From Paraguay to the New Forest – Natural History Museum experts explore rare habitats

Published Tuesday 21 September 2010

The exotic country of Paraguay seems far removed from William the Conqueror’s New Forest – a wildlife haven nestled between Bournemouth and Southampton.

Yet two teams from the Natural History Museum are focussing on these remarkable landscapes to map the hugely varied species that can be found there.

Supported by the New Forest National Park Authority and funded by public donations to the Museum, the first team has already started collating a New Forest inventory of the area’s wildlife and environment. This will provide a snapshot in time of the New Forest against which changes over the next 10 years can be mapped.

The New Forest is one of the most important areas for wildlife in the UK as it is home to a wide range of species and habitats. This landscape’s unique qualities are largely due to grazing by New Forest ponies who roam the ancient woodlands and heathlands as part of a traditional commoning system. Yet there are still huge gaps in our knowledge about the species that can be found here and how widespread they are.

New Forest National Park Ecologist Ian Barker said: ‘The New Forest National Park is the most densely populated National Park in the UK and has over 13 million visitors each year.

‘Despite these pressures, thanks to good management by a wide range of organisations, the New Forest continues to be a magnificent landscape with an abundance of really special wildlife.

‘Over half the national park is designated as being internationally or nationally important for nature conservation – a higher density than any other national park in England.

‘The team is studying some of the less popular aspects of the Forest ecology – insects, lichen and soils – which are the building blocks of biodiversity but are often overlooked because people are generally more interested in the bigger species such as birds.

‘It is an exciting opportunity to obtain baseline data in a scientific way and the fact that it will be repeated and the information will be captured over five and 10 years is extremely useful.

‘It is vitally important that we work with experts such as the Natural History Museum to find out as much information as possible about the habitats and wildlife here and to establish how we can best look after it.’

Paul Eggleton, insect expert and Head of the Museum’s Soil Biodiversity Group, said: ‘This is one of the most important areas for biodiversity in Britain. This will allow us for the first time to get a very good handle on what is happening to nature in the New Forest.’

Dr Dan Carpenter, of the Museum’s Soil Biodiversity Group, said 40 plots within six habitats spread across the New Forest are being used to sample lichens, algae, insects and soil in order to document patterns of biodiversity across the forest.  

He explained why the New Forest was chosen for the survey. He said: ‘The New Forest is an ideal area to sample in this way because it is one of the most important areas of pasture woodland, heathland and valley mires in Europe. It is also a UK (and often European) biodiversity hotspot for many groups such as lichens, flowering plants, fungi, bats and birds. As it’s in the south it is likely to be strongly affected by climate change, species invasion, land use change and pollution. The way it has been historically managed through commoning makes it even more interesting.’

Meanwhile another group of Museum scientists is preparing to embark on a fieldtrip to Paraguay in November to conduct a biodiversity survey, also funded by public donations. The area is the largest dry forest in South America and the continent’s most extensive forested region after Amazonia. Very little is known of its flora and fauna.

They will be working in collaboration with Paraguayan counterparts and sharing skills and expertise both in the field and in the local Museum of Natural History.


Notes to Editors:
New Forest sampling facts:

  • Lichens are key indicators of both air and water quality
  • Fungi, earthworms, and soil/ leaf litter invertebrates (eg. centipedes, millipedes, woodlice, soil/litter beetles, mites and ants) are vital for decomposition and nutrient cycling processes
  • Midges and aquatic algae are key indicators of water quality
  • Soil will also be sampled to monitor changes in soil quality and soil health.

The New Forest National Park in numbers:

  • Around 6,500-7,000 animals - ponies, cattle, pigs, donkeys, sheep - grazing on the Open Forest as part of an ancient commoning system
  • Nearly 10,000 hectares of ancient semi-natural woodland, including the greatest concentration of ‘veteran’ trees in western Europe
  • 19,500 hectares of lowland heath, the largest area of this rare habitat remaining in the UK
  • 31,000 hectares of national or international importance for nature conservation – over half of the Park and a higher proportion than in any other English National Park

The Paraguay and New Forest projects were funded through the Natural History Museum’s Scientific Expeditions funding for the Annual Fund 2008/09. The money came from sources including donation boxes in the Museum, online donations, patrons and a direct mail appeal.

Media Contact:
Hilary Makin, Communications Manager, New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646608

Sam Roberts, Media Relations Manager, Natural History Museum
Tel: 020 7942 5881

More articles in the news archive.

New Forest National Park Authority news feed


image-fade-right image-fade-left