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Forest Diary - July

 New Forest’s helping hands

By Gary North, Recreation Manager and Zoe Cox, Community Manager
at the Forestry Commission.

The New Forest Show attracts hundreds of exhibitors, each vying to get visitors’ attention. We’ve both been creating displays for the Forestry Commission stand for many years so it’s always a challenge to come up with new ideas to entice and inform visitors. With the show overflowing with different exhibitors we wanted to let visitors see our genuine passion for the New Forest.

The ‘Heart of the Forest’ marquee is set in the hub of the show and our beautiful and enticing display demonstrated the benefits of volunteering for the Forestry Commission. We wanted visitors to get the message about the value of helping hands that bring so much to the Forest landscape and the positive impact of volunteering.

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 across a broad range of tasks, including teaching visitors about the Forest, enhancing the landscape for nature conservation and protecting the Forest to enable future generations to enjoy exploring this beautiful and varied area.

The Forestry Commission’s woodland area always offers the perfect spot for escaping the crowds and provides visitors with a welcome break from the busy show stands. Setting up our area requires great teamwork - colleagues and volunteers all put in a lot of effort to create a display packed with activities for members of the public to enjoy.

We invited our partners, Pondhead Conservation Trust, to join us this year to explain how their volunteers are coppicing woodland near Lyndhurst and helping to restore the biodiversity of Pondhead Inclosure. Their display demonstrated how the hazel coppice is bringing new life to the woodland and improving the habitat for plants and wildlife. The small woodland that they manage is done so in a fully sustainable way, by using timber cut during the autumn and winter to produce charcoal during the spring and summer, thereby reviving an old forest custom. Also on show was their charcoal production process, which makes higher quality charcoal that lights more easily and burns evenly.

Contained within our theme of volunteering, we also highlighted the work that volunteers are undertaking across the Forest to see how different species establish in streams. The display allowed visitors to look at riverflies (caddisflies, stoneflies and mayflies) under a microscope and see how these creatures can help us monitor water quality. Riverfly populations are affected by many factors and are very sensitive to pollution, so they’re powerful biological indicators and allow us to measure change in water quality. They live most of their lives as larvae on the bed of streams, rivers and still waters, emerging as short lived adult flies in spring and summer.

The monitoring work that our volunteers do makes a real difference and helps us to show how habitat restoration is making the Forest more resilient to cope with modern day pressures.

Here at the Forestry Commission we’re responsible for managing the Crown Lands of the New Forest. Encompassing just under 50% of the national park’s total area, so there’s always lots of work to be done and the support of our volunteers is vital.

The value that a helping hand brings to the Forest was clear to see at this year’s New Forest Show and we’d like to thank all the volunteers who help us look after the New Forest for people to enjoy, and for wildlife to flourish now and for the future.

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

 

 

New Forest stream restoration nominated for award

 By Nick Wardlaw, Higher Level Stewardship Contract Manager at the Forestry Commission
 

Residents and visitors to Wootton Bridge near Sway may have noticed a lot of new activity over the last few weeks.  Wetland restoration work is underway which will improve the habitat to prime condition for wildlife over the long-term.  This is part of a wider project that has restored more than nine miles of waterways across the New Forest. The work aims to re-naturalise precious wetland habitat and reverse the artificially straightened channels that can cause bogs to dry out, stream banks to erode and the risk of flooding downstream to increase.

Work began last year to reinstate the original meanders to a stretch of the Avon River on the west-side of Wootton Bridge car park. Residents that regularly use the area may have noticed that the first phase of the restoration work has made good progress. Access was quickly restored to the top crossing point, with the bed levels raised and remnant meanders reinstated.

We’ve almost completed the first phase of restoration now and over the coming weeks our team of experts will move onto the next stretch of the stream on the east-side of the bridge.

The result of this restoration work will slow the flow and reduce the impact of flood risk downstream. Householders in the area should be better protected from flooding by working with nature, rather than against it. By restoring the natural watercourses we will help to make sure the river is more resilient in both winter floods and summer droughts. This work is funded by the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme.

Natural approaches to flood protection are increasingly seen as part of the response to the growing frequency and severity of flooding in the UK. Our wetland restoration programme is supported by a wide-range of organisations, including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Freshwater Habitats Trust. They have jointly described the natural approach as ‘sustainable both in terms of monetary cost and environmental impact’ and praised the work we’re carrying out at Wootton.

We are extremely pleased that the National Park’s planning committee supported our plans to reinstate the natural route of the watercourse at Wootton Riverine, allowing us to deliver a project that brings long-term benefits to the Forest.

