Health, Latest News | Posted: Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 at 12:56 pm | return to news

Car park closures in the New Forest due to C19 lockdown impact on rare species

When the government issued the stay at home guidance it was difficult to imagine what impact this would have on wildlife, including ground nesting birds in the New Forest.

Woodlark at its nest on the ground with chicks. Copyright Mike Read
Woodlark at its nest on the ground with chicks. Copyright Mike Read

To help protect nesting birds that have chosen more unusual places to rear their young this year due to COVID-19 lockdown, the New Forest National Park Authority and Forestry England are trying to create quieter areas around very sensitive nesting locations.

Car parks at Clayhill, Crockford, Crockford Clump, Hincheslea, Hincheslea Moor, Shatterford, Beaulieu heath and Yew Tree Heath have been closed for the summer and other particularly sensitive locations have been identified near, Beaulieu Heath, and Ocknell and Whitten Pond.

Visitors may notice signs at key locations around the Forest, highlighting the presence of the birds and the best ways to minimise disturbance. An orange sign means that ground nesting birds are in the area (you and your dogs should stay on the main tracks). A red ‘STOP’ sign indicates you are approaching a very sensitive nesting area and need to avoid it and find an alternative route.

Explaining the campaign, Leanne Sargeant, senior ecologist at Forestry England, said, “Ground nesting birds are so difficult to spot that many people are simply unaware they are here. Their nests are so well camouflaged that to the untrained eye it is very hard to see them before you are so close that damage has already been done to them. By limiting a few activities and taking care to stick to the main tracks until the end of July, we can all play a part in ensuring these birds can continue to thrive here in the Forest and stop their disappearance from our natural world.

“Lost from many other parts of the UK, the New Forest National Park is an important stronghold for birds such as the nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler. It’s because of these birds that much of the Forest is a Special Protection Area. By helping them to breed successfully we may also help slow their decline elsewhere.”

The New Forest also contains 75% of the UK’s lowland bog habitat, some of the most important and rare wetlands in Europe that are home to wading birds such as curlew, snipe and lapwing. These birds feed, nest and roost on the ground.

All these birds need a quiet area to stake out their territory, nest and then feed their young. During the early stages of lockdown, they were busy finding somewhere safe to lay their eggs and birds began to nest in places that were normally full of people and dogs. The first month was hauntingly quiet. The few local residents who could walk from home could hear the birds without the noise of other people, planes, vehicles or trains. Gradually things have got busier but since the middle of May the daily visitors have increased to bank holiday levels. This has risked dramatic effects on the Forest’s rare birds as they had nested closer to some of the car parks and tracks in our absence.

Usually, they sit tight so long as people and dogs stay on the wide, well-used gravel tracks. But they are easily frightened away if walkers and dogs stray into the heather or along the smaller pony tracks. This disturbance can mean they give up trying to nest at all – and predators such as crows or foxes will quickly investigate if parent birds are forced to leave eggs or chicks.

New Forest National Park Authority head of Recreation Management and Learning, Nigel Matthews, said, “We can all help these rare species to survive by making sure we stick to the wider main tracks when we’re out and about. Please read and take note of the signs, and if you walk your dog or someone else’s please follow the New Forest dog walking code.

“Everyone can play a part in ensuring these birds can continue to thrive in this special place. We ask that until the end of July everyone keeps to the main paths when out walking, cycling or horse riding. Please keep dogs on the main tracks too, by using a lead if necessary.”

New Forest Dog Owners Group is pleased to be supporting this campaign to help protect these critically important birds. Chair, Heather Gould, said, “Many of us choose to walk our dogs away from the sensitive areas that support ground nesting birds during the breeding season. We encourage everyone to take special care when on the Forest with their dogs during this time. Please follow the advice to keep yourselves and your dog on the main tracks and if necessary, use a lead. All of us who love and enjoy the forest have to play our part in protecting this precious environment and the nature it supports.”

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