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Forest Diary - June

An an expert guide to wildlife watching in the New Forest

By Richard Daponte, Recreation Ranger at the Forestry Commission

Did you know that amongst trees and heathland here in the New Forest t here are some very special residents? The New Forest is home to many reptiles and amphibians and if you want to see them up-close you should visit the Reptile Centre, near Lyndhurst.

Back in 2006, we set up an exciting new project with the RSPB, the New Forest National Park Authority, the Forestry Commission and Carnyx Wild, to give visitors a unique wildlife spectacle of rare birds and increase the understanding of the reptiles found here in the Forest.

The project, now into its eleventh year, is a great example of partnership working and last year over 21,500 people visit the Centre. Last Wednesday, many came to our popular ‘Wild Wednesdays’ event that I regularly run, inspired by the wildlife and nature found in the New Forest.

Our aim is to show visitors our shy and elusive reptiles and amphibians that are native to the UK mainland. We have pods that contain different creatures; in pod one you’ll find Common Lizards, Common Frogs, Natterjack Toads and Slow Worms.

Look for Common Lizards basking on the logs - they’re usually dark brown with streamlined bodies. A favourite with children, are Common Frogs that you can spot anywhere around the ponds here, but you’ll have to look hard as they are very well camouflaged. Also difficult to find are the Slow Worms, as they spend most of their time underground. They look like snakes, but are actually lizards - you may catch a glimpse of their small scaly bodies that have a metallic appearance.

Natterjack toads are Britain’s rarest toad and are no longer found in the wild here in the New Forest. The only way to save them is through conserving the habitat where they once thrived. In pod one, you might see them on the big mossy log at the front of the pod, or you may hear their loud croak, as it’s said to be the loudest of any amphibian in Europe!

In pod two you’re sure to see the stars of the Reptile Centre, the Adders, who are often on the log, on the right, showing off their bold, dark zig-zag markings along their backs. Adders do have a dangerous bite, but they rarely use it on humans, they eat small rodents such as mice. Adders can live for about 20 years and grow up to 60cm in length.

Smooth snakes are the smallest of the three snakes we have and are often confused with Slow Worms. Their distinguishing feature is the Ace of Clubs marking, or crown, on their heads. They are very difficult to spot in pod three, as well in the wild!

The biggest snake you’ll see here is the Grass snake, which can grow up to 90cm long! It has no zig-zag markings and can be distinguished by its yellow neck markings. Grass snakes are very shy and don’t like to be disturbed, but if you’re quiet you might see one basking in front of the bushy ferns, or cooling off in the water in pod four.

Over the year’s we’ve managed to have great breeding success of Sand Lizards, but the best way to conserve these rare lizards is to safeguard their heathland habitat. If you watch carefully in pod five, you will see the male Sand Lizards with their bright green markings at this time of year.

Pod six is the green frog pod; these are not necessarily considered native frogs, they have been introduced. Despite the name, they are not always green and they are often seen floating by the edge of the big pond, with their heads sticking out.

In pod seven there are the Common toads, which are not particularly common nowadays because of the lack of ditches and ponds. Whilst they spend most of the year away from ponds, they still need water to breed in. Look around the sandy patch in the front of the pod because, just like in the wild, they often sit for hours in a favourite spot waiting for insects or worms to come along!

If you wish to find out more, why not join me at the next Wild Wednesday event, which run every Wednesday during the school holidays, 30 July and 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 August. With fun activities for the whole family, you can learn about the New Forest’s birds and reptiles – and perhaps even meet some face to face!

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

Everybody needs good neighbours

by Forestry Commission Estates Officer, Sean Marsh

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

 With an estimated 34,000 people living in the 26,812 hectares of the New Forest National Park, it is the most densely populated national park in England. Here, much like the rest of the UK, when we want to make changes to our property there are a number of factors we need to consider including talking to our neighbours. But what many of us don’t realise is that with almost half of the land in the New Forest National Park in public ownership, the definition of neighbour can be really quite varied!

We are lucky enough to live in a truly unique part of the world, and there are many organisations working in the community’s interest to ensure that we safeguard the important characteristics of the place we all call home. So who are our neighbours?

Here at The Forestry Commission we manage a lot of land in the New Forest, making us the ‘next-door neighbour’ for many people. We work hard to protect and improve the New Forest’s 145 square miles of woodland and open heathland. We grant licenses to homeowners so that they can cross the forest land in order to access their properties. If you’re purchasing a new home or looking to make changes to your existing property in the open forest, it’s always worth checking to see if you have a licence and making sure that you understand the rights that are granted before undertaking any works.

Animals are a big part of life here in the New Forest and each year, an average of 7000 ponies, cattle and donkeys owned by Commoners graze the open forest including the verges between private properties and the public highway.

A common condition of access licences aims to protect our hungriest neighbours – the New Forest ponies! We’re all used to seeing ponies grazing the edges of driveways but many of us don’t realise that using a hard material such as pea shingle on our driveways can cause severe damage to their teeth, leading to painful mouth infections and even starvation. That’s one of the reasons why licences for driveways specify that only locally sourced ‘hoggin’ should be used.

Considering the rights of others when making changes to your property is key if we are to maintain the unique nature of the area - and this is something that is very much front of mind for the Verderers. Their role is to protect and administer the New Forest’s unique agricultural commoning practices.

But it’s not just the animals that make the New Forest special. The spectacular habitat we have on our doorstep, and the unique nature of the vegetation is recognised at a national level with the New Forest designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England. What might seem like small changes – for example putting paving slabs on the grass verge by your garden gate, can destroy the vegetation and cause irreversible damage to the SSSI.  

Similar planning processes and policies apply in a rural forest environment as they would in an urban setting. One of the duties of the New Forest National Park Authority is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and history of the New Forest that we all know and love. Many changes to a property or its access must have planning permission from the Authority, so if you’re thinking of making changes, bear this in mind.

In the New Forest we have an abundance of neighbours that make it a very special community. We are all focused on one common goal – keeping the New Forest the beautiful and tranquil place that it is today. Working together, we can make sure this wonderful part of the world is protected and most of all we can build good working relationships with our neighbours.

For advice regarding access licences for properties in the New Forest contact my colleagues in the Estates Team at the Forestry Commission, by emailing enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

To check if the Forestry Commission manages land bordering your property, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/map-new-forest.pdf   .

 

Last updated: 17th 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.