Nearly 12,550 hectares (23,000 football pitches) of the New Forest Crown Lands is heath and grassland.
This area has been maintained through centuries of grazing and burning, and it continues to this day with commoners’ ponies and cattle helping to maintain the heaths, combined with the Forestry Commission’s annual programme of controlled burning.
The heathland is home to many creatures and plants which have long since disappeared from the rest of England. There’s no one location outside of the New Forest that you’ll find wading birds, like snipe and curlew nesting on the ground, or the black bog ant, hear the stonechats singing from the tops of gorse bushes, or spot a sand lizard or smooth snake.
The HLS scheme is helping to maintain and restore this precious habitat. This includes removing some of the non-native conifer species on the open heathland, which allows more light into the ground, and promotes the growth of wildflowers, the seeds of which are lying dormant in the ground. Although it may look dramatic, by removing some bushes, pine and birch regrowth on the Open Forest it allows for the area to be grazed by the New Forest ponies and cattle thereafter.
This work aims to maintain the open heath, preventing the landscape from turning to scrub and supporting precious habitats and a wide-range of wildlife.