This project received acclaim from the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence when it was recently shortlisted. The scheme was nominated for a prize in the Natural Environment category, which recognised the successful handling of the planning process by contractor Mott MacDonald. Running for 40 years, the RTPI Awards are the most respected awards in the UK planning industry and celebrate exceptional examples of planning and the contribution planners make to society. This year’s awards saw a nearly 40 per cent increase in entrants and the judges shortlisted 90 finalists across 14 categories.

It was a real honour to be shortlisted for this award - the Natural Environment category received a considerable number of projects with high merit and although we didn’t come away with a prize, it’s great recognition. I am delighted on behalf of my colleagues that worked extremely hard to develop the plans and Mott MacDonald who were involved in the planning application. It’s a truly collaborative project between many partner organisations, who are working towards conserving the New Forest’s unique natural environment.

I believe that  we all have a role to play in ensuring the New Forest is cared for - it’s designation as a National Park puts it in the premier league of British landscapes, worthy of protection for the future.

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

Pests affecting our forest

 By Michael Pittock, Operations Manager – Forest Management at the Forestry Commission

I’m sure you remember filling your pockets with shiny, brown conkers as a child, preparing to do battle with your mates in the playground. Th e characteristic conker fruits are produced every autumn from horse chestnut trees.

If you’ve been out in the woods recently, you may have noticed that the horse chestnut leaves are already splashing what looks like premature autumnal colour across the woodland canopy. Although not grown widely for forestry, these magnificent trees usually flourish along roadsides, in parks and gardens. They are native to north Greece and Albania and were first introduced to England at the beginning of the seventeenth century for their spectacular flowers, which can be seen in early June.

Sadly, there are many common pests and diseases that affect horse chestnut trees. Horse chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella) is an exotic insect pest which lives in horse chestnut trees. It was first reported in the UK in 2002, in the London Borough of Wimbledon, and has since spread north, south and west to most of England and parts of Wales, and there have been confirmed sightings in Scotland.

Its larvae (caterpillars) mine within the leaves and when trees are close together they can destroy most of the leaves. Although this pest causes severe damage to horse chestnut leaves, and discolouration and defoliation before the normal autumn leaf-fall, on its own the pest does not significantly damage the trees' health, and they will usually flush normally the following spring.

If you have a horse chestnut tree in your garden and it’s showing signs of horse chestnuts leaf miner, there are steps you can take to reduce the damage by removing fallen leaves during the autumn and winter and either composting them thoroughly, to destroy the over-wintering pupae, or if the leaves are collected into smaller heaps, by covering them with a layer of soil or other plant material to prevent adult moths emerging the following spring.

Our colleagues in Forest Research, which is the Forestry Commission’s research agency, are conducting long-term studies into the problems for horse chestnut. They provide the science and evidence to help us protect our trees and forests and deliver sustainable management and adaptation of our forests to climate change.

Research has already shown that the spread of the moth from infested areas occurs on a broad front through adult flight, helped by the wind, and through the passive transport of adult moths, or infested leaves in or on vehicles. Transportation by vehicles appears to be responsible for the sudden appearance of the moth in towns and cities a long way from known areas of infestation.

Bleeding canker is another disease that affects horse chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum). It was first reported in Britain in the 1970s and today, the prevalence of the disease within the UK has increased dramatically.  In 2000 only four cases were reported but this rose to more than 110 reports in 2006 and survey results show that in 2007 around half the horse chestnut trees in Britain showed some degree of symptoms. 

There is concern that differences in climate, or interactions with other pests and diseases, might lead to greater impact for this well-known tree species. As a result, the effects of the moth and its interaction with other pests and diseases, especially bleeding canker of horse chestnut, is being studied through the long-term monitoring of more than 300 chestnut trees at several of our woodlands here in southern England. These trees are assessed twice each year for infestation, disease crown condition, growth and signs of dieback. 

We work hard to protect, improve and expand our forests through active management, making our woodlands more robust and resilient against pests and diseases. Although horse chestnut’s wood tends to be rather brittle and for this reason has never been widely used in forestry, many wildlife benefit from these trees. Their nuts provide valuable food for deer and other mammals and the flowers provide pollen for insects.

Unfortunately, over the past 15 years there’s been a large increase in the scale of pests and diseases affecting the woodlands in England, and more needs to be done to help protect our forests for future generations. People can take action now to help reduce the spread of disease, if you’re visiting woodlands take care not to remove twigs, leaves and branches to avoid spreading pests further. Don’t give pests and diseases an easy ride - clean your footwear before going to a different location to help stop pests moving faster, over longer distances than by natural means.

