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The central core of the New Forest extends across an elevated plateau, sloping gently from north to south towards the Solent Coast.

Rivers and streams cutting through the plateau have formed gently sloping valleys between low flat-topped hills and created much of the rolling landscape towards the centre of the Forest. Towards the north the valleys are deeper, whilst near the coast the land is flatter and more open. The whole area is contained within a downfold of the surrounding chalk, forming part of the Hampshire Basin.

The New Forest National Park sits in the Hampshire ‘Basin’ – a shallow dip surrounded by the chalk downlands of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset with the prominent ridge of the Isle of Wight to the south.

Gravel, sand and clay predominate, dating from the time when the entire New Forest area was a shallow sea or large river estuary. The landscape is punctuated by a number of sand and gravel pits, both disused and active.

On the surface, the New Forest National Park is a mixture of poor soils in flat, gravelly areas; richer clay and loam that is well-drained; and water-logged, marshy bogs or mires. The bed of clay a metre or less below the surface is a hard, impervious layer and creates the saturated, spongy earth that is characteristic of large parts of the National Park. Forest soils are generally derived from soft clays and sands, overlain in many areas by deposits of flint, gravels and windblown brickearth.

The geology gives rise to distinctive vegetation: pine, birch, heather, gorse and grasses on the heathland; beech, oak, yew and holly in the woodland areas; and bracken, moss, cotton grass and willow on the boggy ground.

A number of sites within the New Forest National Park are of recognised geological importance.

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