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Forest Diary - June

 Keeping on top of our forest maintenance by New Forest Recreation Team, Robin Cutler, Ben Hobbs and Ray Stride

June is a busy month for our New Forest Recreation Team. We find ourse lves carrying out a rolling programme of maintenance across the forest, you might see us installing new fences, repairing gates and cutting back vegetation. As the summer holiday period get closer, it’s our job to make sure everything in the forest is ready and up to scratch, so regular and ongoing maintenance is a key part of our job.

Last week, we were helping to make improvements to one of our most popular trails - the Tall Trees Trail along Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, where visitors enjoy learning about different tree species. It’s also one of the best places in the country to be amazed by the splendour of ancient Douglas fir and redwoods, as these are some of the oldest and tallest in Britain.

Dotted along the self-led trail we’ve installed new posts, made from Douglas fir, which are topped-off with beautifully carved fir cones. These have been hand-made by local sculptor Richard Austin, as part of wider project to improve the interpretation at Blackwater arboretum. 

Richard has created new sculptures that complement this special place. Our team installed his sculptures around Blackwater arboretum along a short, circular route, which encourages visitors to use their senses to discover the many different smells and textures of the forest.

His designs depict the seeds from a sycamore, oak, Douglas fir and redwood, and were inspired by the splendid ancient and ornamental woodlands along Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. Richard has also created two large-scale trail panels, which we’ve fixed in place at Blackwater car park and in the arboretum. He’s also created interpretation panels with carved details of leaves from different species and we’ve positioned these around the arboretum.

The trail is ideal for young families and those with access limitations, as it has a smooth, gravel surface with benches and sheltered spots giving regular ‘resting places’. This project, a Senses of Place, encourages people to learn about the New Forest through the new interpretation on site, with a focus on hands on and sensory activity. The project is part of a Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Our Past, Our Future’ Landscape Partnership Scheme led by the New Forest National Park Authority in conjunction with 11 key partners.

It’s been hugely rewarding to be involved with this project, the sculptures are truly a fantastic improvement to the site, and by replacing the trail panels and posts we have really improved the accessibility - it’s an inspiring thing to be a part of.

As we move towards the height of the busy summer months, our next big job is preparing for the New Forest Show. Before the gates open, our team will be involved with the Forestry Commission area at the Show; cutting the grass, building picnic tables, erecting marquees, building structures and making sure the trail surfaces are in top condition. We hope that you’ll join us at our stand, or escape the crowds and relax in our woodland area.

Looking after the New Forest Crown lands is a year-round job and we still need to keep on top of our forest maintenance throughout the coming months, before planning ahead for next year!

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

 Respecting the New Forest’s past 

By Jayne Albery, HLS Verge Protection Officer at the Forestry Commission

When we started out on this ecological restoration project we knew that it would involve a team of people to get it right and understand the history of the area, including archaeologists, ecologists, forestry officers and local historians. A lot of effort was put into planning and researching before the actual works on the ground could even begin.

The project at Stoney Cross that I’ve been working on is focussed on bringing changes that will benefit the Forest. We hope to restore and protect the edges of the forest, and return it back to its natural condition. The medium-term aim is to improve the grazing for the ponies and cattle that roam free across the landscape here in the New Forest.

The Forest has changed over time, and tales documented from the relatively recent past are captivating – from the hunting grounds of William the Conqueror and the well-known story of the death of Rufus, to personal memories of the local community, or those who were involved in war efforts that saw some areas of the forest transformed into airfields.

The Second World War certain had a historic impact on the New Forest, and throughout this project I’ve been fascinated by the traces that the war has left behind.

Stoney Cross is located near the villages of Bramshaw and Fritham and it was once the site of a Second World War airfield.  In 1942 the airfield was completed, it was one of a number of new airfields constructed in the New Forest as part of the wartime facilities. Holmsley South, Beaulieu and Stoney Cross airfields were all designed to provide safe take-off and landing facilities for a variety of aircraft from both the RAF and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) during the war.

The era that Stoney Cross symbolises is a very important piece of our country’s history and the concrete remains of the airfield are still evident today.  We were fully aware that before we could start work on restoring parts of this area, we first needed to call in expert archaeologists to independently assess the concrete features and make sure the characterisation of the area as a former airfield was respected.

The archaeologists’ report provided us with accurate, detailed information on the location, which listed all the features of the airfield including; runways, taxi tracks, aircraft parking areas, hangers and accommodation buildings. Their research revealed a 1946 map of Stoney Cross, prior to its decommissioning that illustrated all of the facilities built for the airfield, including accommodation for more than 2,900 personnel.

Two sections of the large aircraft parking area still survive and can be seen today. The original parking area covered approximately 14,000 square metres, although the centre was removed many years ago, but there are still two separate sections remaining that are now used as Stoney Cross car park and Stoney Cross Plain car park.

In total, some 38,600 square metres of concrete laid during the Second World War remains at Stoney Cross today. We are committed to preserving significant, intact heritage remains throughout the New Forest. The sections of concrete that this project is focussed on removing were the fragmented remains of larger features and in total account for only 2,000 square metres. It’s believed that they were part of the former boundary road that may have been used for ancillary vehicles; the concrete removed was not part of a runway.

If you know the area, you may have noticed that we’ve now restored two concrete areas that were used as lay-bys on the east side of Forest Road. These sections of concrete had become fragmented and damaged over time, and parts of it had been covered by modern tarmac. That’s why they were identified as appropriate sections of concrete to remove in order to increase the grazing available for Forest stock.

Whilst it may look a little messy and raw at first, the area will quickly recover, and re-naturalise with grass and wild plants. This work will improve the habitat and support the commoning community by reconnecting grassy lawns in the area.

