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Forest Diary - September

Forest Diary: Early signs of autumn in the New Forest

By Esta Mion, Communications Manager at the Forestry Commission

 The wet and warm weather we’ve experienced over recent weeks h as produced the perfect conditions for fungi and many have already started to emerge from underground. The New Forest is a wonderful place to see fungi, it’s a stronghold for many rare and endangered species, and even some still being discovered that are new to science.

 Fungi are essential to the New Forest’s ecosystem, which is why we are asking people not to pick fungi from this special place. Besides being essential rotters and recyclers, they provide food for some animals and are vital to many invertebrates to enable them to complete their life cycles. All this in a comparatively small area, assessed as having the highest importance for fungi achievable in this country, as well as being a Special Site of Scientific Interest.

Did you know that fungi cannot make their own food using energy from sunlight, but grow by absorbing food and water from their surroundings – most importantly from living and dead plants, and animals?

 Many fungi live on the roots of trees and other plants. This is known as a mycorrhizal association (from the Greek ‘myco’ meaning fungus, and ‘rhiza’, root). The fungi help the plant take up more nutrients by increasing the effective surface area of the roots and in turn take sugars from the plant.

 Woodland fungi such as types of Amanita, Boletus, Lactarius and Russula will only grow with certain trees (a helpful guide when identifying the fungi). It may surprise you to know that some trees grow less well without fungi.
 

We continue to actively encourage people to get out into the New Forest and to enjoy the signs of autumn, we just ask that they don’t pick.  Fungi are great to admire and marvellously photogenic too, leaving fungi unpicked means they can be studied and allowed to contribute to the fragile eco-system of our woods and forests.

We’ve already had reports from staff and local people of suspected commercial picking in the Forest. Any activity our staff see, or have reported to them, of suspected fungi picking will be recorded along with any other anecdotal information. Our main aim is to tackle commercial collection of fungi, which has always been prohibited – it is an offence under the Theft Act 1968 to do so without the permission of the landowner.

Certain fungi are edible and enjoyed by people, however, many aren’t palatable and several are poisonous. There are a wide range of approved educational forays on offer, where people can find out more about the incredible fungi that thrive here.

We are working with organisations and experts who can identify the characteristics of the huge varieties of fungi found in the New Forest and get more people interested and involved in the conservation of our rarest fungi.

 We’ve already approved a limited number of licensed educational foragers in the New Forest who can help interpret and raise awareness of the huge value of fungi. We continue to work with foragers to develop sustainable solutions for people to enjoy the benefits of foraging outside of the protected New Forest area.

 We hope that this year’s campaign will help to protect the New Forest’s fungi and highlight just what a special place this is. The New Forest is probably one of the best areas in Europe for the richness of species, as well as a stronghold for many rare species. There has been an increasing trend for foraging in recent years and this puts increased pressures on areas such as the New Forest. It is not unusual for policy changes like this to be made – examples such as collecting of birds eggs and picking wild flowers, which were once considered benign activities have been actively discouraged as greater understanding of the impact of such activities is more widely understood.

For more information please visit our website or look out for our posters that are displayed in popular Forestry Commission car parks to raise awareness of this campaign.

 www.forestry.gov.uk/newforestfungi

 

Forest Diary, Bracken clearance in the New Forest

by Forestry Commission Open Forest Manager, Dave Morris

 We are just beginning this year’s programme of clearing bracken across about 90 hectares of open heathland in the New Forest. Bracken is a vigorous and dominant plant that can in some areas create a tall, dense unbroken canopy, growing up to 2 metres in height. In the autumn, this canopy collapses forming a thick litter mat (known locally as ‘thatch’) that rots down slowly. Over a period of several years, the accumulated mat smothers most other low growing plant species, which is why it needs to be cleared.

 Forage harvesting is part of our bracken control programme and takes place each year between now, and the end of October. We target different areas, on a rotational basis, where the bracken is rapidly expanding at the expense of other plants and wildlife. The cut material is removed and this will improve the site for Forest stock to graze.

 The bracken is cut using tractor mounted forage harvesters, so we focus clearing bracken over acid grassland in primarily flatter, easy access sites that are free of obstructions. The cut material is blown into a hopper, enabling it to be removed from site and therefore leaving the ground free of the accumulated litter mat.

 Before we select work sites, surveys are undertake to assess for the presence of rare plants, Scheduled Ancient Monuments and the team works outside of the season for birds that nest of the heathlands.

Once cut, the bracken is transported to a central storage site in the Forest where it is heaped to enable the composting process to take place. The huge pile reaches minimum temperatures of around 60°C and the heap is regularly turned (2-3 times per year) water is also added to aid this process. Maintaining this temperature eradicates any traces of carcinogens that may be present in the bracken, especially the spores.
 

On average, we produce 2000 cubic metres of forage harvested material each year, which would almost fill an entire Olympic-sized swimming pool! The composed bracken is sold as a soil conditioner, potting medium and for flowerbeds, its ideal for plants such as heathers and azaleas. With a pH of around 5-6 (acidic) it’s really suitable for ericaceous species and we market the product to local garden centres and some national nurseries, including RHS Garden Wisley.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Last updated: 7th October 2017

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