If you’ve been inspired by the BBC’s WinterWatch programme or Planet Earth, then why not try it for real – here in the beautiful New Forest?
Together with the New Forest National Park Authority, we’re keen to encourage all our visitors to take some time out from their walking, cycling and dining on delicious food (!) to take in the amazing animals and plantlife that exist in this unique area.
Did you know that the entire 193,000 acres of the New Forest have been declared the UK’s biggest site of Special Scientific Interest, so important are our habitats, birdlife, plants and fauna?
And did you know we’re home to nearly 2,700 species of fungi, 700 species of flower, 13 species of bat, five types of deer, and four species of heather, as well as badgers, foxes, snakes, newts and rare wading birds and insects, including the UK’s only native cicada? (Never mind our 5,000 free-roaming ponies, roaming cattle and, during the autumn, Pannage pigs – free-roaming porkers who eat up the fallen acorns.)
If you come to the New Forest prepare to see some of our wildlife. But, if you keep your eyes open and tread carefully, you could see a whole lot more – even in winter.
Deer can be seen throughout the year all over the New Forest. Fallow, roe, sika and red deer are the most common species, but there are also small numbers of muntjac. Visitors are most likely to see fallow deer, which tend to be in groups, or roe deer, which are usually in small clusters and if you look down at muddy ground it’s not difficult to see where they’ve walked.
Badgers, like foxes, live throughout the forest and can be spotted in the early mornings or at dusk, when they emerge from their setts and dens to hunt and you’ll hear a lot of owls hooting (maybe even glimpse some) at this time of year.
It may look dormant and lifeless but these winter days can be some of the best for spotting birds and deer without the cover of greenery. And, if you return in the spring, you’ll be rewarded by an explosion of life.
Spot some of the Forest’s impressive bat population during a spring dusk. It’s thought that 13 out of the 18 UK species can be found here – important, because their presence indicates a healthy environment. They are the world’s only flying mammal and their roosts – old buildings and ancient trees – are protected by law.
For lovers of reptiles the New Forest is a herpetological paradise. It’s home to all six of our native species: sand lizards, slow worms, grass snakes, common lizards, smooth snakes and the UK’s only poisonous viper, the adder.
We have a number of species of birds of prey, plus rare Nightjars and the UK’s largest breeding population of Dartford Warblers.
The forest abounds with insects, too, from bejewelled dragonflies, to butterflies, beetles and wild bees, all attracted by the abundant flora – the forest is home to nearly 700 species of flower, including the rare marsh gentian and bog orchid, and is the UK’s only place where wild gladiolus grows.
Because of this delicate environmental balance, we’re keen to encourage environmentally-friendly ways to visit and explore.
The New Forest is only 89 minutes by train from London Waterloo. Bikes can be hired from Forest Leisure Cycling, AA Bike Hire and Cycleexperience. Burley Villa School of Riding leads 90 minute or two-hour hacks through the forest scenery.