Helping to uncover a secret ForestPUBLISHED ON: 8 MAY 2018
Julie Melin-Stubbs, our Wildlife and Conservation Manager and Manager of the New Forest Land Advice Service on an exciting new nature reserve in the New Forest.
We work with a wide number of organisations, businesses and individuals to protect the Forest, support commoning and ensure the wildlife and traditional ways of life here are preserved for future generations.
It’s well known that New Forest is a world capital for wildlife – over half the National Park is protected for its international importance for nature.
It is the most significant area in Europe for ponds, has the most lowland heathland in northern Europe, the greatest density of ancient trees in western Europe and has an incredible number of rare plant and wildlife species, several of which only exist in the New Forest and a handful of other sites.
It’s clear that this is an exceptionally special place. So I was extremely excited when in 2015 I heard that Franchises Lodge, part of the Hamptworth Estate, had come onto the market. Like much of our countryside, the New Forest is under pressure and there is an urgent need to make our precious wildlife sites better and more joined up in order to truly protect them now and in the future. Here was a rare chance – a once-in-a-generation chance – to turn a huge piece of the jigsaw puzzle in the north of the National Park into a special place for nature linked to the Open Forest.
This is an incredible opportunity for both wildlife and people. I will never forget the day I spoke to the RSPB and found to my delight they were interested in exploring the opportunity of acquiring the land. This significant site of 1,000 acres in the north of the Forest is particularly fascinating as, unlike the Open Forest, the vast majority has never been seen or enjoyed by the public; a secret forest.
At the Franchises Lodge site, nature has almost had free rein in some areas and in other areas commercial forestry has been introduced. There are some woodland areas of the gifted land which are so special they have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but we’re certain that more treasures will be revealed as the RSPB investigates further and starts to manage the land specifically for wildlife and for people to enjoy.
We are excited to have the RSPB as a land manager partner in the Forest for the first time and are looking forward to working closely with them and having their expertise, their staff and volunteers, as well as their national voice, to help us protect the National Park – one of the most precious landscapes in the UK.
This is a long-term project and will take time, working with the community and a range of partner organisations to get it right. The first step is to establish exactly what is on the site before undertaking heathland and woodland restoration, introducing some grazing by commoners in some areas to improve the habitat quality, and also looking at providing opportunities for people to discover this secret area of the Forest for themselves.
It’s a thrilling prospect that after centuries of seeing the Forest grow smaller and its rare flora and fauna diminish, we now actually have a chance to make the New Forest bigger and to protect it for future generations.