For more information about tree pests and diseases please visit: https://www.forestry.gov.uk/pestsanddiseases

 

The New Forest is the star of the show

 by Jayne Albery and Christine Wilkes, Administrative Officers at the Forestry Commission

 The New Forest has stared in many productions over the years – from documentaries to Hollywood blockbusters like Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. The stunning and varied landscape attracts a wealth of interest and thanks to its unique character, and history it’s a very special place. It’s a privilege and sometimes a challenge to manage the Crown lands, which make up nearly half of the total area of the National Park. It’s a role that requires us to balance the needs of people, nature and business, and ensure that folk are able to enjoy the forest in the most appropriate way.  Our job is to co-ordinate different activities, assessing permission requests against conservation and ecology requirements and the needs of other forest users – all set in the context of a working forest.

So why do we do make sure people get permission before they film, etc? The New Forest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA) and also a Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance). All of these accolades mean it’s safeguarded by something called the European Union Habitats Directive. This Directive protects certain species of plants and animals which are particularly vulnerable. In a nutshell, this means that to permit certain activities on the Crown lands – such as filming may need to undertake and submit something called a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) to Natural England.  This might sound complicated but it’s all focused on making sure the key bodies involved in permissions in the Forest are working together to keep this unique location safe and protected.

A key part of this involves co-ordinating activity, which we do through good planning and a permit system for activities, including filming. In addition to this we are also able to check that events and activities don’t clash with anything else occurring on the Forest, for example timber operations, or other events.

We will also make sure that proposed routes and filming locations avoid sensitive wildlife habitats and don’t cause damage to features of historic interest.  You may have heard  the New Forest being referred to as ‘common land’ and you’d be forgiven for assuming this means the public has the right to use it as it chooses, but in fact the main right of public access only really covers ‘quiet recreation on foot.’ In fact, the whole area is governed by a complex set of New Forest Acts and Forestry Commission byelaws.

 Many recreational activities which take place on Forestry Commission land are unfortunately in breach of the Forestry Commission byelaws. We’ve had to decline requests for filming battle scenes and landing helicopters, but we’ve also been able to find a way to work with production companies on shows like Blind Date, which featured a couple horse riding and lots of well-known clothing companies have used the Forest for photoshoots.

 From scientific studies, to model aircraft events, cross country runs, acrobat displays, wedding blessings and music videos, as the land managers we need to issue permits to event organisers so that activities can take place appropriately.

 The Forestry Commission has many woods and forest across England that can be used as a backdrop for movies, so we often send production companies to work with our colleague in Bourne Wood, which is within easy reach of London, making it very popular. This location is ideal, as it’s a much less sensitive and has good facilities. You may have seen some of the very best of movie entertainment that’s been filmed using Bourne Wood as a backdrop; Gladiator, The Man Who Cried, and more recently it featured in the new Wonder Woman movie and Transformers 5: The Last Knight.

Due to the large number of activities taking place in the New Forest and the many factors involved, we strongly recommend that you contact our office to discuss your event or activity so we can check that your proposed event will not clash with anything else going on and provisionally document that your event is happening. Please note that until we have issued your permission all requests are provisional and that a permit can take up to six weeks to be issued.

To apply for a permit please complete the online application form or e-mail full details of the activity/event you are planning, along with your full contact details to:

southern.permissions@forestry.gsi.gov.uk or please contact us on 0300 067 4601.

Finding a little sanctuary in the New Forest 

By Andy Shore, New Forest Keeper at the Forestry Commission

Deer by their nature are very secretive animals, at this time of year they hide amongst the long grasses and bracken. If you are keen to catch a glimpse of these normally shy creatures, you might like to visit the viewing platform at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary to see for yourself a wild herd of Fallow deer.

There are a number of different family units that live in the area of the Deer Sanctuary, with about 40-60 Fallow deer here at any one time (males and females).

The Sanctuary is about 30 acres in size and was set up in about 1962 by my Great Uncle Bert, who was then one of the Commission’s Head Keepers. I’m incredibly proud of my family connection and it’s very special to have the Deer Sanctuary in part of my beat (which covers an area of about 10,000 acres in the north area of the New Forest).

This herd are fed regularly now and during the summer holidays we make sure that they are fed everyday between 1 – 3pm, so it’s a great opportunity to try a spot of deer watching. Don’t forget your binoculars and please keep dogs close by and in sight at all times – if necessary on a lead when visiting the Forest.


I feed the deer flaked maize (which is a little like hard cornflakes that you might have for your breakfast) along with a special mix that includes nuts to help make sure the deer get enough minerals in their diet, this is especially important at this time of year for the females (Does) that are heavily pregnant or have recently given birth.

