A lasting legacy for the New ForestPUBLISHED ON: 10 MAY 2021
A multimillion-pound scheme for the New Forest has drawn to a close, leaving a legacy of connected communities and thriving wildlife.
The Our Past, Our Future (OPOF) Landscape Partnership Scheme undertook 21 projects to restore lost habitats, develop skills and inspire a new generation to champion and care for the New Forest.
Led by the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) in partnership with 10 other organisations, the £4.4 million scheme was launched in 2015 and focused on the enclosed lands which surround the Open Forest.
With support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, OPOF achieved huge wins for nature:
- More than 210ha of habitat has been restored – equivalent to around 320 football pitches.
- Flora is thriving and attracting more wildlife at newly managed woodlands across the New Forest. Butterflies, bumblebees and birds have been boosted by the restoration of important areas for nature.
- Wild flowers are flourishing along more than 50km of riverbanks where 600 volunteers have helped remove huge swathes of invasive non-native plants.
- The National Trust’s Foxbury site has been transformed with 20,000 native trees planted and a huge increase in wildlife.
- 21,000 wildlife sightings were recorded at selected sites within the scheme, highlighting the huge success of habitat restoration efforts. Rare woodland bats have been seen, rare bird species spotted and almost half of the UK’s species of bumblebee recorded.
The local community, including residents, businesses and commoners, got involved in OPOF, forging new connections, discovering heritage and learning new skills:
- 270,000 people learnt about commoning – the right to graze animals on the Open Forest – through events, exhibitions, groups, educational materials and social media.
- Three permanent wild play areas have been created in partnership with parish councils.
- An incredible archive of New Forest photographs, maps, memories and more is now available at nfknowledge.org/, a website which boasts more than 133,000 searchable records.
- A total of 108 historic monuments have been restored. A highly significant Bronze Age monument dating back more than 4,000 years was revealed when archaeologists and volunteers discovered a ring ditch monument during excavations in Beaulieu.
- Villagers in Burley spent a bank holiday weekend digging 50 excavation pits in gardens and at community sites to reveal the village’s past.
- More than 3,200 commoners, farmers, residents and landowners learnt new skills through a range of training courses and mentoring partnerships.
- Campaigns to promote key forest-friendly messages have been developed, such as ‘add three minutes’ to journeys through the Forest to reduce animal accidents. More than 60 businesses have started promoting these messages to their 3,000 employees, while social media posts have gained huge reach online.
- A toolkit was designed for primary aged children to be used as part of the school curriculum to help them appreciate the New Forest and the important role of commoning.
- More than 130,000 people discovered what makes the New Forest special through events including walking festivals, tours, exhibitions and family activities.
- Eight trainee rangers experienced paid apprenticeships, benefitting from experience with a range of organisation as well as attending college.
One of the biggest successes of OPOF has been the time and effort its incredible volunteers have contributed. Around 2,000 people have volunteered for the scheme, giving 77,000 hours of their time on a range of opportunities, including archaeological surveys and research, historic routes research, events, practical conservation tasks, water quality monitoring and biological surveys.
Patrick Heneghan, New Forest National Park Authority member and Our Past, Our Future Chairman, said: ‘Since early 2019, I have had the immensely rewarding experience of being involved with the fantastic work the Our Past, Our Future scheme has been delivering. Right from the start I have been struck by the huge importance and value to the New Forest of the 21 projects being undertaken.
‘As well as the incredible scope of work, particularly impressive has been the commitment and common sense of purpose demonstrated by a diverse range of partners.
‘I would like to take this opportunity to pass on my appreciation to all those organisations that have provided funding, to those partners who have led the various projects and, very importantly, to all the local community volunteers who have turned out in such numbers to do so much of the physical work needed to make the projects successful.’
Rachael Gallagher, Our Past, Our Future Delivery Manager at the NPA, said: ‘The OPOF scheme has been a fantastic opportunity for communities, organisations, stakeholders, landowners and volunteers to work together to help protect the heritage of the New Forest for the future.’
Thanks to the hard work of all those involved, OPOF has also achieved most of its targets and aspirations. It has also been hailed an outstanding example of successful partnership working in the New Forest. An external evaluation found it created a ‘step change’ through a new, collaborative culture, with the partnership at its core.
The partners involved in OPOF were:
An overview of OPOF and all 21 projects can be viewed online at www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/opof