forest.

Last week, we welcomed 12 new volunteers to join our dedicated team of Volunteer Rangers. The Volunteer Ranger Service has been running for 19 years and during that time, many local people have joined us at the Forestry Commission to devote their free time to the New Forest. Whether their interest is in the ecology and landscape of the forest, interacting with visitors or getting their hands dirty carrying out conservation tasks, they each bring with them bundles of energy and a camaraderie that is second to none.

Our new Volunteers Rangers join us from all walks of life and for many different reasons. The role they play is integral to helping enhancing visitor enjoyment, while other tasks include conserving wildlife and habitats. Their duties will involve leading and helping with events, assisting visitors and providing invaluable support to our New Forest Keeper and Ranger teams.

We recognise that volunteers require satisfying work and personal development and we will seek to help volunteers meet these needs, as well as providing the training to do their work effectively. The Volunteer Coordinator leads this group, manages their tasks, provides valuable support and even helps to organise their social events!

Our new Volunteer Rangers each have a deep love of the Forest and that’s why they were inspired to join us. They’ve already got started, preparing for the busy summer season. The volunteers play a key role in being the public face of the Forestry Commission and act as our eyes and ears. This includes patrolling the forest and leading events for people to learn more about the special habitats and species that live in the forest.

Members of our Two Trees Conservation Team work closely with the Volunteer Rangers on a programme of conservation tasks. There are all sorts of activities they get involved in, but they mainly take place between October and March each year. They’re focus is on protecting and creating wildlife habitats across the New Forest. 

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 14 million day visits a year, so there’s always work to be done and we simply couldn’t operate without the support of our volunteers.

If you are out and about in the Forest during the half-term break, you might meet one of our new volunteers, as they welcome new and returning visitors to the woods.

The new volunteers join our existing team that enjoy the variety of tasks, the contact with our staff and developing their own knowledge, as well as then sharing it with others. We now have over 70 Volunteer Rangers who give up their time to help to care for and protect this special place.

Volunteers are a core part of our team and the Forestry Commission’s ambassadors, so we’re incredibly proud and grateful for the support they provide. They help us do so much more out in the woods, but also bring to our team a wealth of experiences and interests.

 You’ll find more information on volunteering in the New Forest on our website: www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest

 

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: 30th June 2018

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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.