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Forest Diary - October

Tomorrow’s Forester

Nick Hill, Trainee Forester at the Forestry Commission

The New Forest brings together people from near and far, who have a wide-range of interests, including holiday makers, sports people, academics, conservationists, commoners, local residents and members of the forestry industry, to name but a few. With almost 27,000 hectares of woodland in the region the Forestry Commission are tasked with managing the forest and the wider landscape in order to best accommodate the diverse objectives of these stakeholder groups.

So what’s my role in all of this? Having just taken up the role of Trainee Forester here in the New Forest, I am quickly getting to grips with how I can contribute to managing the woodland best. Our aim is to provide a vibrant and healthy setting for people to live and work in, both now and for generations to come. The core part of my day-to-day job is focused on the planning and supervision of works related to establishing, growing and harvesting trees. This week for example, I have been surveying areas of the forest planted in 2013 to assess how healthy and vigorous the trees are.

My Trainee Forester post is a two year training programme throughout which I will develop a broad-range of vocational experience and benefit from supplementary formal training. The Forestry Commission is an industry leader in many aspects of modern forestry management and I look forward to applying new techniques and innovations in my work. Next week, I will receive training on Continuous Cover Forestry, an emerging technique that enables forestry managers to continually grow and harvest trees of various ages simultaneously, on a single area of land. It is a principle built upon better mimicking natural forest processes and structures. It’s another means in a varied toolkit that enables a Forester to sustain a forest which is beautiful in appearance, economically productive and home to a rich array of wildlife.

Forests have long since been a place where people go to relax and restore their bodies and minds from the strains of every-day life. They are precious habitats for wildlife, including specialist species that are dependent on trees and the forest ecosystem. Trees clean the air, cool our climate and regulate water flows. We are especially lucky here in the New Forest to have these benefits directly impacting the landscape we live in. Timber supplied from sustainable forest management supports livelihoods in rural areas and provides wood products which lock-up carbon, offering green alternatives to conventional building materials. It is for all of these mentioned benefits and others that I am excited to be working in the forestry industry at the beginning of what I hope will be a long and happy career as a Forester. See you in the woods!

Tackling fly-tipping in the New Forest

 by Gary North, Recreation Manager at the Forestry Commission

 There were 506 separate incidents of fly-tipping on the Crown lands of the New Forest last year.  Each time this happens we have to arrange to get the waste cleared-up; the average fly-tip costs the Forestry Commission approximately £150 (+vat) in contract costs. That’s in addition to the internal costs involved in taking the calls, reports, sending someone out to locate it and setting up and managing the waste contract.

Removing a larger than average fly-tip or one that contains a lot of rubble or hazardous material requires a specialist vehicle and disposal costs are significantly higher.

The scale and cost is considerable, but our funds are limited, its money that could have been better spent on managing the open forest habitats, planting trees, and providing facilities here in the New Forest.

Unfortunately, the actions of a few people mean that many of our staff and volunteers spend a great deal of time clearing up rubbish when they could be working on important tasks, it seems that every week we’re finding more illegal fly-tipping that poses a danger to both people and wildlife.

Our incident reports show there has been an increase in the dumping of hazardous waste, which in turn increases the amount the Forestry Commission has to spend on disposing of large items and hazardous substances.

When people look for a place to fly-tip, the main criteria are that it has to be a quiet, remote location where they won’t get caught. What they don’t consider is that the New Forest is a special place with many rare plants and animals and their waste can have real repercussions on the environment and detrimental impact on local wildlife.

Fly-tipping also includes garden waste, such as grass cuttings or hedge trimmings, which can have a terrible effect on ponies, causing their stomach or intestine to rupture and some animals may die. Many garden plants are poisonous to animals and for these reasons all garden waste should be disposed of properly and not dumped on the Forest.

There are a number of steps that we’re taking to prevent fly-tipping, including gates and barriers, and improving visibility of entrances; removing fly-tipped waste quickly and installing CCTV in the most frequently affected locations.

In addition, we’re working closely with other partners in the New Forest and I’m part of in the joint New Forest Litter Working Group with staff from the New Forest National Park Authority and New Forest District Council. The focus of this group is to raise awareness of the issues around littering and fly-tipping and to coordinate direct action where necessary.

Any evidence collected at the scene of an incident is passed to the district council, who carry out investigations, which is a good example of our joint working. 

The number of prosecutions where fly-tipped waste has been traced back to residents and local businesses is on the rise. Working in partnership with the New Forest District Council, we’ve acted swiftly to trace rubbish back and find those responsible.

There have been many occasions, when the business owner could not provide details of the person who had taken the waste and did not have a waste transfer note or duty of care, documents businesses are legally required to have to show they are disposing of their waste responsibly. They were issued with a fine for failing to produce the documentation and the person who had taken the waste was also fined for fly-tipping the rubbish.

Many people don’t know they’re responsible by law if their rubbish is fly-tipped by a third party, so don’t be afraid to ask where your waste is going and request paperwork that shows where it will be disposed. A legitimate waste carrier will not object to this questioning. Protect yourself by being careful with your waste and if the carrier doesn’t have a licence, you shouldn’t use them.