Concrete removal is part of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, a landscape enhancement partnership between the Forestry Commission, The Verderers of the New Forest and the New Forest National Park Authority.

For more information about verge protection visit: http://www.hlsnewforest.org.uk/projects/special-projects/verge-protection/

Getting up close to goshawks in the Forest

By Andy Page, Head of Wildlife at the Forestry Commission

June marks a great turning point in the year, as summer begins and we have the longest day, and the shortest night. It’s a glorious time of year in the Forest - full of fresh growth, bursting with colour and our native wildlife is busy feeding their young.

I’ve been following the footage of a pair of goshawks, who have raised two healthy chicks live via the Nestcam at the New Forest Reptile Centre near Lyndhurst. The chicks have been very lively over the last few weeks, hopping around and stretching their wings in preparation to fledge.

The bad spell the weather in March has affected the numbers of birds this year with some goshawk pairs failing and other breeding 2-3 weeks later than usual. However, the warm weather during May has allowed lots of our wildlife to catch up, so if you’re a keen birder, like me, it’s an ideal time of year to watch the diversity of birds that we have here in the Forest.

The goshawk parents will carry on feeding their young chicks and I expect that they will soon fly the nest and make their own way in the Forest – so keep watching. You can continue to track the progress of this year’s goshawk chicks via the live camera feed at the New Forest Reptile Centre, as part of the Date with Nature project – a partnership between the RSPB, New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Carnyx Wild. 

There are many other goshawk nests here in the New Forest that I’ve been keeping a watchful eye over and last week we began the task of ringing some of the young goshawks. The chicks are ringed under licence at around 3-4 weeks of age, it allows us to examine their health and make various checks and measurements which indicate how well they are being fed. Overall productivity can indicate whether the forest environment is in good condition and if it can continue to support a healthy goshawk population.

The task of ringing these birds of prey isn’t simple - it involves climbing up to 20 metres into the upper branches of large conifers, such as Douglas fir and Scots pine, as well as certain broad-leaved species, like oak and beech. But I’m not on my own, this year I’ve worked with our Trainee Forester, Nick Hill, who is an experienced climber. However, this was the first time he had come into such close contact with goshawk chicks, but he did a great job and carefully lowered the chicks down in a bag to me on the ground. The older chicks can be quite aggressive when handled and bloodied hands are all par for the course. I’m very grateful to Nigel Jones, who’s an experienced Hampshire ringer, and a big supporter of our raptor work in the New Forest. 

The whole process of ringing and data recording is quick and painless for the chicks and in many instances the parent birds are completely unaware we have even visited the nest, as they’re often away hunting for long periods.

When all the data is gathered we’ll send it to the British Trust for Ornithology to add to the national picture for this species. I’m hoping that the final figures will show another successful breeding season for goshawks here in the New Forest.

 The Forest Diary, Easy for riders

By Communications Manager, Esta Mion

With thousands of miles of Forestry Commission cycle trails nationally, from the easy family routes here in the New Forest to bike skills areas and adrenaline fuelled downhill routes elsewhere, there are trails which can be enjoyed by everyone from rad riders to little tots on balance bikes.

The New Forest is a sensitive area for conservation with free roaming livestock, so please follow only approved routes, which still have plenty to offer. It’s easy for riders to use the forest roads and gravel tracks that are numbered with marker posts to help reassure those less familiar with the approved off-road routes. Exploring the New Forest by bike is the ideal way to discover the magnificent beauty and fascinating wildlife that can easily be missed by car.

Our network of off-road tracks provide over 100 miles of family cycling in a safe environment for both visitors and locals alike, which link the main New Forest villages and the railway stations at Brockenhurst and Sway. The cycle routes are wide and fairly flat and can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what biking experience you have.

Don’t forget, the New Forest is a working forest, with forestry, farming and equestrian activity on its narrow roads and tracks. Ponies, cattle and other animals are free to roam the forest and most of its roads. So, a cycling code of conduct aims to ensure that cyclists and other users can enjoy this special place in harmony. Find the code on our website, where you’ll also find information on any route closures to make sure your day goes to plan. It may seem obvious, but make sure you have the correct bicycle safety equipment to keep out of danger while you’re out cycling.

There are a variety of local companies offering bike hire in and around the New Forest, and some also run cycle tours. If you’ve swapped your mountain bike for a cool vintage road bike, don’t worry, you can rent out a state of the art mountain bike from lots of local providers.

If you’re looking for something a bit more ambitious, then head to Moors Valley Country Park and Forest to our ‘through the forest’ single-track route.  This trail offers an exciting cycling challenge with enough ups and downs to feel like you’ve had a proper workout. It includes technical bends and tight turns as it winds its way through the pine Forest and open heathland. The trail is edged by rocks and is waymarked with posts with blue arrows. Do note that this route is recommended for cyclists with good off-road riding skills and is not suitable for trailers or tag-a-longs.

At Moors Valley they also offer bike hire on site and top notch customer service too, with a full range of tag-a-longs and mountain bikes. So if one of your family members has a decent bike and the others are not up to scratch, you can always just hire one if necessary and still enjoy the central 2-mile circuit with the option to take three additional loops to extend your ride to 7 miles.

Nature and exercise are renowned for providing benefits to health and wellbeing and a cycle ride at a Forestry Commission site will provide all you need for enjoyment and relaxation. There are Forestry Commission cycle trails for a range of abilities right across England, providing perfect locations for those learning to cycle or who are not experienced off-road cyclists, all offering a safe place to cycle off-road.

So grab your helmets and head out to the forest with the family for a beautiful, woodland ride - happy cycling!

 For more information about cycling at Forestry Commission sites across the country and in the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/england-cycling  also check out www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/routes  for all the best local trails.

 

 

 

 

 

Last updated: 14th July 2018

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