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April 2024 Newsletter

The Forest comes to life as we move through April heralding the start of the busy fieldwork season. The year has started off mild and very wet, and as anyone out and about in the Forest lately can attest, its is extremely wet underfoot at the moment.


The weather has a direct impact on the rhythm of life in the Forest and the mild weather has encouraged early emergence of a number of invertebrate species. We have had some unseasonably early records of moths, while on those all-so-rare sunny days over-wintering butterflies have been observed in good numbers taking advantage of the mild conditions.


The wet and mild early spring period has also encouraged early emergence of spring flowers, though I know we say this almost every year. Species such as Greater Stitchwort, Wood Anemone and Wood Sorrel have been putting on a show since early March. At the same time the wet spring has encouraged a good show of fungi from typical spring species such as Bog Beacon and Winter Polypore, to species that love the dark, damp corners such as Eyelash and the delicate disc species.


April has to be one of the most exciting months to be out and about in the New Forest as it changes colour with the new growth accompanied by a background chorus of birds establishing and defending breeding territories. As I write this in the first few days of April, buds are bursting on Hawthorn and Rowan and the Firecrest and Blackcap are in full song, while out on the heath Common Lizard can be heard scuttling away from their favoured basking spots along pathways. Minotaur Beetle can be active through April; they can be great fun to watch, rolling dung

balls from cowpat to burrow determinedly following a straight path regardless of what lies in their way. A beetle highlight for me is the Heath Goldsmith Beetle that can be seen on sandy heath close to woodland edge, a beautiful jewel of a beetle. It doesn’t have to be rare to be exciting - I always get a thrill watching Bee-fly as they patrol and defend their patches of flora against all-comers, large and small.


Image above: Common Lizard © Wild New Forest


I saw my first damselfly of the year over the first couple of days of April (Large Red Damselfly) while larger species such as Hairy Dragonfly will be on the wing by the end of the month, soon joined Cockchafer (or May Bug), all providing much needed food for our resident bat species and returning migrants. I always get a thrill seeing my first Hobby of the year; they can often put on a good show hawking over wetland areas chasing down flying invertebrates.


Let’s not forget the coastline, home to thousands of breeding wetland bird species from the noisy Gulls and Terns to the elegant Avocet and Redshank, not forgetting the host of specialist invertebrates and flora that support life on the marshes.


The New Forest has a delicate balance of life. We tend to focus on those rare and impressive species but none of it would be here if it wasn’t for the landscape that we call home; from heath to valley mire to the myriad of varied woodland and coastal marshes. These habitats combined create a connected landscape that is the key to diversity of life here.


There is a lot of work behind the scenes. The recently established New Forest Biodiversity Forum is working to pull together land managers, researchers and species experts to create a more joined-up approach to wildlife conservation in the New Forest for the benefit of the New Forest. We hear almost daily in the press of new pressures on our wildlife; pollution by water companies; veterinary products in our waterways; human disturbance; pressure from native predators (such as an artificially high Fox population feeding on scraps left by humans, and dog faeces). Not to mention the impacts of climate change. Life in the New Forest revolves around a delicate balance that is so easily knocked off kilter. It rests upon us as the current custodians of the Forest to each play our part to ensure that our impact is kept to a minimum. We are truly honoured to have such a wealth of beauty on our doorstep; we should celebrate what we have and take ownership of our actions to ensure the Forest comes first.


Young Persons Wildlife Camp

This year we ran the Young Persons Wildlife Camp earlier than usual, over the Easter weekend at The Countryside Education Trust, Beaulieu, a location we haven’t stayed at for a few years. A full report will follow but the weekend was a great success, fun was had by all, and we all learnt a lot. These weekends wouldn’t be possible without the support of a team of volunteers and mentors and kind sponsorship from the Cameron Bespolka Trust.


Activities over the weekend included a great ringing session (where the youngsters got see Kingfisher, Hawfinch and Brambling in the hand), a very enjoyable bioblitz, a career talk from Kat Saleiko (species reintroduction officer at Forestry England), a spot of nocturnal lamping, catching a couple of Jack Snipe, a visit to Normandy Marsh and a walk across the heath at Pig Bush.


The next weekend is planned for late October so keep an eye on our social media for further details.


March Walk Highlights

Despite the continued run of wet and unsettled weather, March was a busy month with 22 events, including 10 scheduled walks, four boat trips, three bespoke walks, two explorer club events, and one each of limited mobility walk, home education group walk and a photo workshop.


Highlights for me included the young explorer walks, a couple of very enjoyable events at Hockey’s Farm, and a particularly productive bioblitz where both teams managing to record the same number of species (117). Our first photographic workshop took place at the coast, co-led by Jamie Ward. We were lucky with the weather, spending a very enjoyable four hours at Normandy Lagoon with plenty of subjects to photograph.


We have recently started running a series of walks aimed at home educated children, with a different topic each month. This month was our first walk of the series and focussed on coastal wildlife, producing some memorable sightings. We are fortunate to have a great group of inquisitive youngsters and it is a privilege to share these experiences with them. These walks always take me back to my youth when everything was new and exciting.


