The New Forest is one of Europe’s most important natural landscapes. It is recognised as a National Park and a Special Area of Conservation, the latter being the highest protective designation for a landscape. It is home to one of the biggest collections of ancient oak trees in Europe and is managed in a way that is largely extinct across the continent.
Until Britain left the European Union it was a Natura 2000 site under the EU Habitats Directives: ‘The quality of the habitats of the New Forest, and the rich diversity of species which they support, is dependent upon the management activities of the various owners and occupiers. Of fundamental importance is the persistence of a pastoral economy based on the existence of Rights of Common. The commoners’ stock, mainly cattle and ponies, roam freely over extensive areas of the New Forest, playing a vital role in keeping open habitats free of scrub and controlling the more aggressive species such as bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) and purple-moor grass (Molinia caerulea), and maintaining the richness and variety of heathland and wood pasture habitats.’
For me the New Forest is an escape to ancient England, to one of the last strongholds of a landscape rich in wildlife and rural culture. It is the first place I have managed to photograph cuckoo in any meaningful way, when it burst out of a plantation to sit in a burnt gorse bush by a main road. Many other birds which are severely declining are found in the New Forest, including hawfinch, redstart, spotted flycatcher and less spotted woodpecker. In the spring the woods are full of ancient woodland flowers, in summer butterflies, hoverflies and bees, in autumn the forest teems with mushrooms. It is a kind of paradise.
You can see my New Forest posts on my blog.