For more information about Keep Britain Tidy’s campaign visit:

www.keepbritaintidy.org/crimenottocare

Bringing the New Forest’s rivers back to life

Sarah Oakley, HLS Ecologist

Natural streams transport water through the lowest point in the floodplain, which if you think about it, is the path of least resistance – and as a result, natural channels have many twists and turns as they meander through the landscape, creating pools here and faster flowing riffles there.

I’m part of a small team in the New Forest that has over 40 years of experience in re-instating these natural curves in Forest streams, infilling deep man-made drains, and reducing damaging erosion in our fragile mires. So far, over 10 miles of historical drainage channels have been successfully restored to naturally meandering streams, and this summer we completed another 1.5 miles at Wootton.

The Wootton riverine woodlands follow the course of Avon Water across the Open Forest, starting about 750m downstream of the A35 and continuing to the edge of Sway village. The work that has been done here will slow the water flow, allowing time for the wetland habitats to absorb the rainfall and helping to prevent flash floods that can pose a risk to local properties downstream. By restoring the natural watercourses we are helping to make sure the Avon Water and the surrounding habitats are more resilient in both winter floods and summer droughts.

At Wootton, the artificial channel was restored to its original meandering flow path, reconnecting it with the forested floodplain and so reducing the speed of the water moving through the area during heavy rain. In addition, a series of riffle and pool sequences were created to provide flow diversity within the channel. These features allow a much greater mixture of both plants and animals to thrive, living in lots of varied microhabitats and supporting all stages of their life cycles, from dragonfly nymphs hunting in the riverweed, to sea trout spawning on the gravels of the stream bed.

The timing of this work is critical - it has to be carried out during the summer months, when the water
levels are at their lowest, and the ground is at its driest. The frequent heavy rainfall that occurred this July
and August really held us up and we had to delay our work programme until ground conditions were judged
to be dry enough for contractors to continue restoring the site. It’s a complex operation and we’re working
with specially-modified, low ground pressure machines in a very special place that we are trying to protect
and improve. The New Forest has many designations that highlight why we need to undertake this
restoration - it’s 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).  

This project is funded by the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship scheme, which is drawn from European and Central Government to spend on environmental restoration projects. It’s part of a ten-year scheme, administered by Natural England, which is held by the Verderers and managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

Although the re-creation of the old meanders is now complete on the upstream half of the site (as far as Wootton Bridge) and the channel has been reconnected, there is still work to be done downstream. The next step begins in May 2018, when we will continue the work on the stretch of river downstream of Wootton Bridge car park.

We’ll also continue to collect post-restoration fish, invertebrate and vegetation data to help gather an even greater range of scientifically robust evidence about the effectiveness of restoration techniques. This monitoring will shed more light on the environmental benefits of the scheme, and any improvements that we could make in the future.

Walkers and riders will be pleased to know that stock crossings and passageways have been re-done as part of the work, although it is worth bearing in mind that allowing the river to work more flexibly with the floodplain during heavy downpours means that these crossings will still be temporarily impassable during, and for a little while after, heavy rain. The end result will help to protect the SSSI habitats of the New Forest, and prevent fast flows eroding away chunks of river bank and flooding land and properties downstream.

We’d like to reassure forest users that the final phase of the work in this area will cause as little disruption as possible to footpaths and cycle tracks.  We are aware of how busy Wootton Inclosure can be during the summer months and we’d like to thank all the local residents and businesses that have worked with us, supported this project and helped us to safeguard these habitats for future generations.

For more information about the HLS Scheme visit: http://www.hlsnewforest.org.uk/

 

Good mornings in the New Forest 

by Richard Daponte, Forestry Commission Recreation Ranger

How do you like your mornings? I like my mornings crisp and clear, r ather than misty and mellow, and heading out into the New Forest early in the morning, there’s no doubt that autumn is in the air. The morning dew is glistening on the leaves and a sense of calm has settled over our woodlands. The summertime crowds have dissipated and the Forest is undergoing a transformation. Leaves change colour and fall, different and sometimes surprising wildlife emerges, and a golden calm descends. If you want to experience the forest in a different light, now is the time to do it.

The New Forest’s ancient and ornamental woodlands are some of the best places in the country to see autumn, with beech and oak often showing truly magical displays. Look for canopies of beech at the high end of Bolderwood Ornamental Drive, toward Bolderwood itself.

With just the right mixture of rich autumnal light, interesting leaf displays and fresh crisp air, it is a fantastic time to get outside and boost your wellbeing before the winter months set in.

Our new autumn walking trail starts from 22 September at Bolderwood, so head to the forest to learn lots of facts about autumn. The trail has a mix of evergreen conifers and broadleaf trees, so you can find the perfect spot to sit back, relax and let autumn work its magic on your senses.

Leaves starting to change colour first include some of Britain’s native species such as common spindle, rowan and crab apple. Trees like beech, oak and chestnut will change later.

