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‘Secret forest’ saved for the nation

‘Secret forest’ saved for the nation


A ‘secret forest’ becomes one of the RSPB’s most significant purchases in its 129 year history

[Joint press release with RSPB]

The RSPB is delighted to be taking ownership of a new nature reserve in the north of the New Forest National Park.

Franchises Lodge, near Nomansland in Wiltshire, is a 386 hectare (almost 1,000 acres) woodland of deciduous and conifer trees that has largely been inaccessible to the public for many years. The national wildlife charity describes it as a ‘secret forest’ that is home to a wide range of birds, invertebrates and plant life.

It also provides a unique opportunity to create a nature rich bridge between two already internationally important areas [Note 1], embodying the principles of 21st Century landscape conservation: ‘bigger, better, more joined up’.

The acquisition has been facilitated through a gift in respect of a settlement between the previous owners and HMRC [Notes 2 and 3], a generous legacy, and support from the New Forest National Park Authority and the Friends of the New Forest.

Mike Clarke, the RSPB’s Chief Executive, said: ‘This is one of the most significant purchases in our 129 year history.  It is also our first nature reserve in the New Forest. We are delighted to take on the land from its previous owners who we know are passionate about the site, its woodlands and wildlife and we hope to build on their work over the years, safeguarding it for future generations.’

In its vision for the near 1000 acre site the RSPB will be focusing on maintaining the existing broadleaf woodland, enhancing areas of wood pasture and recreating open heath.
To date, the site has been under the careful stewardship of the previous owners.

Initial surveys confirm the site has a good woodland bird community, including wood warbler, hawfinch, spotted flycatcher, firecrest and redstart. These woods are also known to be fascinating botanically, with an internationally important lichen community. It’s also good for a range of invertebrates, from beetles to butterflies.

Nick Bruce-White, RSPB Regional Director in South West England, said: ‘We think it might hold some real wildlife treasures. This is hugely exciting. While we know the sorts of things to be expected, and we know its potential, until we start exploring the site we don’t know for sure just what the site contains.’

Speaking about the public involvement in the new site, Mr Bruce-White said: ‘Naturally we want people to enjoy the site, but we have to understand much more about its nature and ecology and consider the views of local communities before making any decisions about access beyond the existing rights of way.

‘Because of the express wishes of the vendors to keep the negotiations confidential, we haven’t been able to engage with communities in advance of this announcement as we would have wished. But we now look forward to meeting our new neighbours and hearing their views and giving them the opportunity to get involved in shaping our vision for this special place.’

Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, which contributed £200,000 said: ‘This is very good news for the Forest. The acquisition of this site by the RSPB is significant as it gives us the opportunity to undertake landscape-scale improvements to these habitats in a prime location adjacent to the Open Forest.

‘We are pleased that RSPB is keen to work with commoners and other local people to ensure that the site is managed appropriately. This will bring the same benefits to a wide range of species as it does on the Open Forest and will ensure this important site flourishes for years to come.

‘It has been a pleasure to work with the RSPB for five years on this very rare opportunity to secure the future of such a large area of the Forest. We look forward to collaborating further to develop this special place into an exemplar site for wildlife and commoning, as well as a tranquil retreat for people of all ages.’

Dr Clarke added: ‘The New Forest is truly a national treasure. We warmly thank the New Forest National Park Authority for its ongoing help and enthusiasm for this acquisition.

‘We know the site is already good, and parts of it have numerous designations. But we also know that there’s much still to be discovered as this site has been off the radar for years. This makes this acquisition doubly exciting.

‘This is a vision that isn’t ours alone, throughout we have worked closely with New Forest National Park Authority and Natural England to make the most of the unique opportunity to work at landscape scale.’

The RSPB is now working with partners on an ambitious 25 year vision for Franchises Lodge.

To realise the site’s full potential for people and wildlife the RSPB will be launching a major public appeal in May.

Although there are public rights of way through the site, there is no car parking or facilities on the reserve and these are limited nearby. The RSPB is therefore not encouraging visitors at this time.


Media contacts:


Tony Whitehead, RSPB Communications Manager, 01392 453754 / 07872 414365
Morwenna Alldis, RSPB Communications Officer, 01392 453767

For New Forest National Park Authority:

Hilary Makin, Communications Manager
Tel: 01590 646608, Mob: 07850 143528

Notes to photo editors:

Images and film clips can be downloaded free of charge for use with this story from:

Please credit as per files

Notes to editors:

1. The New Forest Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area and Langley NNR and SAC.

2. The previous owners of the site wish to remain anonymous

3. Land can be ‘given to the nation’ in lieu of tax, then passed to trusted organisations for upkeep. But this is only where the land is ‘of outstanding scenic, scientific or historic value’. The land has been given to the RSPB, as a trusted organisation with an international reputation for excellence in land management, as part of a tax settlement with HMRC. It qualifies due to both its landscape and nature conservation interest.

4. About the New Forest National Park Authority
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.

5. Why is it called Franchises Lodge?
We wanted to use a name that is already identified with the site and known by local communities. Whilst the nature reserve comprises a number of compartments, each with their own names (such as Franchises Wood / Common, Burnt Ground Wood, Pimlico Bottom), we needed a name for the whole site, including all its habitats.
A ‘franchise’ was the right to vote that rested solely with the freeholders of 100 specific properties or ‘burgage tenements’. This land was part of the borough of Downton, and the name has been associated with the land here since medieval times. The practice was abolished by the Great Reform Act of 1832, but the name Franchises has remained.

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