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Forest Diary - June

Colourful Wildflowers in the Forest

By Leanne Sargeant, Senior Ecologist at the Forestry Commissio n

Standing among the old trees in the ancient woodland along Rhinefield Ornamental Drive I was struck by the vivid colour of our native Foxgloves. The foxglove blossoms have been exceptionally good this year, probably down to the lack of frost and the dry start that we’ve had to the season.

 If you tread carefully through the Forest you’ll find it’s bursting of colourful wildflowers, including Foxgloves, Common Dog Violets, Bog Asphodel, Wild Gladioli and different species of Orchids. Remember that these flowers are protected by law and should be left for everyone to enjoy, including the bees and other insects that need their nectar.

Our native purple foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), is a biennial – this means that they germinate and grow without flowering during summer and autumn, remaining dormant over winter, then have a new burst of growth before flowering in spring and early summer.

You’ll find Foxgloves on the edge of disturbed areas of woodlands, especially areas that have been recently felled. They can grow up to 1.5 metres in height and their distinctive pinky purple bell-like flowers grow down the stem. They have been used for medicinal purposes for years and the drug ‘digitalis’ (named after its Latin title – Digitalis purpurea) used for heart conditions originally came from foxgloves. But be cautious, Foxgloves are poisonous and should not be eaten.

Their flowers are much loved by long-tongued bees such as B. hortorum and B. pascuorum, and play an important role in the biodiversity of the forest.

The Common Dog Violet (Viola riviniana) thrives in sunny sites and like other small plants that grow in the woodland areas, are helped by hungry ponies grazing on the competing vegetation. This means that the violet can bloom and set seed, which is good news for the rare pearl-bordered fritillary whose caterpillar feeds only on the leaves of violets.

The New Forest supports many wild plants, including some rare and threatened species of plants. The Bog Orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) is incredibly rare and only grows in a few of the Forest’s bogs. It’s green in colour and at only 2 inches in height, it’s also very small and difficult to see.

Easier to spot on our precious wetlands is the Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum), who’s flowers are a very bright yellow and bloom during the summer. The Latin name for this plant means ‘bone breaker’. They were given this name as farmers used to think that if their cows ate this plant, their legs would break. The truth is that the boggy area they grow in lacks important nutrients, such as calcium, causing the cows’ bones to weaken.

The Forest is also home to a very rare type of cotton grass called slender cotton grass (Eriophorum gracile), but the one you are most likely to see here is the common cotton grass (Eriophorum angustifolium). It grows in our wetland areas and the characteristic white tufts of the plant disperse the seeds in the surrounding areas. Its local name of "bog cotton" gives a clue as where you might find it growing.

The common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) which is widespread throughout the UK is quite rare here, but the pale butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica), which is rare elsewhere in the country, is the more common of the two species in the New Forest. Both grow in bogs and the leaves form rosettes on the surface of the surrounding vegetation. A single flower grows at the end of each leaf-less stem, and the common butterwort displays a purple and white bloom, whilst the pale butterwort's flower is lilac and white.

Common Gorse blooms throughout the year here and its bright yellow flowers, which smell of coconut, are looking stunning across the heathlands at the moment. There are in fact three types of gorse in the Forest – common gorse (Ulex europaeus), western gorse (Ulex gallii) which has a rather restricted distribution and grows on exposed dry areas and dwarf gorse (Ulex minor) which is much more widely distributed and also grows in dry areas. The plant’s spiky foliage helps protect it from hungry mouths, but not from the ponies. They seem to ignore the spikes and find the foliage really tasty, especially through the winter months when other food is scarce.

There are four different types of heather growing in the New Forest. Most widespread is the true heather or ling (Calluna vulgaris), which carpets the Open Forest with pale purple blooms in August and September. Earlier on in the summer you can see the larger reddish-purple flowers of bell heather (Erica cinerea), and over on damp sites you can find its pink-flowered cousin, the cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix). All three are favourite sources of nectar for bees and the fourth and rarest of the heather species is the Dorset heath (Erica ciliaris) and those with a very keen eye might spot it in a very few wet areas.

