The New Forest National Park is one of the most important wildlife habitats in the UK and Europe. Roughly one-quarter of the park area of 566 km2 comprises broadleaved woodland, containing ancient oak and beech trees that are hundreds of years old. But it is more than just a forest, and included within the park is the largest remaining area of lowland heath in Europe (over 150 km2). In fact, if you walk from north to south across the New Forest, you will pass through a rich mosaic of ancient woodlands, heaths, bogs, lawns, streams, farmland, pretty villages, plantations, and coastal marshes, over half of which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Although it is now protected from major development, the park’s coastal location in central southern England (surrounded by major cities and associated infrastructure) inevitably means it is under increasing pressure from human activities, including noise pollution from cars, planes and trains, recreational disturbance, litter, wildfires, and land-use changes.
Despite these pressures, the New Forest hosts an incredible variety of flora and fauna, including over 15,000 species of insect (two-thirds of the UK total), 44 species of mammal (including 13 bat species), at least 12 species of reptile and amphibian, and is the UK hotspot for rare breeding birds such as Honey Buzzard, Nightjar and Dartford Warbler.
However, many of these animals are hard to see, and most people living in or visiting the New Forest will never encounter charismatic species such as Red Deer, Polecat, Smooth Snake, Sand Lizard, Goshawk, Firecrest, Emperor Moth and Raft Spider. This can make it harder for people to appreciate and care for these special animals, and also means that data on some of these species are very sparse.