|Volunteers from the Blackwater Conservation Group|
stand behind a mound of the non-native, invasive
Himalayan balsam plant.
Across the National Park, dedicated bands of nature-lovers are standing up for their local environment by tackling plant invaders, reinvigorating common land and sprucing up woodland.
The Community Wildlife Plans project encourages local communities to record, map and conserve wildlife in their local area and is supported by the New Forest National Park Authority.
Eight communities have taken part across the Forest, with over 200 people involved with conserving and monitoring their local green spaces to find out what wildlife lives on their doorstep.
The groups have become increasingly independent over the last two years, and recently came together for a celebration evening to share their experiences of the project. The event also marked the end of the first phase of the project, though groups will continue to work to recruit new volunteers and protect their local environment.
The information collected by the wildlife champions over the last three years has helped to produce Community Wildlife Plans for their parish. These documents bring together knowledge about habitats and species and look at the opportunities for improving wildlife sites locally.
Improvements carried out by volunteers during the project include:
- Removing more than 2,000m of the invasive Himalayan balsam plant from the banks of the River Blackwater in the north of the New Forest and conducting a national pilot study of its water quality
- Reintroducing ponies to Barton Common in New Milton for the first time in over 50 years to encourage wildlife and support New Forest commoners
- Improving habitats for butterflies and other insects by introducing traditional woodland management practices such as coppicing in Milford Pleasure Grounds.
- Angela Peters, Community Wildlife Officer, said: ‘Over the last three years it has been inspiring to meet so many people who want to protect their community’s wildlife for future generations.
‘Nature is under so much pressure from human activity across the country, but we can all make a difference through small actions that help wildlife habitats in our local area flourish.’
Tony Boyle, volunteer with the Blackwater Conservation Group, said: ‘The Community Wildlife Plans project came at a most opportune time for the creation of our group. The Blackwater River is highly regarded by local residents and as a result the group was formed in 2013 with the objective of protecting the river valley and environment for future generations.
‘We are extremely grateful to Angela Peters and the project for the invaluable support and guidance given to us during the past three years. As a result we are able to look to the future with greater confidence.’
The community groups involved in the celebration evening were:
- Milford Conservation Volunteers
- Blackwater Conservation Group
- Hordle Environment Group
- Transition Lymington
- New Forest Area Conservation Volunteers
- Volunteers from Barton Common.
To see the groups' achievements and get involved visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/cwp
The Community Wildlife Plans project was established with EU funding through New Forest LEADER and supported by a grant from the New Forest National Park Authority’s Sustainable Communities Fund.