Russ and Marcus write:
2020 was a real rollercoaster of a year, with the extreme weather being matched by unprecedented world events, including of course the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns and restrictions. The first three months of the year saw a series of named storms sweep across the New Forest, before the sun came out just in time for the first COVID-19 lockdown on 23 March. The arrival of spring and the unbroken fine weather of the following weeks was some compensation for those mostly restricted to their gardens and immediate surrounds (including us!) but hopes that life would soon get back-to-normal proved to be premature as the stop-start restrictions continued for the rest of the year and into 2021.
The spring 2020 lockdown provided an opportunity to explore local footpaths
Wild New Forest has now been active for five years, but 2020 was our first year as a Community Interest Company (CIC) following incorporation in late December 2019. We are both co-directors, with Russ currently working full-time on Wild New Forest activities, and Marcus currently contributing outside of his work hours. This report provides an overview of our 2020 activities, based around our mission to ‘inform, involve and inspire’ people about the wildlife of the New Forest National Park; many of these activities are conducted as part of our community benefit portfolio and are a key part of the CIC ‘not-for-profit’ business model.
Wild New Forest Directors: Russell Wynn and Marcus Ward
Our wildlife survey and monitoring activities continued to expand, with a particular focus on mammal, bird and moth surveys (all operated under Forestry England permit). A full report on our ongoing mammal camera-trapping study at a long-term constant-effort site is currently in preparation, but initial analysis of the data indicates another interesting year of deer movements and behaviour. We also captured images of Otters on remote cameras at two locations in the New Forest interior during the autumn, although the newly established population of Pine Martens managed to elude us this year! Blogs on both species can be found at the links below.
Our bird surveys again focussed on Hawfinch and Curlew - two species that have nationally and regionally important strongholds in the New Forest. The Hawfinch year opened in spectacular fashion, with a flock of up to 270 birds found feeding in a Hornbeam plantation in the west of the forest. Although COVID-19 restrictions hampered spring fieldwork, including a planned GPS-tracking study, detailed survey of Hawfinch roosts continued and revealed a total of 558 birds at 41 roost sites. Survey work on Curlews and other breeding waders was conducted in the spring under contract to Forestry England, covering over 100 one-kilometre squares of suitable habitat between April and June; this survey totalled over 400 field-hours and saw us walk a total distance of 1000 km! Full details are in the final report, which will be released by Forestry England in 2021; the results are already contributing to the roll-out of enhanced mitigation measures to reduce negative impacts on these declining and sensitive species (e.g. see link below).
This Curlew chick was one of very few that made it to fledging in 2020
We also initiated survey work on two bird species experiencing contrasting fortunes in the New Forest: Raven and Lesser Redpoll. Raven has shown a dramatic increase in the last two decades, and fieldwork in spring 2020 revealed at least 17 nesting pairs with a few additional territories occupied by non-breeding immature birds (see link below). Lesser Redpoll clings on a breeding species in the New Forest, but it was encouraging to confirm that at least two pairs fledged young and at least four other traditional sites were occupied by territorial birds (link below). Survey work on both species will continue in 2021.
Bird ringing activities were limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, however the Hawfinch RAS (Ringing Adults for Survival) continued, along with colour-ringing projects focussing on locally breeding Linnet and Lesser Redpoll. Overall, 2371 birds of 57 species were ringed in the New Forest throughout the year, with highlights from coastal sites including colour-ringing of Peregrine chicks, continued monitoring of Nightjars (where ringing confirmed breeding site fidelity) and the ringing of a Yellow-browed Warbler (a scarce autumn migrant). All ringing activities are carried out under license from BTO and with permission from landowners/managers. An overview of Wild New Forest ringing activities at Lymington-Keyhaven Marshes can be found at the link below:
This Yellow-browed Warbler at Keyhaven Marshes was one of the ringing highlights of 2020
One of our most exciting projects in 2020 was the delivery of free wildlife survey and monitoring at private sites around the forest fringe, in support of wildlife enhancement work being undertaken by the landowner. During the summer and autumn months we visited six sites (mostly during the evening and including the first few hours of darkness) to survey wildlife, with a particular focus on nocturnal moth trapping and bat detecting. These produced some memorable sightings, for example, during one sultry August night where the temperature didn’t dip below 20oC, we recorded over 150 moth species and got to see the Perseids meteor shower! We have agreed to undertake longer-term wildlife monitoring at two of the visited sites, and already have several new sites lined up for surveys in spring/summer 2021 when COVID-19 restrictions ease. Further information about these wildlife enhancement projects, can be found at the link below:
Marcus photographing moths during a Wild New Forest nocturnal survey at a private site
Finally, we both have additional roles with other local organisations that are delivering wildlife survey and conservation action within the New Forest – for example, Russ became a Council member of the New Forest Association during 2020, and Marcus continued as a Trustee of Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) and Chair of the HOS Scientific Committee.
COVID-19 restrictions delayed our planned roll-out of guided wildlife tours in the spring, and it wasn’t until September (when post-lockdown visitor pressure began to ease) that we got approval from Forestry England to proceed. We then had a few weeks where we successfully operated under the ‘rule of six’, with a maximum of five guests and one Wild New Forest guide on any walk. Our seasonal Fungi Explorer and Halloween tours were particularly popular, with almost all of them being fully booked, and lots of positive feedback received from our guests. After another lockdown in November, we again had a brief window of operations in December before another lockdown kicked in; in total, we welcomed about 170 guests on our guided wildlife walks during these two windows, providing a great opportunity to test our online booking systems, approved routes, and wildlife content. We also joined the GO New Forest community, which co-ordinates local tourism businesses operating in the New Forest, and successfully applied for a New Forest District Council ‘Additional Restrictions Grant’ to help offset the loss of guided walk income during the November lockdown.
Devil's Fingers were a popular feature on our guided Fungi Explorer tours
Sadly, our Young Person’s New Forest Wildlife Camp, scheduled for late May and sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust, also had to be cancelled – this was particularly disappointing given the high level of demand and enthusiasm, but hopefully we will be able to run it again in autumn 2021 or spring 2022. We were also unable to engage volunteers in our survey and monitoring activities for most of the year, but Marcus was able to continue training four bird ringing trainees, with one, Andrew Colenutt, successfully progressing from T permit to C permit following independent assessment.
Our revamped Wild New Forest website and integrated blog were launched in January and we delivered about 70 blogs over the course of the year, with the most popular relating to a White-tailed Eagle seen over the New Forest that received nearly 1000 views!
Our social media streams also continued to be a valuable community resource, with most effort focussed on maintaining and moderating the Wild New Forest Facebook page, which hosted over 5000 approved members by the end of the year and continued to be a vital forum for sharing of images and discussion of New Forest wildlife and conservation issues. Although we are currently investing less effort in the Wild New Forest Twitter account, we have recently established a new Wild New Forest YouTube channel with a series of topical vlogs to inform and inspire those unable to visit the forest during the latest lockdown (see link below).
In the first couple of months of the year we provided illustrated talks on our activities to the New Forest Water Forum and Dorset Wildlife Trust, and on 07 Feb Russ attended a Curlew Recovery Summit at Highgrove House, hosted by Prince Charles (see link below). However, COVID-19 restrictions meant that the remainder of our scheduled talks were cancelled or postponed until 2021.
Wild New Forest presented at the New Forest Water Forum in January
Our ‘2020 in 2020’ challenge (an attempt to see 2020 species within the New Forest National Park in 2020) continued throughout the year. COVID-19 restrictions reduced our ability to access many areas of the New Forest during key spring and autumn periods, but also ensured greater focus on our gardens and local sites within walking distance. In total, we each walked about 1700 km during the year, roughly equivalent to each of us walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats! However, as the year ended and the combined species total firmed up, the challenge was on a knife edge - further analysis of digital images of some of the more obscure species groups therefore continued through January. A blog about the challenge (including the final total!) will be provided here soon, but before that we will be revealing all in an illustrated online talk as part of the New Forest Awakening Festival in late February (this talk will also be provided to several local wildlife organisations through the year).
Although Wild New Forest is not a campaigning organisation, we will raise awareness of issues where we have first-hand observations and data and will engage with the relevant authorities to try and mitigate negative impacts. The most high-profile issue we engaged in during the year related to sewage discharges into New Forest rivers, particularly emergency ‘Combined Sewer Overflow’ discharges into the upper Beaulieu River from the Lyndhurst Wastewater Treatment Works; this story subsequently featured in national/regional media (e.g. BBC News online) and the local press, and was part of a nationwide call for urgent measures to reduce these discharges. Further details in the two blog posts below:
Active Combined Sewer Overflow discharge into the upper Beaulieu River
The easing of the spring lockdown saw unprecedented visitor pressure on the New Forest, and Wild New Forest contributed to a BBC News online feature highlighting some of the potential ecological impacts of verge parking (link below). Earlier in the year, we also contributed images to a joint Forestry England and Hampshire Constabulary news release highlighting the issue of dogs chasing deer and livestock, and similarly in the autumn we provided content that supported a Forestry England news release about photographers and other recreational users causing disturbance to rutting Red Deer, that also featured on BBC news online and in local press (link below).
It’s worth noting here that Wild New Forest is committed to minimising impacts of our own survey and monitoring activities on the New Forest environment, and we endeavour to minimise car-based travel whenever practicable. For example, during 2020, Russ put in about 855 field-hours and covered over 7800 km, with nearly two-thirds of this total covered on foot and by bike.
Despite all of the challenges and issues encountered during the year, the New Forest again provided us with plenty of fantastic wildlife experiences. In addition to those mentioned above, we were fortunate to encounter a variety of rare and spectacular species, including scarce migrant birds (Bittern, Hoopoe and Montagu’s Harrier), four Red Data Book moths (Dingy Mocha, Shoulder-striped Clover, and Light and Dark Crimson Underwing), two nationally scarce spiders (Philodromus margaritatus and Evarcha arcuata), specialist plants (Wild Gladiolus, Narrow-leaved Lungwort, Bog Orchid, Heath Fragrant Orchid, Marsh Clubmoss and both Marsh and Field Gentian), and rare and unusual fungi (Bearded Tooth, Devil’s Fingers, Silky Rosegill and Zoned Rosette).
This Shoulder-striped Clover moth was one of the rarest species found in 2020
Finally, many thanks to everyone who has supported us in various ways through the year - we are entering 2021 in good shape and are looking forward to continuing our work for wildlife in the New Forest National Park!