Why restore wetlands?
One of the key objectives of the New Forest HLS Scheme is wetland restoration, to change the remaining sites of special scientific interest that are in ‘unfavourable’ condition to ‘favourable’ condition. This will safeguard an area that is recognised as being of outstanding importance for nature conservation in both the UK and Europe due to the size, quality and complex mosaic of habitats.
In terms of wetland habitats, the New Forest supports one of only four significant sites of bog woodland in the UK, as well as one of the six best sites of riverine woodland. Together with other scarce wetland habitats, the Forest also contains the most extensive lowland valley mire systems in western Europe.
The restoration work also slows water flow, reducing erosion and flood risk. You can see the drastic erosion effects of artificial straightening in the 360 degree photo below, taken at Latchmore:
Erosion at Latchmore, New Forest – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
Our Restoration team are specialists in Ecology, Hydrology and Forestry.
The team’s expertise in working with natural processes and applying these to river restoration has been demonstrated through numerous projects in the New Forest. The Forestry Commission’s team of experts is working hard to re-instate natural bends in streams to increase their length and slow the flow of water. By infilling these deep man-made drains we also reduce the erosion of boggy mires, which is key habitat for species such as curlew and small red damselfly. So far, nine miles of drainage channels have been restored to natural streams, protecting the New Forest’s internationally-important wetlands and helping them to function better for future generations.
Supported by independent experts
In 2015 an independent study was undertaken by the River Restoration Centre and Jonathan Cox Associates to survey a selection of restored wetland sites from 2004 to monitor their success post restoration. The findings can be read and downloaded below:
Each year the Forestry Commission researches and develops restoration proposals for eight to 10 sites. Some of these only require minor works to restore favourable condition, but larger, more complex sites are presented at on-site consultation meetings attended by representatives from Natural England, the New Forest National Park Authority, the Verderers, the Commoners Defence Association and the New Forest Association.
Once restoration proposals have been approved by the consultees, a detailed restoration plan is produced, taking into account site-specific sensitivities and constraints, such as archaeology, rare plants and ground conditions.
The Forestry Commission applies for Felling Licences (permission to cut trees on the Open Forest) in late summer, and comments are invited from Natural England, the New Forest National Park Authority and the relevant Parish Councils. Land Drainage Consent is sought from the Environment Agency, following provision of a detailed restoration plan with mitigation proposals for sensitivities and constraints.
Once Felling Licences have been granted, any tree felling and scrub clearance work on the Open Forest must be undertaken outside the bird breeding season (from August up until the end of March), with restoration work taking place on the ground during the summer months, when low flows and drier ground conditions mean that the impacts on the watercourse, the floodplain habitats and associated wildlife is minimised.
The New Forest is divided into 584 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) units.
Each one has been individually identified and assessed by Natural England, based on its habitat type, unique features, management regime and geographical location.
A number of these SSSI units are currently classed as being in ‘unfavourable’ condition. It is the responsibility of the Forestry Commission, which manages the Crown Lands in the New Forest, to work towards restoring these SSSI units to ‘favourable’ condition.
In the New Forest, SSSI units are usually in unfavourable condition as a result of:
- artificial drainage
- tree and scrub encroachment
- presence of non-native invasive plant species.
SSSI habitat restoration work has been undertaken in the New Forest for over 15 years with funding from various sources, including the EU-funded LIFE projects.
Each site that has been restored under the New Forest HLS Scheme is listed by name and year under Completed projects. As soon as they are confirmed, the sites that are due to be restored the following summer are listed under Current projects.
All sites have a brief summary describing why restoration work is required, and how that translates into what work will be done on the ground. The larger sites are accompanied by an annotated map, attached as a PDF.
The stream at Fletchers Thorns was straightened in Victorian times to quickly drain that part of the forest. This canalisation created unseen problems at the time. Through HLS funding the original meanders were identified and reinstated with the straightened section being in filled and returned back to Forest. The stream is now back to its original course and interacting naturally with its floodplain.