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New Forest wildlife - an introduction

New Forest wildlife - a kingfisher
New Forest wildlife - a kingfisher

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.

New Foreset wildlife - silver-studded blue butterflies
New Forest wildlife -
silver-studded blue butterflies

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.

Find out more about New Forest wildlife

References:
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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New Forest ponies
New Forest ponies in the road
New Forest ponies, cattle, pigs, sheep and donkeys are a popular part of the New Forest scene, but in 2015, 55 were killed on the roads.
Always take care when driving
New Forest 'what's on' - a small
selection of local events and activities
May 2017
Sunday, 7th - Burley Village Hall, Visions LifeForce, 10.30am - 5.00pm.
Saturday, 20th - Ringwood Fanfare for Spring - International Festival of Street Performance Art, various locations around the town, 10.30am - 4.30pm.
Wednesday, 31st - Wild Wednesday, New Forest Reptile Centre, 10.30am - 4.00pm.

June 2017
Monday, 5th - Burley Village Hall, Film Night, 7.30pm.
All of May and then on until Sunday, 11th June - Exbury Gardens, Four Seasons Art Exhibition, 10.00am - 5.00pm.
All of May and then on until Sunday, 9th July - New Forest Centre, Lyndhurst, Special Exhibition - All Trees are Clocks, 10.00am - 4.30pm.
Saturday, 17th - Walkies Workshop, Beaulieu Heath car park, 1.00pm - 3.00pm. Forestry Commission event.
View the full 'What's on' programme.
New Forest seasonal highlights
May
Bluebells and other wild flowers brighten the woods, usually in relatively small numbers.
Bird song can be heard throughout the day but is at its loudest at dawn and, to a lesser extent, dusk.
Foals are born in increasing numbers and can be seen beside ever-attentive mares.
Dragonflies are more frequently observed on the wing as spring progresses.

June
Badgers can now often be watched above ground well before darkness falls.
Deer - fallow, red, roe, sika and muntjac deer are all present - give birth, although the youngsters are unlikely to be noticed until July.
Heath spotted-orchids add delicate pink colour to many of the heaths.
Hobbies, dashing birds of prey, can often be seen aloft, hawking for insects.
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley