Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Where > Planet Earth > Europe > Britain > New Forest

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Nature Travel Guide

Location 6: New Forest (Britain)

"Forest and heathland with deer and woodland birds; Dragonflies and butterflies in summer."

I recommend the Forest Explorer (premium link) activity.

My favourite site is probably Acres Down (premium link) where I have seen a wide variety of birds and enjoyed a range of different length walks. I also particularly like visiting Crockford Bridge (premium link) for damselflies in the summer and Hawkhill (premium link) for a general wildlife watching experience.

This large area of forest in southern Hampshire, west of Southampton, was named the New Forest in the 11th century when it was created. Depending on your perspective, this is not necessarily new any more. This national park is mainly woodland and heathland with some sections of river, bog and farmland.

The New Forest has large numbers of deer active in the morning and evening, birds are particularly active on woodland edges, butterflies http://www.purple-emperor.co.uk can be seen in all habitats and dragonflies and damselflies are mainly in marshy areas by rivers. Rarer wildlife that people look out for include glowworms http://www.glowworms.org.uk/ visible at night in the summer, Nightjars churring from early to mid summer at dusk and you might be lucky and hear cicadas calling loudly from the trees.

  • Acres Down (site 1) (premium link) is a famous place for watching birds of prey, with the possibility of Goshawk and Honey Buzzard. It is also good for general woodland birds. I have regularly seen Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here. (GPS coords 50.8865N 01.6211W)
  • Burbush (site 2) (premium link) is a walk near Burley. The terrain is very open meaning fewer forest bird species. There are nice views and a good variety of wildlife including birds, butterflies and flowers. (GPS coords 50.8173N 01.4496W)
  • Holmsley Railway Line (site 3) (premium link) is an old railway line with good-quality woodland, wet field, river and heathland habitats. A popular tea rooms can be used as a break halfway along the route. (GPS coords 50.8090N 01.6863W)
  • Shatterford (site 4) (premium link) is one of my favourite spots in the New Forest. Great Grey Shrikes are often seen in the winter. Woodland birds can be seen all year round. Short-eared Owl and other birds of prey are regular. There are lots of flowers and butterflies. The wetter areas are good for dragonflies and damselflies in some years. (GPS coords 50.8555N 01.5068W)
  • Crockford Bridge (site 5) (premium link) is a small site that is famous for lots of species of damselfly. (GPS coords 50.7880N 01.5058W)
  • King's Hat (site 6) (premium link) is a small site which I recommend mainly for dragonflies and damselflies. Some of the walking is awkward but an easy short walk is possible from the car park. (GPS coords 50.8471N 01.4526W)
  • I recommend a walk south of Beaulieu (site 7) (premium link) which can go as far as Bucklers Hard. Along the route there are various habitats including some views of the river with waders (shorebirds in American English) and gulls. There is a good area for butterflies including Silver-washed Fritillary. (GPS coords 50.8173N 01.4496W)
  • Hatchet Pond (site 8) (premium link) is popular for walking and picnicking. For wildlife watching the marshy edge of the pond to the north-west is good for dragonflies and damselflies. (GPS coords 50.8128N 01.4771W)
  • Hincheslea (site 9) (premium link) has slightly awkward walking. This is a good dragonfly/damselfly walk in the summer and includes one of the best areas of marsh that I know of in the New Forest. It is also good for birds, flowers and butterflies. (GPS coords 50.8112N 01.6173W)
  • Wooton Bridge (site 10) (premium link) has a marshy area north of the car park that is good for dragonflies and damselflies. Additionally, there is a walk to the west that is good for butterflies. (GPS coords 50.7965N 01.6460W)
  • Hawkhill (site 11) (premium link) is one of my favourite walks in the New Forest. It is always very quiet when I visit and I enjoy the river section. Birds, flowers, butterflies and dragonflies/damselflies can be seen. (GPS coords 50.8173N 01.4496W)
  • Roydon Woods (site 12) (premium link) is an area of woodland that always feels slightly different to the rest of the New Forest to me. Some sections are good for butterflies. (GPS coords 50.7927N 01.5499W)
  • The New Forest has a lot of heathland; Parkhill Inclosure (site 13) (premium link) is an example walk in the New Forest which as a contrast has a lot more woodland. (GPS coords 50.8313N 01.5545W)
  • Langley Wood (site 14) (premium link) is a quiet walk through some broadleaved forest. (GPS coords 50.9819N 01.6896W)
  • Bushketts Wood (site 15) is an area of fairly wild woodland. I find the footpaths confusing but being within a triangle of roads I don't get too lost. On a half-day walk in winter 2018 I saw Roe Deer 4x3 (m6), Grey Squirrel 2x2 (m2), woodland birds such as thrushes, robins, tits/titmice and got a good view of a Bullfinch. (The GPS coords for a car park are 50.8991N 01.5584W from where you can walk south, perhaps aiming for 50.8820N 01.5584W.)
  • I saw a total of 56 species of birds during 3 days in the New Forest in summer (premium link).
  • I saw a total of 19 species of dragonflies and damselflies during 3 days in the New Forest in summer (premium link).

