As part of the HLS scheme, we’re working with partners to restore New Forest wetlands to improve the condition of these internationally important habitats.
Since 2010 the scheme has delivered dozens of projects across the New Forest, totalling 20 miles of restoration to watercourses and approximately 5,000 hectares (more than 7,000 football pitches) of SSSI wetland habitats being improved and protected.
The restorations, led by Forestry England, are improving habitats for rare wildlife, protecting streams and mires from further erosion, helping to manage flood risk and increasing resilience to drought.
The restorations won the prestigious 2019 UK River Prize*.
Why the New Forest freshwater and wetland habitats are special
The New Forest is one of the most important areas for freshwater wildlife in Britain.
The mires, bogs, ponds and streams, along with the wet heaths, wet grasslands and wet woodlands, are among the Forest’s most precious qualities. They form part of the New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and are a key reason why large areas of the New Forest are also protected under international legislation.
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 north-western Europe.
These wetlands are special because they’re surrounded by heathlands, woodlands and grasslands, which are maintained by commoning – a traditional form of land management where grazing animals like ponies and cattle are turned out onto the Forest. This clean, unpolluted landscape leads to high-quality freshwaters.
In the New Forest, they are home to wildlife and plants which have long since disappeared from other parts of England, such as the sundew, bog pimpernel, tadpole shrimp and southern damselfly.
Why some wetlands need restoring
In the past many streams and mires in the New Forest were modified and straightened to help water run off the Forest more quickly. Over time, this can affect the health of rare wetland plants and wildlife in a number of ways.
Draining mires more quickly means that peat and rare mire habitats are lost. Straightening shallow, meandering streams leads to faster flows and more erosion, so that channels become deeper and wider over time. There’s also more chance of flooding downstream.
Wetland habitats along these streams, like wet woodland and wet grassland, are affected too. These habitats rely on seasonal flooding to keep them in good condition but deeper channels and spoil banks (left along the side when ditches were dug) have put a stop to that.
Climate change is making these problems worse. The UK is experiencing more extreme weather events, with hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters predicted in future.
How is the HLS scheme helping?
Funding from the HLS is helping to restore the New Forest’s freshwaters and wetlands to improve the condition of these internationally-important habitats.
We use various techniques to restore wetlands in the New Forest. These include filling in drainage ditches, returning straightened streams to their natural curves and meanders, and making over-deepened channels shallower again to encourage out-of-bank flooding in high flows.
There are other benefits too. Restoring the mires not only protects these special habitats but also means they continue to act as a carbon sink. The slower-moving streams are interacting more naturally with their floodplains, meaning more water is stored during heavy rainfall, as well as making the area more resilient to winter floods and summer droughts. The restoration works should also help to reduce the impact of flood risk downstream.
See Completed projects to find out more about sites we have restored under the New Forest HLS.
The work carried out so far has been guided by previous projects and plans, including the New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016.
We are now working with a forum of stakeholders to develop a new wetland management strategy for the New Forest.
See page 10 for article on the New Forest Freshwater and Wetland Habitats Restoration Strategy: https://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Waternews-Issue-12-July-2021.pdf
See the New Forest Freshwater and Wetland Habitats Restoration Strategy 2019: https://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/FWRF-STRATEGY-FINAL-July2019.pdf