The New Forest cSAC supports a complex
mosaic of wildlife habitats, formerly common in lowland western
Europe, but now rare and fragmented. The New Forest cSAC comprises
extensive wet and dry heaths with rich valley mires and associated
wet and dry grasslands, ancient pasture and enclosed woodlands,
a network of clean rivers and streams and frequent permanent
and temporary ponds. Outstanding examples of thirteen habitats
of European interest are represented, together with two priority
habitats types - bog woodland and riverine woodland.
The habitats support an exceptional variety of plants and
animals, including the richest moss and lichen flora in lowland
Europe, scarce flowering plants such as slender cotton-grass,
wild gladiolus, pennyroyal and small fleabane and an outstanding
community of invertebrates dependent upon the ancient forest
trees and other grazed habitats. In addition, the New Forest
has the largest number of Dartford warblers in Britain and
internationally important populations of nightjars and woodlarks.
Of particular note are the populations of southern damselflies,
great crested newts and stag beetles.
quality of the habitats of the New Forest, and the rich diversity
of species which they support, is dependent upon the management
activities of the various owners and occupiers. Of fundamental
importance is the persistence of a pastoral economy based
on the existence of Rights of Common. Rights of Common permit
depasturing of "commonable" animals on Common Land,
known as the Open Forest. Commonable animals are ponies, cattle,
pigs, sheep and donkeys. The commoner’s stock, mainly
cattle and ponies, roam freely over extensive areas of the
Open Forest, playing a vital role in keeping open habitats
free of scrub and controlling more aggressive species such
as bracken and purple-moor grass, and maintaining the richness
and variety of heathland and wood pasture habitats.
Hence, the New Forest is not “natural” in the
sense of untouched by man. The Forest has been moulded by
local traditions. The favourable status of the heathland and
woodland habitats in the new Forest is directly related to
the pressure of grazing exerted on these habitats by large
herbivores. There are now fewer young members of the “old”
commoning families staying on the Forest and exercising their
rights of common. Loss of continued voluntary grazing and
a reduction in the quality of the stock would significantly
change habitat quality and its favourable condition and reduce
overall biodiversity. Natural processes have also resulted
in the loss of habitat through the invasion of alien species
of trees and shrubs.
The New Forest had never been managed as a whole or with
nature conservation as its first priority and thus created
a fragmented New Forest, with habitats of unfavourable condition,
resulting in a decline of wildlife.
Commercial forestry practices
have resulted in damage to heathlands, woodlands and wetlands
through drainage and loss of habitats. The Forestry Commission
has, in the past, primarily managed the New Forest for timber
production. Habitat management was not a priority. A change
in attitude and thinking was necessary before the management
of the New Forest could focus on conservation and for the
habitats to begin to be restored to favourable conditions.
A Strategy for the New Forest, which was published by the
New Forest Committee in April 1996, recognised the European
importance of the New Forest and identified a strategic framework
for its conservation and enhancement. The New Forest LIFE
II Project grew from this initiative.
The New Forest LIFE II Project focused on the New Forest
cSAC area. The main aims were to deliver practical conservation
work on the ground, ensure that nature conservation has a
secure future in the New Forest cSAC and ensure that traditional
activities such as grazing remain viable.