Images: Wood Anemone, Grey Seal & Metatrichia floriformis (Slime Mould) taken on events in March ©Wild New Forest


March Fieldwork

March was largely dominated by Pine Marten fieldwork with trail cameras placed in three areas across the New Forest where we have picked up several records of Pine Marten. At this stage we are looking for regular runs with a view to placing tubes to collect hair samples for DNA analysis. At the time of writing, we have four tubes in two areas but we are constantly monitoring and tweaking.


Fieldwork Update

This year we have a number of projects underway, a few of which have been mentioned in previous newsletters, but a short round-up of fieldwork for the year ahead is highlighted below:


Pine Marten

The main Pine Marten survey continues, working with Forestry England and New Forest Badger Group. We will be focussing on the collection of DNA via hair samples. The DNA will help us get a better understanding of the genetic diversity of Pine Marten in the New Forest and hopefully reveal a little about their origin, and support work looking at territory size.

We are also working with Network Rail, looking at crossing points of the south-west mainline as it passes through woodland to the east of Brockenhurst. We will be deploying trail cameras to assess if Pine Marten are utilising the railway and using existing crossing points to access woodland either side of the railway.


Hawfinch

The regular studies will continue including monitoring of roosts and the regular RAS (Ringing Adults for Survival) looking at breeding productivity and longevity. This year we are adding a new ringing site in the north of the New Forest.

Thanks to funding from the New Forest Biodiversity Forum we will be GPS tagging three juvenile Hawfinch as a trial looking at post-fledging dispersal of juvenile Hawfinch which is a significant knowledge gap. This will involve tagging the three birds with a combined GPS and radio tag to enable us to track individuals using telemetry through June and early July.

In addition, we will continue working with RSPB investigating Trichomonas in Hawfinch (and other finches).


Clear Fell Surveys

Russ continues to monitor three widespread areas that have been recently clear felled for heathland restoration. This involves monitoring biodiversity across the sites, in particular tracking the adoption of the sites by specialist heathland species that fall outside the current monitoring programme.


Private site surveys

Wild New Forest survey a number of private locations across the New Forest assessing biodiversity and providing advice to ensure management is sympathetic to and supports native wildlife.


 Images: Peregrine, Pine Marten & Little Tern, all a focus of fieldwork in 2024  ©Wild New Forest


Bird Ringing Surveys

The regular CES (Constant Effort Survey) will continue at Keyhaven from April through to September providing data on common breeding species. We will also continue the Tern colour-ringing project, working with nesting Little, Common and Sandwich Tern in the western Solent. Working with colleagues in the Eastern Solent and the RSPB, the project looks at productivity, longevity, breeding site fidelity and migratory and wintering patterns. The Peregrine colour-ringing across the New Forest will also continue and this year we will also be collecting DNA via swabs as a deterrent to and help combat illegal activity with this protected species. In addition, this winter we have trialled nocturnal surveys of Snipe and Jack Snipe at Lymington Keyhaven Marshes and the southern New Forest. This survey will draw to a close this month, restarting again this autumn.


Looking Ahead

Boat trips remain very popular, and we have added a number of new dates over the next couple of months along with monthly Newtown Harbour trips over the summer months.

We still have places on our upcoming Photographic Workshop based on coastal birds, but spaces are limited for this small group event. Our Monthly Fungi and Slime Mould walks remain popular - one benefit of the wet weather is a good crop of fungi across the Forest!


Our current schedule of events and access to our booking platform can be reached via our website at https://www.wildnewforest.co.uk/event-calendar


Wild New Forest Facebook highlights

The Facebook page is as busy and diverse as ever; many thanks to all that contribute and help keep the site friendly, welcoming and informative. The most popular post in March was the discovery of a freshly deceased Goshawk that was retrieved by Russell Wynn.


The post prompted some interesting discussion and highlights that even our top avian predator leads a challenging existence.


As we move into the busy fieldwork season we are frequently out in the depths of the Forest without a mobile signal. To assist with management of the site we have recently added Rob Farnworth as a moderator. Rob is a regular contributor and takes part in a range of fieldwork across the Forest.  


Reviews

Many thanks to everyone who takes the time to leave a review on TripAdvisor. Below is a recent review received in February. We are proud to be 5* rated on TripAdvisor and all our reviews can be found here.

 

Such a rewarding experience Mar 2024

I cannot recommend the Beaulieu River trip too highly. A friendly welcome, hawk-eyed 'spotting', expert explanations of bird and wildlife behaviours, and patient answering of numerous questions! My trip had a complete mixture of expert birders and relative novice birders aboard. I shall definitely be booking again. The morning I went out was mild and largely dry but do follow Wild New Forest's advice to wear several layers because it was still quite chilly out on the water (so the hot drinks were very welcome!).


A walk on the wild side Mar 2024

This was actually the Lymington walk along the river and the bird sanctuary. This is a very regular walk for me and my dogs along the sea wall overlooking the reserve. I was astonished at just how much more I discovered in the company of Marcus. We spotted almost 30 different species and observed many behaviours (courtship, territorial tussles). I highly recommend it as a way to get an in depth experience of the wildlife in the area.


Forthcoming Illustrated Talks


8 Apr 2024: Brockenhurst WI (Pine Marten in the New Forest)

25 Apr 2024: Downton Millennium Green (Wildlife in and around Ogdens Valley)




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