Fallow come in a variety of colours, right now the common variety have spotted coats, but in winter this fades to a dull grey-brown colour. You may also see creamy off-white coloured coats, often mistaken as albino and even very dark brown almost black coats (called Melanistic), as well as some that keep their brightly spotted coats all year round (called Menil).

The males (Bucks) are distinguishable by their antlers. From about eight months of age they develop single spikes for the first year, after which they grow a series of small points called ‘spellers’. Throughout the growth period their antlers are covered in a furry skin called ‘velvet’. Fallow deer have very distinct shaped antlers, as they develop these are shaped a little like the palm of a hand. Around September time Fallow bucks’ antlers are fully-grown and they start to vigorously rub their antlers against young trees to clean the ‘velvet’ off. You may have seen this type of tree damage to the bark of small trees yourself if you’re a regular forest user.

Deer, and in particular the Fallow deer, are intrinsic to the history of the New Forest.  The forest wouldn't be recognised as a distinct place, were it not for the original herd of Fallow deer.

Mediaeval royal hunting and natural predators such as wolves, bear and lynx controlled numbers of deer in the past.  Today, in the absence of these controls, it falls to the Forestry Commission Keepers, like me, to manage them at a sustainable level. Deer cause damage to forest trees and farm crops, and also invade nearby gardens in their search for food. This necessitates a need to regulate their numbers as part of the management of the New Forest.

A Keeper’s role in the New Forest is varied and one that requires us to be alert and in tune with our environment, which is why dogs play a large part in my work here. My dogs are more than just companions, they are also working colleagues. They are trained to follow the scent of blood, allowing them to alert me to deer that have been hurt in the Forest.

My colleagues and I often get called out to assist with injured deer and we regularly get reports of dogs attacking wild animals, including deer. I’ve seen the awful damage a pet dog can inflict on a deer when it’s left unsupervised by its owner. I urge dog owners to act responsibly throughout the seasons to prevent disturbance not only to wildlife, but also commoners’ livestock. Sadly, deer attacked by dogs usually results in a very unhappy ending.

 For information about the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, please phone our enquiry number 0300 067 4601, or visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest

 

Demanding task of ringing Goshawks in the New Forest

By Andy Page, Head of Wildlife Management at the Forestry Commission

 Over the past few weeks you may have been watching footage of the three goshawk’s eggs hatching live via the Nestcam at the New Forest Reptile Centre near Lyndhurst. The final egg hatched okay and all three chicks appeared to be doing well. However, we became concerned about two of the chicks that suddenly looked unwell.

 I believe they contracted Trichomoniasis (parasitic disease), a disease at the back of the throat and in the gullet of some birds, from eating an infected pigeon which is a common prey item for goshawk. Affected birds show signs of general illness (lethargy, fluffed-up plumage) and display difficulty in swallowing or laboured breathing. The disease progressed over several days and unfortunately two of the chicks have not survived.

However, this nest is one of many goshawk nests here in the New Forest. Overall, we’ve enjoyed another successful breeding season for goshawks with 43 occupied territories, 39 of which were known to have attempted breeding – the highest number we’ve ever had.

The task of ringing the young goshawks in the New Forest was completed last week. The data gathered goes to the British Trust for Ornithology to add to the national picture for this species. 30 sites were successful in raising a minimum of 60 young, of which 48 were ringed while 9 sites failed at incubation or with small young.

 When we ring the chicks 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 if it can support a healthy goshawk population.

The task isn’t easy, 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, I work closely with New Forest Keeper, Matt Davies, who carries out many of the climbs and carefully lowers 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 am also supported by two experienced Hampshire ringers for when it’s my turn at the climbing!

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

I’m fascinated by how goshawks and other forest raptors utilise the woods we manage and find the levels that enable them to co-exist alongside each other. My work also means we can protect them from forestry operations at the most important time of their lives.

The fact they have increased in the New Forest shows that the woodlands here are in good shape, and for a species which only returned to the New Forest in 2002 after an absence of nearly 120 years we are beginning to understand how this top avian predator is affecting some of the smaller raptors that live here also.

Present in the Forest all year round, the goshawk is an extremely agile flier, instinctively opening and folding its wings at just the right moment as it weaves its way silently between trees and shrubs in pursuit of its prey which is commonly pigeons, corvids and squirrels.

 You can continue to track the progress of the surviving chick 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.  The goshawk parents will carry on feeding the young chick and we’re hopeful that it will soon fledge and make its own way in the Forest. We expect it to leave the nest sometime in late June – so keep watching!

 You can watch live footage of the birds in their nest online at: www.newforestgateway.org

To find out more about getting out and about in the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.

 

 

Last updated: 19th August 2017

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