During the autumn, trees produce hundreds of seeds in the hope that a few will find the perfect place to land and grow into a new tree. Conifer seeds, housed in cones ripen that open up to release tiny winged seeds that are carried away by the breeze at this time of year. Nuts from the trees like oak, beech and chestnut are also falling to germinate on the Forest floor and grow into new trees, or be eaten by wildlife.

A spectacular show of forest fruits has already begun, I’ve spotted lots of birds and woodland animals foraging, as the season is looking like a good year for the fruits and seeds of many trees, especially the oak’s acorns and the sloes of the blackthorn.

The Pannage season has just started in the New Forest, which means that some Commoners will release their pigs into the forest so that they can feed on acorns, beechmast, chestnuts and other forest food.  No longer carried out in most of the country, pannage is still observed here in the New Forest.  It’s a fascinating sight, so why not grab the camera and see if you stumble across some snuffling pigs, and their piglets? Just remember though, pigs are not pets so make sure that you observe from a respectful distance!

At the beginning of October you’ll be able to see the early waves of colour emerging and it should reach its peak by mid-October. There’s only a very short window to see these beautiful changes occurring so it’s a prime time to get out with the family to see what the forests and trees have on offer this autumn.

The Forestry Commission’s website includes the top ten spots to visit this autumn in England, as well as links to family activities, craft ideas, events and guided walks across the country. Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/autumn for more details.

 

Don’t get stuck in a rut!

by Andy Page, Head of Wildlife Management at the Forestry Commission.

The woodlands we look after are home to so many different animals here in the New Forest, but for me and the Keepers it’s the deer that play a major role in the Forest and in its history too.

While the shorter days and falling temperature of autumn signal hibernation for many animals here, for some of the deer population it’s a cue to enter the arena and do battle for dominance.

 The red deer is the largest land mammal in the UK, standing at up to 137 cm tall at shoulder height, so if you come face to face with a proud stag bearing a magnificent set of antlers, it looks very impressive! The stag's antlers are an outward display of his masculinity. The growth of the antlers is driven by testosterone and peaks in the early autumn when the rut starts. The deer's testosterone levels drop in the early winter and the antlers eventually drop off. Regrowth begins again in the spring, usually bigger and better than the year before. 

 The rut is the mating season, which for red deer begins about now and lasts until around early November. During this time, competing males, pumped full of testosterone, will engage in a series of behaviours aimed at showing off to the hinds (female red deer) and establishing dominance over the other stags. The master stag will mate with all the hinds in a 'harem' which could be up to 20 or so hinds. The females give birth, after a winter pregnancy, in May or June.

At this time of year, the stags can be seen walking alongside one another threateningly, in a behaviour called parallel walking. They will stamp the ground and roar fiercely. If two stags are of a similar size and these behaviours don't sufficiently establish a winner, they will literally 'lock antlers' and fight for dominance. The fights are ferocious and decisive and the winner takes all.

The interesting thing about the status of red deer is that they no longer have any natural predators. Once this native species would have been hunted by bears, lynxes, and wolves but these animals are now extinct in the UK. Red deer have however, had a chequered history, in times past, there used to be many more deer in the New Forest. Subject to Forest Law, the hunting of deer was the privilege of Royalty. However, the introduction of the Deer removal Act in 1851 began a cull of virtually all of the 7000 deer in the Forest. It was not completely successful and in 1900 about 200 deer remained - this included a small number of red deer. The overall deer population has steadily increased and today the total population of red deer is managed at around 85.

 The rut is an amazing natural spectacle to witness, although you wouldn't want to get too close to the competing stags! In my job, one of my most memorable moments is going out in the early morning and seeing two stags battling on the heathland – it’s one of nature’s truly spectacular scenes. 

It is a privilege to see wild red deer at such close quarters in the New Forest and we try our best to manage the red deer herds to minimise disturbance and to ensure that people can continue to enjoy watching these deer. If you do wish to see them, please make sure that you stay on the main track at all times and keep dogs under close control while in the deer conservation area. Always keep your distance - binoculars are essential! Do not approach the deer - they are wild animals, it’s a breach of the Forestry Commission's bylaws if you wilfully disturb wildlife.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are getting unacceptably close to the deer and disturbing them. This has dramatically affected deer behaviour with the herd not able to move freely into the red deer conservation area and there’s the potential danger of pushing the animals onto nearby roads. This disturbance can affect deer breeding success and the future of the herd.

The New Forest has always been renowned for deer, with the largest areas of wild heathlands and ancient woodland in lowland Britain; it’s an ideal place to support populations of deer.  Indeed, we have five species of deer here, Fallow, Red, Sika, Roe and Muntjac. Each species behave slightly differently, for example the Red, Sika and Fallow have a similar breeding period, but for Roe deer rutting happens in late July/early August. Today the population is managed to around 2,000 deer and if you are keen to catch a glimpse of these normally secretive animals, the best place to visit is the viewing platform at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, which is home to a wild herd of Fallow deer.

For more information about visiting Bolderwood go to: www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest

 

  

Last updated: 18th November 2017

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