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New study shows nationally important New Forest wildlife sites under pressure

New study shows nationally important New Forest wildlife sites under pressure


A new study calculates that the New Forest now has over 15 million recreational visitor days each year – up 12% from the last study in 2004.

This means there are more visitor days per square mile of protected conservation area than any other English national park.

The visitor research by RJS Associates was commissioned by the National Park Authority and its partners*. It predicts that by 2037 there will be over 17 million recreational visitor days a year to the National Park.

Over half (56%) of the New Forest National Park is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – areas which are protected because of their rare habitats and wildlife. This is a higher proportion than all the nine other English national parks (the next highest is the Peak District at 35%). The new visitor calculations therefore equate to an average of 69,000 visitor days a year per square mile of protected habitat.

Recreational visitor days are defined as days or part days spent in the New Forest National Park by people in their leisure time. Most visitor days (77%) are by people who visit and return home on the same day (they mostly live in or close to the National Park and visit very frequently throughout the year).

The New Forest is surrounded by Southampton, Bournemouth and Salisbury and has 16 million people within a 90 minute drive. The new desk-based study estimates that the number of visits to the National Park has been increasing by on average 1% a year, much of it based on local population increases.

New Forest National Park Authority Chairman Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre said: ‘I think people will be surprised to read just how much pressure the New Forest is under and the huge number of visits to these protected habitats.

‘There are important health and economic benefits to this recreational activity. The New Forest is also home to some of the UK’s and Europe’s rarest wildlife species and habitats.

‘This is why all the organisations responsible for caring for this precious area are working together to manage it for both people and wildlife. This new study will help inform future decisions.’

Bruce Rothnie, the Forestry Commission’s Deputy Survey of the New Forest, said: ‘The report confirms the increase we have seen on the Crown land and why managing public access while protecting the Forest’s very special qualities is an increasing challenge.

‘We’re taking a proactive approach to managing recreation and will continue to provide recreational opportunities for local people and visitors.

‘We all have a role to play in caring for the local environment and together we aim to ensure that visitor facilities are fit for purpose and sustainably managed for future generations to enjoy, yet sensitive to the needs of the Forest.’

Further survey work is currently under way, with thousands of people being interviewed about how they use the New Forest for recreation.

View the full report here:



The New Forest in numbers

  • 220 sq miles of land are within the national park’s boundaries
  • 26 miles of coastline are included in the national park
  • 124 sq miles of the national park are designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest (56%) because the wildlife and habitats are nationally important. A similar area of the national park also carries international wildlife conservation designations.
  • 35,000 people live in the New Forest National Park
  • An estimated 13.55 million visitor days were made to the National Park in 2004
  • The new study estimates that 15.2 million visitor days were made to the National Park in 2017 and that by 2037 the total could rise to 17.6 million.
  • If these visits were spread evenly across the national park, there would have been 69,000 visitor days per square mile of protected SSSI in 2017.


Notes to editors:

  1. The partners who commissioned the research are:
  • Hampshire County Council
  • Forestry Commission
  • Natural England
  • New Forest District Council
  • New Forest National Park Authority
  • Verderers.
  1. How the research was conducted:
  • In 2004/05 a comprehensive piece of research was undertaken by Tourism South East (TSE). This looked at the numbers of visitors to the area that was to become the New Forest National Park, their characteristics and the resulting levels of different kinds of recreational activities. A key finding was that in 2004 there were an estimated 13.55m visitor days to the National Park area for the purposes of leisure and recreation.
  • The six organisations above are working together on an update to the New Forest National Park Recreation Management Strategy 2010-2030. They wanted to know to what extent the figure of 13.55m visitor days has changed since 2004 and is likely to change in the future.
  • The new study did not involve collecting new data. Instead, it applied relevant existing data (or drivers of change) to the 2004 base, including population and tourism data. Pragmatic decisions and assumptions have been made in the modelling process as outlined in appendix 1 of the report.
  • As in 2004, the results can only be estimates.

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