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New Forest wildlife habitats - an introduction

Ancient, unenclosed woodland at Brinken Wood
Ancient, unenclosed woodland at Brinken Wood

The New Forest was once described as ‘like a scene from medieval England, a rich tapestry of ancient woodlands, bogs and windswept heathland.’

And that’s absolutely true, for this is not a wholly wooded forest, but a Forest in the medieval sense, a Royal Forest once set aside and used for hunting by successive monarchs and their followers.

Ownership by the Crown, jealously guarded common rights, and the presence of extensive areas of acidic, relatively infertile soil have all discouraged agricultural and other developments, leaving intact a remarkably historic landscape.

Islands of more fertile ground can, however, be found, and it is around these that private estates, agricultural holdings, towns and villages often became established.

Today, the New Forest encompasses an area of 377 square kilometres (145 square miles), and comprises a substantial part of the New Forest National Park.

The Crown continues to own 266 square kilometres (103 square miles) - 71% of the area - which is managed by the Forestry Commission. The remaining 111 square kilometres (42 square miles), primarily around the towns and villages, are in private hands.

Areas of modestly high ground – up to 128 metres (420 feet) above sea level - are found in the north and west of the area, creating scenery not too dissimilar to that of Exmoor. In the south and east, gently undulating land dips gradually down towards the sea.

And mile-upon-mile of clean, clear, gravel-bottomed streams meander through, whilst quite large expanses of standing water can be found at Eyeworth Pond, Sowley Pond and Hatchet Pond, with many smaller permanent and temporary pools elsewhere.

The New Forest landscape, to put all this into context, includes a delightful mixture of :

Woodlands

  • Magnificent, mostly ancient, unenclosed woodlands - 46 square kilometres
  • Broad-leaved Forestry inclosures - 34 square kilometres
  • Coniferous Forestry inclosures - 50 square kilometres

Heathlands - 81 square kilometres
Grasslands - 28 square kilometres
Valley mires - 14 square kilometres

All these places are relatively unspoilt, and all are important in their own right. But put together, they create a wonderful interlocking mosaic of unparalleled diversity, which provides a tremendous range of wildlife habitats.

Three of these habitats, however, are worth particular mention - the ancient, unenclosed woodlands; the heathlands and the valley mires. Why? Because nowhere else in lowland western Europe do they now occur on such a large scale.

That is a measure of the importance of the New Forest landscape and its wildlife habitats.

Find out more about New Forest wildlife habitats

References:
Forestry Commission:http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-6arg96
Forestry Commission - Draft Management Plan: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-7A3F82
New Forest Natural Area Profile: http://www.newforestassociation.com/info received/new forest overview.pdf
The New Forest – A Natural History: Colin R. Tubbs

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** New Forest ponies **
New Forest ponies in the road
Ponies, cattle, pigs, sheep and donkeys are a popular part of the New Forest scene, but during the first six months of 2018, 36 animals were killed or injured on Forest roads, compared with 26 in the same period in 2017, a shocking rise of 38%.
** Always take care when driving **
New Forest seasonal highlights
November
Sika deer continue to engage in rutting behaviour, and will do so until December.
Pigs seek out the remains of the acorn crop.
Beech leaves are transformed into a magnificent mosaic of glorious reds and golds. Other deciduous trees, too, take on an autumnal cloak before their leaves fall.
Dragonflies can occasionally be seen on the wing on bright days early in the month.


December
Foxglove leaves survive the winter at ground level, and offer the prospect of colourful summer blooms to come.
Redwings and fieldfares, autumn and winter visitors, gorge on haws and holly berries.
Great grey shrikes and hen harriers hunt over the heaths and other open spaces.
Honeysuckle by the end of the month often shows welcome signs of new growth.
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley