The New Forest in Hampshire dates back to 1079 when
William the Conqueror established the area as a royal forest and hunting ground
- his 'Nova Foresta'.
If you go down
to the woods in winter, you'll discover lots of fascinating wildlife.
|New Forest - winter woodlands
- a stronghold for protected species.|
Forest is a nationally important wildlife environment comprising woodland pasture,
heaths, bogs and the remains of coppices and timber plantations.
a huge area, its 145 square miles of virtually undisturbed deciduous and coniferous
forest provide excellent opportunities for nature watching.
still retains many of the traditional practices including the pasturing of cattle,
pigs, ponies and donkeys by local people known as Commoners.
Over the centuries
the forest has been shaped by man, notably by successive monarchs who used it
for timber, recreation and hunting, and by the Commoners grazing animals.
New Forest was designated a National Park in 2005, and nature highlights include
deer, badgers, foxes, old trees and lichens.
is a good time to look at the shape of some of the New Forest's ancient trees
when they aren't in full leaf.
One of the most famous of all is the Knightwood
Oak, possibly the oldest tree in the forest, dating from an age when wood was
used for fuel, buildings and boat construction.
The Knightwood Oak measures
seven metres in circumference, so it could be 600 years old.
years ago when this tree was young, it was pollarded or cut back to rejuvenate
Pollarding helps trees to live longer as it re-sets their biological
clock by making them grow more slowly.
The pollarding process was carried
out six to ten feet above ground, often by a man standing on a wagon to keep the
re-growth out of the reach of animals.
Each winter the new tree growth
was cut back and used as fodder, firewood or fencing.
Most of the very oldest
oak and beech trees in the Forest have been pollarded.
To find out the
age of the ancient trees, simply measure their girth which is a better indicator
A good indicator is that a tree of 7.5 metres width equals
about 600 years in age.
well as the New Forest's magnificent old trees, the forest's waterways are home
to some secretive wildlife.
This area of Hampshire is criss-crossed with
small woodland streams that flow straight into the sea.
It's in these shallow
waters that a fabulous feat of migration occurs at the same time every year in
Sea Trout make their way upstream, taking advantage of early
winter rain, which makes the water deep enough for their journey.
are salt water fish, spending most of their time living around Britain's coasts,
but they return for just a few weeks every year to make the journey through the
New Forest's fresh water currents
From the banks of the forest's streams,
you can see them making this strenuous journey - watch out for their backs and
fins sticking out of the water.
The male fish can be recognised by their
distinctive hooked lower jaw, and often can be seen snapping at each other in
a macho display for the females.
The destination for the Trout is the tops
of the streams where their lives began - this is where the female spawn.
female fish turns on her side and wiggles her tail over the gravel on the stream's
bottom, depositing her eggs which the male fish then fertilise.
a few hours a female can lay up to 10,000 eggs before they head back to the sea.
calm water and gravel beds of the New Forest are ideal for reproduction and young
fish because their waters are rich in oxygen, and they provide protection from
New Forest boasts is a stronghold for many rare and protected species.
February visitors can witness another marvellous spectacle - the Toad and Frog
Like the Atlantic Trout, Toads return to the same places
in which they were born year after year - in this case the ponds in the forest.
Toads only live in water for a short period of time and are well adapted
to life on land.
The females are bigger than the males who always outnumber
their prospective mates so competition is intense.
Male Toads can be seen
wrestling with others to capture the attention of the opposite sex, and there
can be up to 10 males fighting for a single female resulting in a 'mating ball'
Once mating takes place, females lay 'strings' of spawn which
develop into toad tadpoles which are jet black and thought to taste foul so they
rarely get eaten by predators.
Getting to the New Forest's ponds is a hazardous
business for the Toads who often make the migration at night when many get killed
as they cross roads.
Find out how you can help save the Toads from the roads
on a Toad Watch.