Wildlife of the New Forest

Deer (including Roe Deer, Fallow Deer and Red Deer) are relatively common and I mostly see them early in the morning or late in the evening. From mid-September to mid-October the Fallow Deer and Red Deer are rutting (males fighting with their antlers and also roaring) and this can be seen all over the forest, particularly in and around Blackwater which is accessed from Rhinefield road.

Nightjars visit the New Forest in the summer and in the evenings they make their characteristic "churring" noise: they can be heard, and sometimes seen, almost everywhere. They nest on the ground which is one of the reasons visitors are encouraged to stay on footpaths from late spring to the middle of summer. They are often seen on land that has bracken with occasional trees and bushes for perches. Mid-July is a good time to come and look for Nightjars.

Glowworms are found all around Britain with the New Forest relatively good: my experience is that a late evening walk of 3 or 4 kilometres in the summer gives maybe a 50% chance of seeing a glowworm.

I have personally heard cicadas in the New Forest, as have other people. Bryan Pinchen and Lena Ward (writing in pages 258-266 of the April 2002 issue of British Wildlife) described the results of their and other people's research. They found adults to be usually flying (and so singing) between late May and mid July. They have been found in many different species of tree. The courtship song can last many minutes and their contact song can just last a couple of seconds. If you are over 40 you may not be able to hear them due to the high frequency. New Forest Cicada (a race of the wide-spread species called Cicadetta montana Scopoli) have been found in successional habitats between open heath and new woodland: the relative rareness of this habitat is a suggested reason for the rareness of the cicada in the New Forest.

The horses, deer and cattle graze right up to the trunks of the trees in many parts of the New Forest.

There is controversy about whether the New Forest is overgrazed or not. In many places the grass is very short due to being grazed by so many horses. These horses are generally owned by someone who has "commons rights". This short grass is seen by many as the traditional "look" of the New Forest and it is true that certain species of flower benefit from it. The counterargument is that this is very different to most other forests and that the types and numbers of wildlife seen in the New Forest are different to other forests in north-west Europe. The counterargument continues that the New Forest is so large it could support a more "natural" forest similar to that being recreated, for example, in Flevoland in the Netherlands.

Here is a list of the butterflies that I saw in 3 days in the New Forest in the summer, whilst mainly looking at other wildlife:- (Lots of white and brown butterflies went unidentified.) Gatekeeper 17x2 (m3); Silver-washed Fritillary 6x2 (m5); Speckled Wood 4x1 9(m1); Grayling 3x1 (m1); Meadow Brown 3x1 (m1); Small Tortoiseshell 2x1 (m1); Small Copper 1x1 (m1); Small Heath 1x1 (m1); Large Skipper 1x1 (m1); Red Admiral 1x1 (m1).

On a 3 day summer visit I saw 56 species of bird with an average of 28 different species per day. My most commonly-seen birds were:- Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 25x2 (m6), Blackbird (Turdus merula) 14x2 (m2), Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 10x2 (m2), Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 9x4 (m18), Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 9x2 (m3), Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 6x4 (m10), Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) 6x2 (m2), Common Buzzard/Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 5x2 (m2), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 5x4 (m12), Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) 4x3 (m6), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 4x8 (m13), Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 4x1 (m1), House Martin (Delichon urbicum) 4x4 (m6), White Wagtail/Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 4x2 (m3), Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 4x2 (m3), Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 4x6 (m20), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 3x1 (m1), Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 3x3 (m3), Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 3x2 (m3), Curlew (Numenius arquata) 3x2 (m2), Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 3x1 (m1), Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 3x2 (m2), Rook (Corvus frugilegus) 3x6 (m10), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 3x3 (m4).

On a 3 day summer visit I saw 19 species of dragonfly and damselfly. My most commonly seen were:- Keeled Skimmer 13x3 (m9); Banded Demoiselle 9x1 (m1); Common Darter 6x2 (m3); Southern Damselfly 6x1 (m1); Small Red Damselfly 5x1 (m1); Beautiful Demoiselle 4x4 (m6); Emperor Dragonfly 4x1 (m1); Blue-tailed Damselfly 3x4 (m7).

The Hen Harrier is found throughout northern Europe in the winter; the New Forest is a good place to look for them. I actually photographed this Hen Harrier flying along a fence line in the Netherlands.

This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on October 19th 2018.

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