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Pony near Hampton Ridge
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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:
The New Forest – A Natural History: Colin R. Tubbs

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** New Forest ponies and other animals**
The New Forest
Commoners' ponies, cattle, pigs, sheep and donkeys are a popular part of the New Forest scene, but during 2019 agisters attended 159 road traffic accidents involving these animals, a small but disappointing increase on the 154 accidents attended in 2018.

Sadly, 58 animals were killed - 35 ponies, 13 cows, 8 donkeys and 2 sheep, whilst a further 32 were injured - 3 pigs, 9 donkeys, 11 cows and 9 ponies.

(Forty-three accidents occurred in daylight, 15 at twilight and 101 in the dark. Twenty-seven accidents were not reported by the driver involved).
** Always take care when driving **
New Forest seasonal highlights
September
Dragonflies and damselflies remain on the wing and so do butterflies, but in ever decreasing numbers.
Hen harriers and other autumn and winter visiting birds begin to arrive in the Forest.
New Forest fungi - mushrooms and toadstools increasingly appear in the woods.
Red deer start to noisily rut as stags roar songs of love across favoured heaths.


October
Ancient, unenclosed woodlands and broad-leaved inclosures increasingly take on colourful autumnal hues.
Grey squirrels frantically seek out and store acorns for use during the cold days of winter.
Fallow deer boisterously rut for two or three weeks around the middle of the month before the bucks leave the does and eventually re-form their own male-only 'buck herds'.
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley