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Monday, 21 December 2015

£19m scheme enhances New Forest’s world renowned habitats

England’s largest environmental improvement scheme has reached its halfway point, after five years of impressive achievements in the New Forest.

Beaulieu Road Sales Yard as part of environment improvement scheme
Beaulieu Road Sales Yard - improvements to the New Forest's pony sales site are a key achievement
from the first five years of the New Forest HLS scheme.
The New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme funds projects to support commoners and conserve the fragile habitats of the New Forest Crown Lands.

The 10 year agreement with Natural England is worth £19m and is held by the Verderers and managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

The scheme works to increase the New Forest’s resilience in the face of habitat loss and modern day pressures, such as increased visitor numbers. It is a rare opportunity to conserve fragile habitats and support commoners on such a large scale, and has achieved an exceptional amount since 2010:

  • Commoning – crucial grants and expert advice have been provided to hundreds of commoners to continue their ancient way of life turning out ponies and cattle onto the New Forest
  • Wetland restoration – nine miles of artificially straightened drainage channels have been restored to natural streams, protecting the New Forest’s internationally-important wetlands by slowing water flow.
  • Archaeology – 12,000 hectares, equivalent to 17,000 football pitches, has been surveyed; finding and recording thousands of historical sites to stop them being lost forever
  • Education - More than 11,000 children have gained a greater understanding of the New Forest through school visits
  • Habitat management – invasive rhododendron and other non-native species have been removed or reduced across approximately half of the New Forest, helping native plants flourish.
These improvements are helping protect the New Forest’s precious habitats and ancient way of life, preserving this beautiful landscape for future generations.

Richard Stride, local commoner, said: ‘Overall, this scheme is a good thing for commoning. The best part is the lawn restoration as this has increased the grazing for our animals. In addition, the funding is helping commoners to have better facilities for animal management.

‘On the whole the wetland restoration is proving to be a success, and the condition of the restored streams will continue to be monitored and maintained where necessary.’

Dominic May, Official Verderer, said: ‘The New Forest HLS scheme allows us to turn the clock back, restoring the New Forest by removing previous man-made interventions such as the deep channels dug in the 19th and 20th century to drain the timber plantations. This can help improve the grazing for the free-roaming animals, which are after all the architects of our beautiful New Forest landscape. The HLS supports the commoning community and helps build resilience into long term management of this important habitat.’

More detailed highlights of the first five years of the HLS scheme include:

Commoning

The HLS scheme has funded improvements to Beaulieu Road pony sales yard, including mains water and mains electricity, wash-down facilities, toilets and removable lighting, which have helped to bring the yard up to modern health and safety and trading standards.

A small grants scheme has supported 43 commoners with a total of £42,000 for a range of items, such as fencing, water supply, barns and hurdles.

The scheme funds the New Forest Land Advice Service, which has provided expert advice to hundreds of commoners on land management and subsidy schemes.

Wetland restoration

The Victorians first straightened some Forest streams to form deep drainage channels for intensive agriculture and forestry, with harmful results for the Forest’s environment.

The projects involve re-instating former meanders in streams, infilling deep man-made drains, and reducing the erosion of boggy mires. Research by independent experts The River Restoration Centre has shown considerable success for this scheme. At Fletchers Thorns, near Brockenhurst, restoration ‘achieved significant nature conservation and ecosystem service benefits in a very short period of time.’ Read more at www.hlsnewforest.org.uk/restoration.

So far, nine miles of drainage channels have been restored to natural streams, based on evidence of old meanders, protecting the New Forest’s internationally-important wetlands for future generations.

Historic environment

Volunteers have spent hundreds of hours surveying 12,163 hectares of Open Forest to find and record historical sites and stop them being lost forever.

A temporary exhibition explaining the HLS heritage work is attracting an average of 6,000 visitors a month at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst and runs until 24 January.


Bird surveys

Surveys of Dartford warbler, nightjar, woodlark and nesting waders took place during 2013 and 2014. The results showed that the populations of these rare birds, for which the New Forest is a stronghold, had previously fallen or were holding steady. This illustrated how important it is that the HLS scheme is continuing its work to improve habitats for these birds.

Education

More than 11,000 children have learnt about the New Forest through school visits run by National Park Authority and New Forest Centre educators over the last five years. They cover topics including land management, and the often-conflicting needs of the environment and people.

Local school teachers attend an annual conference to help them understand how to embed learning about the New Forest into their school's curriculum.

 Habitat management

Over the last two years, work has begun to clear overgrown areas of the New Forest, which would traditionally have been heathland or grassland. These habitats and ‘lost lawns’ are important for rare ground nesting birds, such as lapwing.

So far more than 326 hectares has been cleared, equivalent to 456 football pitches, and over six hectares of ‘lost lawns’ have been returned to their former glory.

In addition, invasive rhododendron bushes have been removed or reduced from just under half of the New Forest to ensure they don’t overrun native plant life.

To find out more about the HLS scheme visit www.hlsnewforest.org.uk.

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