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  • Writer's pictureRussell Wynn

New Forest Biodiversity News - January 2024

This report aims to summarise some of the notable wildlife sightings and conservation news in the New Forest National Park in January 2024. To contribute to future editions, please contact the New Forest Biodiversity Forum Chair (russ@wildnewforest.co.uk).


White-tailed Eagle on 12 Jan 2024 (photo: Rob Farnworth)

 

Notable wildlife sightings

As is often the case in mid-winter, it was the more obvious mammal and bird species that made the headlines. One of the most remarkable records was the first confirmed breeding (in modern times) of Grey Seal along the New Forest coast, found during one of the popular boat trips operated by Wild New Forest Guided Tours. The same location regularly hosts White-tailed Eagles from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme, and one of these birds was seen investigating the newborn pup, presumably thinking it was carrion. Fortunately for the pup, the eagle left it in peace, and at the time of writing it appears to be growing well.


Grey Seal with pup photographed on 07 Jan 2024 (photo: Marcus Ward, Wild New Forest Guided Tours)


White-tailed Eagle and Grey Seal pup on 12 Jan 2024 (photo: Marcus Ward, Wild New Forest Guided Tours)


Grey Seal pup on 12 Jan 2024 (photo: Rob Farnworth)


A very unusual sighting was a summer-plumaged Common Tern photographed off Pennington Marshes on 28 Jan. This species would normally still be in winter quarters off Africa at this season and, in contrast to Sandwich Tern (which now winters in the Solent in small numbers), it is very rare to see one in our region in mid-winter. Other notable bird records included an adult male Ferruginous Duck off Oxey Marsh on 19 Jan; this national rarity appeared with Tufted Ducks at a time when overnight temperatures fell to -8oC, so the flock had presumably been frozen off an inland water body. It was subsequently seen further east along the Solent coast at Posbrook Floods, Titchfield. A series of scarce bird species were seen in the Avon Valley just beyond the western boundary of the New Forest, including Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Caspian Gull, and Glossy Ibis.

 

Scaup and Long-tailed Duck have become hard to come by in recent years, but individuals of both species were present between Lymington and Hurst in January. A nice selection of now regular wintering species in this area also kept the photographers happy, including Avocets, Spoonbills, and a young male Marsh Harrier that was wing-tagged in Norfolk in July 2023. The latest Waxwing influx didn’t quite reach the New Forest, although a couple of birds in the Romsey area proved popular. Sadly, there have been no reports of Great Grey Shrike in the New Forest this winter and, given its increasing national rarity, it seems likely that this charismatic species is slowly becoming extinct as a wintering bird in our region (for wider context see this Birdguides article).


Wing-tagged Marsh Harrier 'Z9' at Pennington Marshes on 06 Jan 2024 (photo: Steve Laycock)

 

In 2023, the first frogspawn report in the New Forest was on the record early date of 09 January (see here). The first appearances this year seemed more typical, with numerous reports during a spell of mild weather in the last week of the month; these conditions also enticed out a Common Lizard and several species of butterfly, and the southerly winds saw an arrival of migrant moths including Bordered Straw and Dark Sword-grass. There were also a couple of records of Dark-streaked Tortrix Acleris umbrana at this time, a nationally scarce species that has shown a marked increase in our region in recent years (see here). And while on the subject of moths, anyone interested in why moths are attracted to light (including those who operate light-based moth traps) may be interested in a recent paper in Nature Communications that claims to have solved the mystery…

 

Hampshire Fungus Recording Group (HFRG) have had great success in recent years using DNA analysis to confirm identification of rare and/or cryptic fungi species, many of which are new to the New Forest / Hampshire / UK, and several that are even new to science. The latest batch of analysed samples, collected during a HFRG survey in the central New Forest on 21 Oct under Forestry England permit, confirmed the presence of Goatcheese Webcap Cortinarius camphoratus, which appears to be the first definite New Forest record, and a fibrecap that looks to be a good match for Inocybe turfae - if the latter is confirmed it will be a first for Britain. The New Forest Biodiversity Forum has just awarded a Small Grant to HFRG that will support DNA analysis costs for fungi specimens collected during surveys for the next three years, so hopefully there will be more exciting discoveries to come!


Photo montage showing macro- and microscopic features of potential Inocybe turfae (photo: Eric Janke)

 

Conservation news

The Local Nature Recovery Strategy for Hampshire is currently at the consultation phase, and a series of online and in-person workshops are being rolled out to seek input from the community. The 'New Forest and Forest Fringe' workshop took place on the evening of 01 Feb, but there are plenty of other opportunities to get involved prior to the production of a first draft strategy in late spring or early summer. Further details on the strategy are here and information on how to get involved is here.  


Local Nature Recovery Strategy workshop in Lyndhurst on 01 Feb 2024

 

Hampshire County Council have given formal approval for the A326 North 'upgrade' to proceed to the design and planning stage (see here); these works will take place along the eastern margin of the New Forest between Totton and Applemore, and will inevitably have some impact on the adjacent protected landscape. Councillor Rob Humby said "This proposed scheme is not simply about increasing capacity on the A326 to cope with existing and increasing traffic volumes, it is also about drawing traffic away from local roads such as those that run through the New Forest National Park and Waterside communities, as well as measures to enable more active travel by making it easier and safer to cross the road. More widely, if the future economic opportunities of the Solent Freeport are to be unlocked, improvements to this major route will be fundamental. To mitigate the impact and enhance the local environment, a landscape plan will be developed alongside the highway design which will maximise biodiversity along the route through, for example, creating species rich grasslands along new verges, planting trees and shrubs and redesigning a drainage tunnel through Bartley Water to ensure fish and otter movements can continue as they would usually". 

 

The New Forest Code has been a useful addition to the public education toolkit - the infographic below summarises some of the joint work carried out in 2023 to share and enforce the code, and further details are available here.  



Climate change is already having a significant impact on habitats and species in the New Forest, and January 2024 again saw local flooding across the region following periods of intense rainfall. To facilitate public communication of climate change, University of Reading have released new products based around their famous ‘climate stripes‘ that provide a useful visual representation of our changing climate, including graphs for different areas of the World and the UK. These are free to download here, and two examples showing temperature change in England over the last 140 years are shown below:




Finally, the New Forest Pine Marten project spearheaded by Forestry England and Wild New Forest Guided Tours again featured in national media (e.g. see here), with results from the 2023 field season indicating the species is now well distributed and breeding in ancient woodland habitat across the New Forest. The next phase of the project will attempt DNA analysis and radio tracking to try and identify individuals and their movements, and assess population size. A Forestry England project update can be viewed on YouTube here.

 

Many thanks to all those who contributed images and sightings to the following sites:

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