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  • Writer's pictureRussell Wynn

New Forest Biodiversity Conference 2024

The first New Forest Biodiversity Conference for many years was held at Careys Manor Hotel in Brockenhurst on 06-07 Feb 2024 - this conference is a key part of the New Forest Biodiversity Forum, with the aim of encouraging knowledge exchange and networking among those responsible for biodiversity survey, recording, and conservation in the New Forest.

 

We had a full house of 100 invited attendees over the two days, representing a wide range of interests including governmental and non-governmental organisations, farmers and commoners, private companies and estates, universities, independent ecological consultants, and expert ‘amateur’ naturalists.

 

The conference opened with a welcome from the chair and sponsors, and an introduction to the New Forest Biodiversity Forum. This was followed by a keynote talk by Prof Adrian Newton, who convened the last major New Forest Biodiversity Conference 15 years ago (click here to access the outputs of that event). Adrian gave a thought-provoking and at times provocative talk, but one that reminded us of the increasing impacts of climate change and some of the persistent ‘hidden threats’ to the New Forest such as atmospheric pollution. The remainder of the first day was focussed on habitats, with 11 speakers providing updates on habitat management, creation, and restoration across the New Forest. The day concluded with stimulating talks by Tony Hockley about how we communicate the importance of the New Forest to the public and policymakers, and by Andrew Parry-Norton about the challenges and opportunities associated with commoning in the New Forest - these talks generated lots of discussion that was continued over drinks at a networking reception.


Prof Adrian Newton giving his keynote talk on the first day.

 

The second day opened with a keynote talk by Clive Chatters, who provided an illuminating overview of species recording in the New Forest. Combined with the subsequent talk by Nicky Court of Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre, it highlighted how species recording has a long history in the New Forest but is currently highly heterogeneous between different groups, with mammals, fungi, and many invertebrates being under-represented compared to birds, plants, butterflies, and moths. The remainder of the day focussed on updates on species studies, with 16 presentations in total ranging from non-native invasive plants to lichens, raptors, hoverflies, snakes, bats, and deer.


Clive Chatters giving his keynote talk on the second day.

 

In addition to the talks, we held workshop sessions after lunch each day, facilitated by our steering group members. The first workshop aimed to identify key evidence gaps relating to New Forest biodiversity, while the second focussed on whether species monitoring in the New Forest is fit-for-purpose and what could be done to improve it in the future. The outputs of both workshops are currently being analysed and will be used to inform our strategic research programme going forwards.


One of the workshop sessions on the first day, facilitated by steering group members Leanne Sergeant and Gemma Stride.


One of the workshop sessions on the second day, facilitated by steering group members Trace Cooper-Williams and Nicky Court.


Overall, the conference went smoothly, and the amount of noise generated by chatting attendees during the coffee breaks was a good gauge of its success! We’re conscious that this was an invite-only event due to space constraints, and that there are likely to be colleagues who couldn’t attend but who would like to see the outputs. To that end, the conference schedule, talks, and abstracts will all be uploaded to the online hub soon.

 

Finally, many thanks again to the conference sponsors, support team, steering group, and speakers, and thanks also to local wildlife photographer, Steve Laycock, who generously provided a portfolio of 50 stunning New Forest wildlife images that brightened up the venue. Some of the (anonymised) comments received by email from conference attendees after the event are copied below:

 

Congratulations on a very successful conference. I really enjoyed today - the pace, the variety, the venue, the discussions, all were excellent. I am sorry I missed yesterday but look forward to seeing the notes on the forum website. Well done to you and the team and the wider steering group. There was a real buzz in the room at breaktime and everyone I spoke to commented how vital it is to have these sorts of events to discuss the biodiversity of the Forest and how to work together to understand and help it. I hope you can repeat this as an annual or bi-annual event.”

 

Just a quick note to congratulate you and your team in organising this event.  I'm certain it will have a positive impact on the biodiversity of the New Forest going forward. A superb blend of different experts and enthusiasts and a privilege to be a part of.  I personally have made some very good connections over the last couple of days, hopefully providing us with greater knowledge. Wishing this event success in the future and I hope I'm able be a part of it too.”

 

I just want to say how very much I enjoyed the conference and learnt so many new things about the Forest. May I congratulate you on its success and, like so many other attendees, I am excited that this is just the beginning of an annual sequence which has the capacity to achieve so much for the Forest. It was a triumph: a combination of your inspiration to hold and organise the conference and the generosity of the sponsors.”

 

I wanted to get in touch and thank you very much for the invitation to the event this week. A lot of work clearly went into the organisation. I really enjoyed the event and have taken a lot from it! If there are data gaps or issues identified which we may be able to assist with in some way, do let me know. Please also extend my gratitude to the rest of the steering group and facilitators.”

 

I am sure your inbox is overflowing with thanks from conference attendees and here is another one! Thank you for all your hard work in putting on such a diverse, informative, and thought-provoking couple of days. I now have a much better knowledge of the amazing work being undertaken within the National Park to protect and enhance its biodiversity. I also feel better informed as to some of the challenges the New Forest is facing. All of this will be invaluable to myself and my team whilst engaging with partners, local businesses, and members of the public in future. It was great to catch up with colleagues and to make new acquaintances which will be useful in future work. The conference has already encouraged thought provoking discussions and will hopefully be a catalyst for them to continue in the coming year.”

 

Thank you ever so much for such an amazing event, so informative and was great to hear everyone’s opinion. Was fantastic to be able to finally put faces so named and share our thoughts on the New Forest. I am really looking forward to next years’ event!

 

Just to congratulate you and your team for organising the conference so well and making everyone keeping to time. I thought the idea of having the short five-minute talks was an excellent way of squeezing in extra information. It was also great to catch up with people I hadn't seen for years.”

 

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