New Forest and Avon Valley

New Forest ponies by Peter Emery

The New Forest is without equal in the UK as an historic landscape and wildlife hotspot. The continuity of land management provided by a commoning tradition and status as a Royal Forest stretches back nearly a thousand years and has resulted in one of the finest wildlife areas in Western Europe. 

The New Forest consists mainly of extensive wet and dry heathlands comprising a significant percentage of all heathland habitat in Europe, home to a wealth of rare plants, insects and birds such as woodlark, nightjar and Dartford warbler. The woodlands include large numbers of ancient and veteran trees, vital habitat for many insects and especially rare beetles as well as forest birds like redstart, honey buzzard, lesser spotted woodpecker and wood warbler.

New Forest by Peter EmeryOften overlooked but just as special are the wetlands, from bogs and valley mires to some of the cleanest streams and ponds anywhere in the UK. These are home to wading birds including curlew and snipe and rare insects such as southern damselfly, small red damselfly and large marsh grasshopper.

Intermingled with this are the enclosed areas of the New Forest, the small farms, unspoilt meadows and worked copses; their history and wildlife intimately linked to the commons and woods of the open Forest.

Along the southern edge lies the Solent with its huge populations of wintering and migrant birds and some of the last tern colonies in southern England. To the west lies the Avon Valley, one of the finest chalk rivers in Europe and home to wild salmon, lamprey and otter.

Open enclosure by Ed MerrittThe long history of management has resulted in a unique array of short grasslands with many rare plants intimately linked to ancient land management practices.

The New Forest is truly a Living Landscape, the fabulous richness of wildlife is completely tied in with the social and economic fabric of the area, and the two are now interdependent. Today the New Forest is a magnet for tourism attracting millions of visitors every year, making it a highly valued and valuable asset.

Project objectives

Our projects aim to ensure that the area retains its unique qualities in the face of potentially damaging changes. We seek to promote the resilience of the area by supporting historic land management and restoring lost or damaged habitats. We are a key partner in the New Forest Land Advice Service, providing vital assistance to land owners and stock keepers who are so essential to the New Forest's character and habitats.

  • We undertake surveys to gather the evidence upon which action can be taken and success measured, by understanding what works and why.
  • In both the New Forest and Avon Valley we are engaged in vigorous work to remove the invasive non-native plant species that are a serious threat to many of the rare wetland plants.
  • Within our woods we are developing model woodland management practices that provide both income and maximise wildlife potential.
  • On the coast we are seeking to secure a more stable future for coastal bird populations in the face of rising sea levels and coastal erosion. 

Where is it?

New Forest Living Landscape map

The New Forest occupies the land west of Southampton and Totton from the coast, north to the Wiltshire border. At its western boundary the New Forest falls from its terraces into the Avon valley.

Nature reserves

We manage eleven nature reserves in the area:

  • Blashford Lakes  - a reserve with flooded gravel pits and an Education Centre. The lakes are surrounded by grassland and willow, birch and alder woodland and attract thousands of wildlfowl in winter as well as bittern and good numbers of woodland birds including redpoll, siskin and brambling. It is an excellent site for dragonflies in summer.
  • Copythorne Common - a conifer woodland with glades of heath land and acid grassland situated on the edge of the New Forest.
  • Fletchwood Meadows - six acres of ancient meadows supporting a large number of flowering plants and insects.
  • Holmsley Gravel Pit - a long-disused gravel working which has evolved into an important place for local wildlife
  • Hythe Spartina Marsh - a small stretch of coastal habitat flanking Southampton Water, with specialised plants that can cope with being covered by sea water. There is an abundant bird life despite the busy estuary.
  • Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes - large area of salt marsh and mudflats either side of Lymington River which is of international importance for the large number of birds that is supports.
  • Linwood - a small woodland within the New Forest which is grazed in parts forming open glades and with the Dockens Water stream.
  • Lymington Reedbeds - a wide ribbon of reeds growing along the Lymington River bordered by wet woodland pastures.The stretch of the river provides plenty of cover for otters to lie up.
  • Roydon Woods -  a large patchwork of ancient woodland, pastures, ponds, heaths and the Lymington River, supporting a wide range of plant species, butterflies, deer, birds and fungi.
  • Kitts Grave