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New Forest LIFE 2  project - Securing Natura 2000 Objectives in the New Forest
Introduction to LIFE 2 project
Organisations in the New Forest LIFE 2 partnership
Background to the LIFE 2 project
Conservation issues
LIFE 2 objectives
Summary of actions in the LIFE 2 project
Summary of results  from the LIFE 2 project
Project Assessment
Final Technical Report
New Forest Special Area of Conservation Management Plan 2001

New Forest LIFE 3 Project - Sustainable Wetland Restoration in the New Forest
Natura 2000

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Background to the New Forest LIFE II Project

The New Forest Heritage Area extends to approximately 58,000 hectares, 29,000 of which comprise the New Forest candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC). The New Forest cSAC is one of the most important sites for wildlife in the United Kingdom (UK), and is widely recognised as being of exceptional importance for nature conservation throughout Europe.

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.

Stag BeetleThe 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.

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