Two of the New Forest’s orchids grow on the edge of the heath – the common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and the heath spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata). The southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) grows in the areas where heathland turns into wetland areas. All three orchids look very similar and are quite common.

As the summer goes on keep a look out for the very special, Wild Gladiolus (Gladiolus illyricus) which is unique to this area. Its tall spikes of vivid magenta blooms thrive here on the Open Forest, yet despite their strong colour, they can be hard to spot as they grow among the bracken.

And finally, please don’t pick or remove any of the forest's wild flowers - leave them for everyone to enjoy.

Do you know your oak from your ash?

 By Esta Mion, Communications Manager at the Forestry Commission

Did you know that the average living room has ten items made from trees, or that 300 insects live in just one silver birch tree? How often do1046886 you read a newspaper, sit on a sofa or write on a piece of paper?

This week, the Forestry Commission has launched a new campaign that explores the world of trees and reveals what an incredible contribution they make to our lives.

Tree Explorer aims to help people identify and learn more about our many different tree species, uncovering some amazing facts that most of us probably didn’t know before.

The campaign includes a new online tree identification tool, which can help you to identify a variety of species from a willow in your garden, to a sycamore tree in your local park or nearby forest.

Here in the New Forest you’ll find the new Tree Explorer trail located at Blackwater, on Rhinefield Ornamental Drive next to the majestic Douglas firs and redwoods. It’s an ideal walking trail for families with pathways that are fairly smooth with one gentle slope, but it can get muddy in places. The 1.7mile trail begins and ends at the Blackwater car park, which has toilets and picnic tables available, making it a great place for families to discover how to tell our trees apart and learn some tree-mendous facts!

 You can learn how to identify trees using their leaves, bark and seeds, and delve into fascinating facts along the way. To encourage the family to learn to love the trees around them try our Tree Explorer activity pack, which you can download for free by following this link:

The pack is designed to encourage children to try their hand at being a tree scientist, step into the world of a wildlife ranger, or learn about the day job of our foresters.

Five top tree facts:

They say life begins at 40; it really does for an oak tree! They don’t start producing acorns until then and reach peak production when they are 80-120 years old. 
Scots pine can live up to 8.5 times longer than the average person in the UK, to the ripe old age of 700.
 Climate change champions! Trees reduce the impact of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and storing the carbon in their wood.
 New flour fad? Romans used to grind sweet chestnuts for their baking bonanzas. Their leaves have been used to treat whooping cough and rheumatism and stiffness in joints and muscles.
 Heavyweight winner! A joint made of ash is said to be able to bear more weight than any type of wood. It’s a great source of firewood too, with its name deriving from the word ‘firelight’.
We want to lead the way in engaging people of all ages with how amazing trees are and what an important role they play in our lives. Here in the New Forest a huge variety of tree species grow, but have you ever stopped to look at the different types and find out more about them?

Across England, the Forestry Commission manages around 20% of the country’s woodlands for people, wildlife and timber. We currently harvest approximately 1.4 million cubic metres of timber a year, which is used for buildings, fencing, furniture, wood fuel and more.

Many people don’t realise that the New Forest is a working forest, some areas, known as Inclosures, were fenced and planted with trees to satisfy the country’s timber demands after the Second World War. The New Forest produces approximately 50,000 tonnes of timber per year, the harvesting operations move around the forest's timber Inclosures on different rotations. When woodlands are well managed, they are incredibly important to the local economy, society and the environment.

The trees around us are also beneficial for our health and they provide numerous habitats for wildlife. We hope our new campaign will inspire you to discover more about the wonderful world of trees on your doorstep.

For more information about how to get to Blackwater Car Park visit:

Follow our Tree Name Trail to identify a tree by its leaves:


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:

Everybody needs good neighbours

by Forestry Commission Estates Officer, Sean Marsh


 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

To check if the Forestry Commission manages land bordering your property, visit   .


Last updated: 8th July 2017


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