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  • Writer's pictureRussell Wynn

New Forest Biodiversity News - March 2024

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

 

Notable wildlife sightings

The New Forest Raptor Monitoring Programme is sponsored by the Forum and saw fieldwork commence in March, with the initial focus being the monitoring of Goshawk and Buzzard territories on the Crown Lands. The first sighting of a female sitting on eggs was on 24 Mar, while a report of a dead Goshawk via the Wild New Forest Facebook page on 21 Mar allowed the bird to be swiftly recovered from a site near Lyndhurst, and it was found to be a freshly dead adult female, albeit very underweight at just 710g.



Dead female Goshawk found on 21 Mar 2024 (photos: Russell Wynn)


Four other dead juvenile/immature Goshawks have been recovered from the New Forest in recent weeks - two were ringed and shown to have come from different nest sites about 15 km from where they were found. This highlights the natural mortality of birds in their first couple of winters, although for all these birds the possibility of avian flu or trichomonosis cannot be ruled out. It also raises questions as to how much juvenile dispersal there is into the wider countryside, and whether there are differences in dispersal strategy between sexes. Fortunately, the team have been granted permission by the BTO to fit colour rings to juvenile Goshawks this year, and in due course we will be issuing a public call for colour-ring sightings. We are also aiming to fit GPS tags to juvenile Goshawks next year to better understand post-breeding dispersal and behaviour. Finally, one of the raptor team was able to obtain the image below of a spectacular aerial tussle between a territorial male Goshawk and a passing Marsh Harrier on 04 Mar, a photo that would not have been possible three decades ago.


Goshawk and Marsh Harrier sparring on 04 Mar 2024 (photo: Alex Yates)


Another photo that simply wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago was an amazing image reported on 06 Mar on BBC News here showing a Grey Seal apparently spitting water at a curious White-tailed Eagle. Although the encounter was on the Isle of Wight side of The Solent, both species are now semi-resident along the New Forest coast, with a couple of White-tailed Eagles regularly reported along the Solent and Southampton Water during the month.

 

Other avian news included a couple of Common Redpolls seen with a mixed flock of Lesser Redpolls and Siskins at Pignal Inclosure on 24 Mar, while the male Scaup, a Bar-headed Goose, and up to eight Spoonbills continued to be seen along the New Forest coast between Lymington and Keyhaven. In addition, a Red-necked Grebe there on 17-18 Mar was notable, as the species has become a rare winter visitor to our region in recent years.


Little Egret taking a European (Glass) Eel at the New Forest coast on 21 Mar 2024 (photo: Jeremy McClements)

 

There were few notable reports of other animal species, but a Western Conifer Seed Bug found on 12 Mar had no doubt recently emerged from hibernation, and both Dotted Chestnut and Pine Beauty were recorded during a mothing session at Woodlands on 26 Mar. A Polecat captured on 21 Mar on a trail camera deployed at Green Hill Farm (Landford) was the second record there in six months.


Dotted Chestnut on 26 Mar (photo: Russell Wynn)


Hampshire Fungus Recording Group (HFRG) conducted a couple of surveys in the northern New Forest during the month, as the wet and mild conditions continued to be favourable for fungi. The first survey was at RSPB Franchises Lodge on 02 Mar, with some of the more notable species including the second New Forest records of Pink Pancake Crust Rhodonia placenta (confirmed using DNA) and Leptosporomyces mutablis, both on fallen pines, and Cosmospora arxii parasitising Beech Woodwart Hypoxylon fragiforme. Other notable records included Cobalt Crust Terana coerulea, Serried Porecrust Antrodia serialis, and False Truffle Elaphomyces granulatus, as well as calling Goshawk and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.


Cobalt Crust on 02 Mar 2024 (photo: Russell Wynn)


The second survey was at Copythorne Common on 23 Mar, which produced a nice show of Bog Beacons Mitrula paludosa, the first New Forest record of Stripe Rust Puccinia striiformis on Smooth Meadow Grass, and the second New Forest records of Milesina kriegeriana on Male Fern and Stictis friabilis on Scots Pine (on the same branch as Lachnellula resinaria var. calycina). Note that information on fungi species status is based on the Fungi Recording Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI).


Bog Beacons on 23 Mar 2024 (photo: Russell Wynn)


Wildlife and conservation news

Met Office data indicate that March was warmer, wetter, and cloudier than average, and the New Forest certainly continued to be very wet underfoot. The unprecedent wet winter has had a major impact on some forest management activities, e.g. the prescribed burning programme conducted by Forestry England on the Crown Lands had only achieved 13 ha of its planned 276 ha for winter 23/24 up to the end of March, equating to <5% of its target area. The unusually wet weather in 2023 was also a major contributor to an unwelcome increase in combined sewage overflows into our rivers, with national Environment Agency figures featured by BBC News online here indicating a doubling of spill duration compared to 2022. CSO discharges into New Forest rivers continue to be a significant concern, although as outlined here Southern Water are currently investing £30M into the New Forest and surrounds to help tackle the issue.

 

A sighting of Asian Hornet in Kent on 11 Mar, as reported here, has raised concerns that the species is now successfully overwintering in southern England. In 2023 there were unprecedent numbers reported from the region, including a couple from the eastern fringes of the New Forest; it is hard to see how they can now realistically be prevented from colonising the UK, but the National Bee Unit is still keen to receive reports and will take action to destroy colonies where practicable - further details here.

 

A new two-year project on the New Forest coast has benefitted from funding from Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme Capital Grant Scheme. The Gravelly Shores project is a collaboration between GWCT, Natural England, and Beaulieu Estate, and will create 1.7 ha of new vegetated shingle habitat at the North Solent National Nature Reserve to support ground-nesting birds; this will be combined with electric anti-predator fencing and trials of other non-lethal predator management techniques such as nest protection cages, specifically to support a regionally important population of Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher. In addition, RSPB and Calshot Activities Centre have again erected a seasonal 30x50 m nest fence at Calshot to support breeding Ringed Plovers, and potentially also Oystercatchers, as part of their LIFE on the Edge project.

 

Finally, a local audio engineer and sound artist has expressed interest in working with field ecologists in and around the New Forest, and has lots of field recording equipment available including microphones, hydrophones, contact microphones, and parabola. If anyone is interested in pursuing this opportunity, please contact the Forum Chair.

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