Following the Government's recent response to the Glover Review of Protected Landscapes, we are publishing three guest blogs from different National Parks and AONBs looking at their support for nature. In our second blog, Alison Barnes, CEO of the New Forest National Park describes its varied work for wildlife and people ...

The New Forest National Park is a world capital for wildlife, with a range of species that are rare, uncommon or declining elsewhere in the UK and western Europe. It’s an incredible living, working landscape, shaped over centuries by the animals that graze it, and the people who own and care for them – called commoners.   

 At 200 square miles, it’s England’s smallest national park but it has a fantastic mosaic of habitats including heathland, grassland, wetland, hedgerows and saltmarsh, as well as the characteristic wood pasture and mires. 

Since its designation as a national park in 2005 we’ve recognised that the climate and nature crises are significant threats to this extraordinary area. Our approach has been to support land managers to bring habitats into good condition, to make them better-connected and more resilient and adaptable to climate change. But to do this effectively we focus on working together as ‘Team New Forest’ to make the best use of our collective resources and provide a strong voice to champion nature recovery in the New Forest National Park. 

As well as working regularly with 93 partners, we're actively involving communities in the recovery of our precious landscape. Through engaging thousands of school children each year, and our ever-growing team of many hundreds of volunteers, we’re harnessing people's skills and passion for the New Forest National Park.  

 Photo Credit: Big Wave ProductionsWe have helped to deliver some ambitious projects. 213 hectares of habitats have been improved and 61kms of riverbank and hedgerow restored through the recent Our Past, Our Future, landscape partnership scheme. 

Another partnership, established through the Verderers of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship scheme, has secured 865 hectares of heath and grassland restoration and seen 12 miles of SSSI verges and 20 miles of streams restored. 

We co-host the New Forest Catchment Partnership with the Freshwater Habitats Trust, working alongside organisations, communities and businesses to protect, manage and enhance the freshwater habitats and the species they support in and around the New Forest – home to one of the highest concentrations of pristine water bodies in the UK. 

Our support of the RSPB and its purchase of Franchises Lodge nature reserve, from identifying the site, providing direct funding for purchase, and securing funding for management, has been a once in a generation opportunity to turn a huge piece of the north of the National Park into a special place for wildlife, showing how forest habitats can be reconnected at scale to be bigger and better for nature. 

These projects have greatly benefitted the National Park but there is more to do. The Government’s 25 year Environment Plan (2018) sets out ambitious proposals to provide richer wildlife habitats and the Landscapes Review (2019) places National Parks at the forefront of nature recovery. We are ready to take up that challenge. 

We’re enabling individuals, businesses, groups and communities to bring about this step change together. Our vision is that we generate a thriving landscape network that goes beyond boundaries, because nature doesn’t stop at borders. Through our Green Halo partnership we’re leading on this ‘natural capital’ approach and engaging people across sectors in its delivery. We’re connecting physically and through people, communities and knowledge, with cities, universities, businesses and conservation groups – not just within the National Park but the whole of the central south area. 

 Through the convening of a Wildlife Roundtable, we’re developing a nature recovery plan in conjunction with our partners – a plan that will create a portfolio of large-scale opportunities for the area. We intend to both challenge and support each other, to raise money for nature recovery and to satisfy the current demand for connection with nature post Covid-19 where it is not detrimental to the special wildlife of the New Forest. 

Our collaborative approach is paying off and our role is to bring together a high-performing ‘Team New Forest’ for nature.  There is still much to work towards, but we are fortunate that our strong working partnerships are growing to help ensure that the New Forest National Park of the future is a vibrant, wildlife-rich and ecologically-functioning landscape. 

Aerial view of river, photo credit Big Wave Productions