The sheer abundance of New Forest wildlife makes the Crown lands a naturalist’s paradise.
A cliché? Maybe. But it's true.
New Forest wildlife can be found in staggering variety in what is a unique eco-system located in the midst of increasingly urbanised southern England. Of particular importance are the ancient, unenclosed woodlands, the valley mires and the heathlands, all habitats that are scarce elsewhere in Britain and throughout much of western Europe.
New Forest wildlife: where should one start when describing such riches?
Well, around 100 bird species are frequent breeders, whilst a further 20 or so, can be seen as regular winter visitors or passage migrants. The roll call is impressive, and includes birds such as the hen harrier, redshank, lapwing, curlew, snipe, kingfisher, nightjar, woodlark, Dartford warbler, firecrest, great grey shrike, common crossbill and hawfinch. And, of course, a great many more occur on the adjoining coastline.
Four species of deer are present in good numbers. Look out for the tiny roe deer; the magnificent red deer - Britain’s largest land mammal; for fallow deer, and sika deer, too. A fifth might also occasionally be seen, the inconspicuous muntjac that hides away in some of the denser woodland.
Foxes and Badgers are widespread, whilst otters and polecats have recently been recorded, and at least 9 bat species have been noted, including the extremely rare Bechstein’s and Barbastelle bats.
Fifteen species of orchids and a wide range of other wild flowers grow in the New Forest, some of which are incredibly rare elsewhere – flowers such as the endemic wild gladiolus, the bog orchid, slender cottongrass and pennyroyal.
Twenty-seven, or so, dragonfly species occur - that’s around 75% of all those found in Britain - including substantial populations of the scarce, southern damselfly. And almost forty butterfly species grace the area, including strong populations of pearl-bordered fritillaries that elsewhere have declined at an alarming rate, and silver-studded blues that in most other places are rare or absent.
Outstanding communities of other invertebrates are also present, many living in or on dead and decaying timber in the ancient, pasture woodlands - creatures such as the imposingly large stag beetle, hornets, dung beetles and southern wood ants.
All Britain’s native reptiles are present, encouraged by the New Forest’s relatively mild climate - adders, grass snakes, the rare smooth snake, slow worms, common lizards and the incredibly scarce, sand lizard. A range of amphibians also breed in permanent or temporary pools, including, of course, frogs and toads, but also smooth, palmate and great crested newts.
Over 2,600 species of fungi have been identified in the New Forest, and although many can only be told apart by experts, it’s an incredible tally, whilst the New Forest hosts what is often considered to be one of the richest moss, lichen and fern communities in the whole of western lowland Europe.
Not surprisingly, the New Forest has attracted a number of major wildlife / conservation designations. It is a:
a) Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
b) National Nature Reserve
c) Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention 1993
d) Special Protected Area for Birds (SPA)
e) Candidate Special Area of Conservation
The New Forest also forms part of the South Hampshire Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is, of course, by far the major component of the relatively recently designated New Forest National Park.
A naturalist’s paradise? Yes, most certainly.
The New Forest – A Natural History: Colin R. Tubbs
Hampshire Bird Reports: Hampshire Ornithological Society
The Flora of Hampshire: Anne Brewis, Paul Bowman and Francis Rose
The Butterflies of Hampshire: Matthew Oates, John Taverner, David Green et al
The Dragonflies of Hampshire: John Taverner, Steve Cham, Alan Hold et al
Fungi of the New Forest – A Mycota: Edited by Gordon Dickson and Ann Leonard
Forestry Commission: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-6a5kw3
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