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Forest Diary - August

 Who’s been invited to your picnic?

Esta Mion, Communications Manager at the Forestry Commission

The weather is looking good and you’re thinking of head out to th e New Forest for a picnic, you have everything ready, but do you really know the best spot to visit and have you thought about the ponies?

Some New Forest ponies have become rather partial to picnic food and with over 14million people visiting the Forest every year – there’s a huge feast on offer!  A unique way of life exists here, where the ponies roam freely. Many visitors naturally want to get close to them, but as a result we’re seeing bad behaviours develop in some ponies. They are attracted to people with food and so ponies will spend time at locations which are popular with visitors. Ponies don’t need our picnic food - human food can actually cause severe colic and could even kill ponies in extreme circumstances.

We want to encourage local residents and visitors to keep a safe distance, especially at this time of year when there are still foals on the Forest. Although they look cute and you may want to take photos, do avoid coming in between a mare and its foal, as they are very protective of their young. Unfortunately, we’ve seen young children and adults get bitten or kicked by ponies that feel threatened by people approaching them.

It’s best to enjoy your picnic in a location where the ponies are at a safe distance and there are plenty of options here - try one of our many picnic and barbecue sites. We have five designated picnic sites, all offering benches and toilet facilities, Anderwood, Bolderwood, Blackwater, Whitefield Moor and Wilverley - all have car parks and family-friendly picnic areas and some are fenced off.

Whether you prefer al fresco dining under majestic trees at Blackwater or picnicking near the open grassy lawns of Wilverley Plain or Whitefield Moor, you can expect beautiful surroundings. If you’re barbequing take care to not to cause damage to the Forest and remember that even the smallest ember or spark could cause a dangerous fire. Raised non disposable charcoal and gas barbecues may be used at specified car parks namely Anderwood, Bolderwood, Whitefield Moor, Wilverley Plain, Wilverley Inclosure and Hatchet Pond, where there’s water available. Many of the Forestry Commission’s car parks have circular waymarked walking trails to help you to explore the New Forest. At Blackwater, you can stroll around the nationally important collection of trees at Blackwater Arboretum or wander beneath the mighty conifers on the Tall Trees Trail.

Forests are the perfect backdrop to inspire children’s imaginations as many of the most exciting tales are set in the woods. At Bolderwood, the Forestry Commission has created an interactive trail which follows the path through the woods and families can discover some very familiar characters. Inspired by author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler’s famous Gruffalo story book, families can follow clues and learn about forest animals with activities along the way. Once your children have spotted the characters, they can use the free app to bring the 3D character animation to life and take photos alongside them.

Taking family forest walks to new heights, the app mixes technology with the real world, encouraging children to get exploring, firing their imaginations and enabling them to have an all-new forest experience.

If your family needs some picnic inspiration, the Forestry Commission Gruffalo Spotters activities pack can be downloaded for free from our website. To find out more sign up and visit: www.forestry.gov.uk/gruffalo . Why not try some fun recipe ideas for your picnic, like a Gruffalo crumble, mouse droppings that taste very much like raisins, roast fox rolls, mouse’s favourite cheese sandwiches and scrambled snake quiche. Let your imagination run wild!

 More than just running in the Forest

 by Forestry Commission Volunteer Co-ordinator, Kerry Trueman

 Summer can be tough on fitness regimes – when we can spend time outdoors enjoying BBQs and on holiday, many people will gladly put pounding the treadmill in the gym to the back of their minds.

 But in summertime you don’t have to put fitness on the backburner, the New Forest is the perfect place to get fit outdoors.  It’s a great time of year to make the most of your local woodland, while daylight hours are longer and the weather is warmer. 

 The Forestry Commission team manages over 100 miles of cycle network, which provide great trails to run along through the New Forest and gives you a chance to escape stuffy gyms and get out into the fresh air. Whatever your level of fitness is, running in the beautiful scenery through the Forest will motivate you, with its unspoilt views and natural surroundings you can’t help but be inspired.

Many visitors to the Forest come to escape the stress of everyday life and to enjoy the unique feeling of calm and perspective.  The restorative influence of spending time in woodlands can be boosted further by all kinds of physical activity, from a gentle stroll through the trees, to running the New Forest Marathon’s 26 mile race on 10 September this year.

The Forestry Commission is always looking at ways to encourage people to get out and active in our different woods and forests and the New Forest Marathon is a great way to do this.  We’ve worked together with the event organisers to bring this popular event back again and we’re encouraging people to sign up and take part. There are a variety of courses (5km, 10km, half marathon and woodland walk) that will take participants through the woods and vistas in the picturesque landscape of the New Forest.

 You don’t have to be a keen runner to take part, whether you’re a beginner or just looking for a personal challenge, anyone can have a go, there’s even a junior event. We hope that people will enjoy taking part and I shall be on duty in the Forest on the day, let’s hope we have good weather for all everyone involved in making this event a success.

The Forest provides the perfect setting to get active outdoors, it has many natural inclines and there’s no better feeling than making it to the top of a hill, because it means you can come back down! Studies have found that people flex their ankles more when running outside, especially when running down hills, something that’s difficult to replicate on a treadmill. This works the muscles in a different way and is great for increasing your endurance.

 As well as an excellent environment for mental wellbeing, the natural forest terrain is great for core fitness. If you don’t like running why not try Nordic walking?  It’s a fantastic all-over body exercise which targets the legs, bums, tums and the upper arms.  All of this in the fresh air, with the wind in your hair while enjoying the colourful displays of September in the woods. It’s got to be one of the most enjoyable and sociable ways to get fit.

 For all abilities and aspirations, the New Forest is a great place to get out of breath out of doors, boosting body, mind and soul.

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

 Timber is part of the New Forest’s life-cycle

By Jonathan Blanco, Harvesting Forester at the Forestry Commission

When we’re enjoying a stroll through our local woodlands on a summer’s day, few of us stop to make the connection with the hundreds of wood products that are part of our everyday lives.

From the wooden pallets our food is delivered on, the table we sit at to eat it, to the garden fence and shed, even the timber frames that form the foundations of many of our homes, our woodlands are not just important habitats or a place for recreation and relaxation, they’re also a critical resource and a central part of our local economy. In South East England alone, over 40,000 people are employed in the manufacture of wood products, furniture and paper, or in supporting industries.

As a Harvesting Forester working for the Forestry Commission, it’s my job to ensure that we present a steady supply of timber to various sawmills in southern England. This requires careful planning to make sure the delicate balance between industry, recreation, environment and ecology is maintained.

People are often surprised that the Forestry Commission is involved in timber harvesting, but this is a really important part of how we protect and safeguard England’s woodlands, create wildlife habitats, and actively manage just shy of 30,000 hectares of woodland in Southern England. Critically across the New Forest, many of the felled trees are replanted with a move towards the creation of diverse and rich broadleaf woodland. The harvesting team also supports the restoration to wildlife-rich heathland where the desired objectives are to create important habitat connectivity.

All of the timber that the Forestry Commission harvests carries FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification – in other words our woodlands and the way we manage them meet strict environmental standards. 

The harvesting is co-ordinated through the Forest Design Plans – these are long term strategies for each particular woodland that give us the guidelines for our interventions in the forest, stating which areas should be felled and what will be planted in the future. These plans are carefully discussed between all interested parties and open to be consulted by the general public. The plans can be found online on our website.

The New Forest woodlands are a crucial part of our yearly harvesting programme. Last year, we obtained about 12,000 tonnes of softwood and 3,000 tonnes of hardwood and firewood. Part of this was sold to sawmills and people in the area to support local businesses and residents. This represented over 25% of our total annual volume and represents a really important percentage of the Forestry Commission’s annual income, which helps us to support other activities.

Growing trees for timber means that they have to be managed at any time of the year.  Some activities are seasonal, such as planting, but others, including harvesting, happen all year round. We value our visitors and always aim to carry out our harvesting operations in such a way that have the lowest possible impact on the public and their enjoyment of the woodlands. We try to avoid working in the New Forest in the wet winter months, so we can prevent damage to our paths, roads and rides, as well as our forests. However, the summer months are also the busiest time in the New Forest and sometimes, it becomes inevitable that our work might affect some visitors.

Harvesting works are a high risk activity involving heavy machinery such as Harvesters and Forwarders, forest tractors and timber lorries; as well as dangerous tools such as chainsaws and brush cutters. Both our own staff and our contractors set the highest standards to maintain health and safety on-site. We use the latest available technology to prevent accidents and incidents that could involve members of the public. Site signage is also erected and maintained by our own teams in order to inform and protect our visitors.

