The Forest Diary – Time to nestPUBLISHED ON: 28 FEBRUARY 2019
By Zoe Cox, Community Manager, Forestry Commission South Forest District
Everywhere you look there are signs of springs; the first few flowers bursting into bloom, the start of blossom on the trees, and signs of green shoots and buds beginning to emerge. These new signs of life are easy to see but there is also another very important spring activity going on that is not so obvious.
Over the coming weeks the ground nesting bird season will begin, a time when several rare species of birds including the Nightjar, Curlew, Woodlark and Dartford Warbler, start their breeding cycle. Unlike most birds they choose the rather risky tactic of building their nests on the ground rather than in the trees making them extremely vulnerable. If disturbed, they may flee their nests and expose their eggs and chicks to predators.
The New Forest is a favourite spot to nest for these birds, one of the reasons that much of the Forest is a Special Protection Area for birds. This is why each year we close a small number of car parks in areas that provide important habitats for these birds. The car parks affected are Crockford, Crockford Clump, Hincheslea Moor and Clay Hill in Burley.
This year we have also added Yew Tree Heath Car Park following a detailed survey of the area that revealed it to be one of the best sites for breeding waders. The numbers of these birds are in decline so it is particularly important to find ways to improve their breeding success rate.
Closing the car park here will help us to create a quiet zone around this very sensitive site offering the birds greater protection which we hope will make it more likely that they will be able to breed successfully. We will continue to monitor and assess the birds at this site to help us understand how best to help halt the decline of these species.
There are a number of other places to visit not far away from Yew Tree Heath which offer good alternative walks and areas to visit. Alternative car parks to use during the time include Beaulieu Road, Pig Bush, Marchwood and Kings Hat.
Ground nesting birds can be very difficult to spot and most of us visiting the forest would simply be unaware that they are here. In fact, the nests are so well camouflaged that to the untrained eye it is very hard to see them before you are so close that damage has already been done to them. To help spot where these sensitive areas are we will be putting up notices and signs at key locations around the forest. These will highlight the presence of the birds and advise visitors of the best ways to minimise disturbance to them. If you see an orange sign this will help you to know that ground nesting birds are in the area. A purple sign indicates that you are in a very sensitive area.
To help these birds thrive we ask that from the start of the nesting season through to the end of July that visitors please keep to the main paths when out walking, cycling or horse riding in the forest and do not venture out onto the open heath. We also ask dog walkers to please keep their dog on the main tracks, and if necessary to use a lead, so that the birds and young chicks are not disturbed.
Of course, with so much activity going on in spring it is a special time to witness bird life. The forest is alive with birdsong as males advertise their territories and try to attract a mate. Once paired the busy time of nest building begins and you can spot birds finding just the right materials they need and gathering these together.
All of this activity makes it a good time to find a vantage spot on the safety of a main track to watch some of these fascinating creatures.
By limiting a few activities and taking care to stick to the main tracks during the spring and summer, we can all play a part in ensuring these birds can continue to thrive in this special place.
To find out more about New Forest please visit: www.forestryengland.uk/new-forest