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C19 lockdown impacts on rare species

C19 lockdown impacts on rare species


When the Government issued the stay at home guidance few of us imagined the impact this would have on our wildlife.

We all stayed inside but nature carried on. Many have seen the footage of sheep wandering through the towns and deer in the middle of cities on social media, but what has been the impact here in the New Forest on our ground nesting birds?

When out in the New Forest, most people would not notice the rare wildlife living just off the main paths.

Explaining the campaign, Leanne Sargeant, Senior Ecologist at Forestry England, said ‘Ground nesting birds are so difficult to spot that many people are simply unaware they are here. Their 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. By limiting a few activities and taking care to stick to the main tracks until the end of July, we can all play a part in ensuring these birds can continue to thrive here in the Forest and stop their disappearance from our natural world.’

Lost from many other parts of the UK, the New Forest National Park is an important stronghold for birds such as the nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler. It’s because of these birds that much of the Forest is a Special Protection Area. By helping them to breed successfully we may also help slow their decline elsewhere.

The New Forest also contains 75% of the UK’s lowland bog habitat, some of the most important and rare wetlands in Europe that are home to wading birds such as Curlew, Snipe and Lapwing. These birds feed, nest and roost on the ground.

All these birds need a quiet area to stake out their territory, nest and then feed their young. As we began the early stages of lockdown, they were busy finding somewhere safe to lay their eggs and we saw birds in places that were normally full of people and dogs. The first month was hauntingly quiet. The few local residents who could walk from home could hear the birds without the noise of other people, planes, vehicles or trains. Gradually things have got busier but since the middle of May the daily visitors have increased to bank holiday levels. This has risked dramatic effects on the Forest’s rare birds as they had nested closer to some of the car parks and tracks in our absence.

Usually, they sit tight so long as people and dogs stay on the wide, well-used gravel tracks. But they are easily frightened away if we or our dogs stray into the heather or along the smaller pony tracks. This disturbance can mean they give up trying to nest at all – and predators such as crows or foxes will quickly investigate if parent birds are forced to leave eggs or chicks.

To help protect them the New Forest National Park Authority and Forestry England are trying to create quieter areas around very sensitive nesting locations. Car parks at Clayhill, Crockford, Crockford Clump, Hincheslea, Hincheslea Moor, Shatterford, Beaulieu heath and Yew Tree Heath have been closed for the summer and other particularly sensitive locations have been identified near, Beaulieu Heath, and Ocknell and Whitten Pond

You may notice signs at key locations around the Forest, highlighting the presence of the birds and the best ways to minimise disturbance. An orange sign means that ground nesting birds are in the area (we and our dogs should stay on the main tracks). A red ‘STOP’ sign indicates you are approaching a very sensitive nesting area and need to avoid it and find an alternative route.

New Forest National Park Authority Head of Recreation Management and Learning, Nigel Matthews, said: ‘We can all help these rare species to survive by making sure we stick to the wider main tracks when we’re out and about. Please read and take note of the signs, and if you walk your dog or someone else’s please follow the New Forest dog walking code.

‘Everyone can play a part in ensuring these birds can continue to thrive in this special place. We ask that until the end of July everyone keeps to the main paths when out walking, cycling or horse riding. Please keep dogs on the main tracks too, by using a lead if necessary.’

New Forest Dog Owners Group are pleased to be supporting this campaign to help protect these critically important birds. Chair, Heather Gould, said, ‘Many of us choose to walk our dogs away from the sensitive areas that support ground nesting birds during the breeding season. We encourage everyone to take special care when on the Forest with their dogs during this time. Please follow the advice to keep yourselves and your dog on the main tracks and if necessary, use a lead. All of us who love and enjoy the forest have to play our part in protecting this precious environment and the nature it supports.’

Notes to Editor

Forestry England

Forestry England manages and cares for the nation’s 1,500 woods and forests, with over 230 million visits per year. As England’s largest land manager, we shape landscapes and are enhancing forests for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and businesses to grow. For more information visit Forestry England is an agency of the Forestry Commission

Media Contact:

Susan Smith, Media Officer, South Forest District, Forestry England

Tel: 07384 878434

Protect – Enjoy – Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:
-Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park – Protect.
-Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:
Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit to find out more.

Suzi Shilling, Communications Assistant
New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646602

Photo: Woodlark at nest Copyright Mike Read

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