You will find informative signs when you enter one of our working sites. These will give you an idea of the operations that are being carried out in the forest and will also tell you to look for other more specific signs and to act accordingly. It is very important that you take the time to have a look at the signage and follow its guidance. This will help us not only protect you, but also our staff; contractors; and other forest users, and to improve everyone’s experience in the forest.

The harvesting team carries out a large programme of work throughout the whole year and our job is not just to harvest timber to keep the sawmills supplied, we also help clear forest trails, paths and roads to ensure that damaged or leaning trees don’t pose a threat to public safety. Our operations also help to improve the condition of some of our protected sites and create habitats for some of our threatened species.

So next time you’re walking in your local woodland, stop a moment and pause for thought. It is easy to overlook these things. When you consider that forests are not just peaceful and beautiful havens filled with wildlife, but they also support a sustainable industry and provide the resource behind your garden fence, your kitchen table, or even the newspaper you’re reading this in.

Recreation Priorities for the New Forest

 By Richard Burke, District Recreation Manager at the Forestry Commissio n

For many people, the summer holiday provides the perfect opportunity to take a break and get away from it all. This might involve long walks in the New Forest, trips to the seaside or simply unwinding in your garden at home. However, the summer months continue to be a busy time for the Forestry Commission as the holiday period gets into full swing. Ongoing maintenance is still a top priority for my team and I’m incredibly proud of the work they carry out. The team keep the car park surfacing in good condition, repair anything that needs mending, such as fences, ensure the trails are well marked so visitors don’t get lost, repaint car park signs and keep certain public areas clear from vegetation.

You might have seen us recently at the New Forest Show? Before the gates opened, the team helped with the preparation of the Forestry Commission area, which involved cutting the grass, building picnic tables, erecting marquees, building structures and making sure the trail surfaces were in top condition. It took two full weeks but it certainly paid off and the event was a big success, with great feedback from visitors!

Your feedback is important to us; we’re always keen to hear your comments and concerns, and at the New Forest Show I was able to answer lots of questions in person. When visitors read my job title on my name badge, they were eager to ask me about the current debate about recreation in the Forest and some of the big issues that we face. As the principal landowner in the New Forest, it’s our role to provide recreational opportunities and manage visitors to help protect the unique environment of the New Forest Crown lands.

The New Forest has long been recognised as a beautiful place, with a wide-range of local, national and international protections, meaning the New Forest is globally important for its landscape, nature conservation, heritage and recreation. Caring for the core of the Forest and its unique wildlife is central to the Forestry Commission and that’s why we need to make sure limited resources are spent wisely. We aim to provide the best recreational experience for local people and our visitors, but we also need to protect the very things that people come here to see.

We’re working closely with the New Forest National Park Authority and other partners in the Forest to ask people about the overall rationale for the way we manage recreation across the whole of the New Forest, and to guide the development of prioritised actions.

In the 1970s, my predecessors saw that the New Forest was in trouble – people could drive, park and camp anywhere. The damage was obvious and over 150 free-roaming animals were being killed each year, which is three times more than current levels. So they came together to install cattle grids, fence off the A-roads and ditch the verges of others, and create campsites and car parks. This has stood us in good stead for some time, but that was 40 years ago. Back then, we didn’t know which areas of the Forest were richest in wildlife, and the facilities that were created weren’t designed for the current level of use that they get – which looks set to increase even further.

The infrastructure put in place during the 1970s was a significant and pivotal moment in the Forest’s story and many of the people I spoke to at the New Forest Show believe we’ve now reached a similar juncture.

It’s time for all of us who use the Forest to take responsibility and assist in prioritising current and future challenges set out in the Recreation Management Strategy. We share a pride in the local environment and want to ensure that recreation provision is fit for purpose and sustainably managed for future generations to enjoy, yet sensitive to the needs of the Forest.

The first stage of ‘calls for views’ closes on 13 August, followed by further public consultation on proposed priorities next year. We would like as many people as possible to complete the online survey on the National Park’s website so please make sure your views are included.

Visit: www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/FutureForest

Last updated: 30th September 2017

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