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December 2023 Newsletter

I can’t believe that we have now been publishing the Newsletter for over a year. It is great to look back on highlights from previous months, and the December 2022 Newsletter reviewed a year on the Beaulieu River. The Boat Trips continue to be one of my favourite events in the calendar, and this past year has been no exception with almost every trip providing memorable highlights and points of interest.

We often reflect on the birdlife which, as always, has been exceptional along the river this year - but also a great cause of interest on most trips are the seals. We are fortunate to have regular encounters with both Grey and Harbour Seal on the trips; numbers and individuals change through the year but having seen and taken so many images of the seals we can now identify some of the regular individuals. It is thought that the seals we have gracing the river are youngsters that are yet to reach sexual maturity, hanging out on the river where, as there is plentiful food, it keeps them safely away from the hubbub and bickering of the breeding colonies.

There is definitely interchange between favoured seal haunts in the western Solent (Newtown Harbour, Lymington and Hurst Beach) as I have on occasion spied one of the Beaulieu River regulars elsewhere in the Solent In general they seem quite territorial about their haul outs and hunting haunts; they seem to have a good life on the river spending many hours a day just hauled out. They often favour low tide and the incoming tide to hunt, as fish are pushed into the river with the incoming tide. When the water is low the available fish are in a smaller area, presumably making them easier to chase down. Having said that, they do seem to spend an awful lot of time just loafing. Some river users become frustrated with the seals using boat tenders as a haul out, leaving them covered in mud (and worse!), but I am always pleased to see them.

In general Grey Seals are larger than their Common cousins but when young they can at times be tricky to tell apart. The easiest way is head shape with the Grey Seal having a flatter, sloping forehead whereas the Common Seal has a more rounded forehead which can give them an almost cute, puppy dog look. However, these features are most pronounced in adult males and a young female Grey Seal can at certain angles have features similar to a Common Seal. One surefire way to separate the two species is by the nostrils: the Common Seal has inverted nostrils in the shape of a ‘V’ that almost join at the bottom, whereas the Grey Seal has parallel nostrils (see images below)

Images: Two regulars: above Harbour Seal and right, Grey Seal showing the different nostrils. © WNF GT

Seals, in particular Grey Seals, can be quite distinctive with a variety colours and skin patterns which can help when trying to identify individuals. On the Beaulieu River we have one distinctive young female Grey Seal that can regularly be seen year-round between Gins and the mouth of the river. On occasion she checks out the boat and on one memorable trip she swam parallel with the boat for over a mile along the river, presumably waiting for titbits but ultimately disappointed that we hadn’t been fishing!

Changes at Wild New Forest

As with all things we have evolved both as individuals and as an organisation. As we have grown, Marcus has taken the lead with the guided tours and certain aspects of species research (Pine Marten, Hawfinch). Meanwhile, Russ has focussed on managing many of the field surveys (in particular, biodiversity monitoring of land holdings in and around the New Forest). In addition Russ has established and taken the lead with the New Forest Biodiversity Forum. In order to maintain integrity and manage administration, we have established Wild New Forest Guided Tours as a spin-out company of Wild New Forest. Also operating as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, WNG GT will manage the guided tours and certain survey work. As part of the change Emily-Louise has joined the team as director of Wild New Forest Guided Tours. Emily-Louise brings a lot to the organisation, not least administrative and marketing skills that will hopefully ensure we can keep on top of our diary!

Emily-Louise has a passion for fungi and has also been working behind the scenes for sometime supporting the Pine Marten project, working through scores of clips of various mammals and keeping detailed records.

Young Explorers Wildlife Club & Accessible Walks

We have been working hard behind the scenes with multiple partners to establish both a Young Persons Wildlife Club and a series of accessible walks that can be offered free of charge. Thanks to funding from New Forest District Council (via Go New Forest) and the New Forest Trust we can now offer a series of events throughout 2024 to improve access to wildlife for young people and those with limited mobility.

Young Explorers Wildlife Club will run a series of 20 events across 2024 including guided walks, a Beaulieu River Boat Trip and bird ringing. There will also be events focussing on ID or fieldcraft for moths, butterflies, tree’s and flora, fungi, dragonflies, bird song and sustainable farming. Membership is free, see link here for membership form and further details of the Club. The Club is open to youngsters aged 10-16 (there is some flexibility to the age range!) and events are free of charge, bookable a month in advance with places offered on a first come first served basis.

The Accessible Walks will run every other month.These short walks will run from different locations across the Forest and will be bespoke for the guests that join us based on their level of mobility. Walks are free of charge and can be booked via the WNF website here. The routes will be level on firm terrain and will focus on wildlife, history and management of the New Forest. Carers and support workers can also join the walk free of charge. Please contact us for further info.

Many thanks to our partners for the support:

November Walk Highlights

Fungi featured heavily during the month with plenty still to see out and about in the New Forest. Overall, we ran 17 scheduled walks, four bespoke walks and one each of Beaulieu River Boat Trip, Photographic Masterclass and Full Day Birding.

As mentioned above, fungi remained popular throughout the month with some great variety observed which helped with another very successful Fungi Photographic Masterclass. Another highlight Meadow Coral, Fungi Photo Masterclass ©WNF GT

was WNF GT the Full Day Birding for which

we were blessed with lovely weather. This started at a Hawfinch roost in the centre of the Forest and went on to the coast where a superb mix of species was observed; overall we recorded 90 plus species! Will we beat 100 on next months walk?  

November Fieldwork

Fieldwork this month has been mainly focussed around Hawfinch roosts and wrapping up ecological survey work for the year. Other surveys have included the monthly Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) count at the coast which this month provided some great variety. Opportunities to go bird ringing have been limited thanks to the long periods of unsettled weather. Mid-month, Marcus attended a meeting at RSPB Head Office comprising a mix of woodland species specialists, with a view to highlighting gaps in knowledge as well as discussing research priorities for each species. This has helped formulate priorities for Hawfinch fieldwork next year.

The short days and long evenings at this time of year are spent report writing and planning fieldwork for the coming season. In addition to Hawfinch, we have some very exciting fieldwork planned for next year but it requires a lot of planning and preparation; we will hopefully be able to say more in the New Year.

Looking ahead

We have recently updated the Diary to include Walks through 2024 and Boat Trips up to the end of May. We have added a number of new walks to diary -below is a short overview of each:

Monthly All Day Birding – a full day in the field once per month, mainly focussed at the coast. Kick off the New Year in style with a full day of mixed birding across the New Forest on 1st Jan 2024.

Monthly 3 Hour Birding – focussing on seasonal specialities from raptors to Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Each month will be in a different location looking for classic New Forest specialties.

Monthly Fungi & Slime Mould Walk – by popular demand we will look for seasonal slime mould and fungi. Based out of Eyeworth.

Wildlife Wander – based out of High Corner Inn, this monthly walk will focus on a different subject each month. With the option to catch-up and de-brief over a drink in the High Corner Inn afterwards.

Forest Family Fun – based out of Whitefield Moor, this family walk will mostly run through the holiday periods. With activity sheets for the youngsters to work through (kids price).

Our current schedule of events and access to our booking platform can be reached via our website at

Wild New Forest Facebook highlights 

The most popular post this month was a lovely set of Devil’s Fingers (aka Octopus Stinkhorn) images posted by Marion Nesbitt. Devil’s Fingers were a popular subject this month with records from a number of locations across the New Forest.


Wild New Forest Gift Vouchers

Wild New Forest Gift Vouchers are available for guided walks and boat tours, and make a perfect Christmas or birthday gift for that person that is difficult to buy for! Each voucher can be personalised and can be redeemed at any time.


Many thanks to everyone who takes the time to leave a review on TripAdvisor. Below is a small selection of reviews received in October. We are proud to be 5* rated on TripAdvisor, all our reviews can be found here

A great day from dawn to dusk

Nov 2023

A great day bird watching starting at dawn in woodland at a roost for several nationally rare species, ending at the coast at dusk with over 90 species seen in between. Aside the guidance on when and where to find what the New Forest offers there's helpful tips on how to ID by sight and sound. Would thoroughly recommend.


Amazing Fungi Walk

Nov 2023

We went on this fungi walk because for some time we’ve wanted to know more about the amazing fungus we have in the forest. The two hours spent were incredibly interesting due to the depth of knowledge and enthusiasm of Marcus and his team. We would recommend this walk for the mildly inquisitive to the experienced fungi explorer- walk was not strenuous just a delightful way to spend a couple of hours expanding our knowledge in a stunning environment.


A wonderful bespoke fungi/forest tour.

Nov 2023

Am impromptu bespoke fungi and forest tour! We were, by chance, the only couple that signed up for the walk.

So Marcus and Emily asked us if we had any particular interests. I’m a new fungi enthusiast so they said to get back in the car and drove we met them in the new forest.

A wonderful two hours, not much walking but plenty of fungi spotting!

Marcus’ encyclopaedic knowledge of the forest was amazing. And Emily’s ability to spot the tiniest fungi was brilliant.

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