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  • Writer's pictureRussell Wynn

New Forest Biodiversity News - May 2024

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

 

Notable wildlife sightings

In contrast to the cold second half of April, the month of May was the warmest since records began, although it was wetter and cloudier than average. The warmest weather was in the second and third weeks of the month, which triggered an emergence of invertebrates.

 

The New Forest Green Forest Hoverfly survey got off to a great start, with the first sightings of the target species (Green Forest Hoverfly Caliprobola speciosa) on 09 May, coinciding with the start of the warm sunny weather. The volunteer surveyors also recorded other nationally rare and scarce hoverflies during this period, including Heath Ant Fly Microdon analis and Dark-shinned Leaf Licker Xylota abiens; other notable saproxylic insects included the nationally rare Six-spotted Longhorn Beetle Anoplodera sexguttata and two nationally scarce craneflies: Wasp-banded Comb-horn Ctenophora flaveolata and Orange-sided Comb-horn Ctenophora pectinicornis.  

 

Orange-sided Comb-horn on 25 May 2024 (photo: Russell Wynn)

 

Other notable invertebrates reported on the Wild New Forest Facebook page included the first Pearl-bordered Fritillary sightings on 12 May, and several nationally rare/scarce spiders: Ant-mimic Jumping Spider Synageles venator, Bleeding Heart Spider Nigma puella, Bowed Jumping Spider Evarcha arcuata, and Lichen Running Spider Philodromus margaritatus. Mothing continued to be rather poor, although the nationally scarce Rose Shoot Borer Lampronia morosa was found at Woodlands on 05 May and appears to be the first New Forest record, while a Pauper Pug Eupitheca egenaria at a private site in the northern New Forest on 11 May appears to be the fourth New Forest record and the first this century.

 

Ant-mimic Jumping Spider on 30 May 2024 (photo: Russell Wynn)

 

Down at the coast, a pair of Roseate Terns arriving over Hurst Beach on 14 May and subsequently seen around Normandy Lagoon generated a lot of interest, especially when they were observed mating on 16 May. It soon became clear that a nesting attempt on an island in the lagoon was underway, and so arrangements were made for 24/7 surveillance during the incubation phase. This is a nationally rare Schedule 1 species that occasionally nests in the Solent region, but this is the first time they have settled in such a conspicuous location. With nest protection in place, the news was made public in early June, providing an opportunity for many to see this species in the New Forest for the first time. At the time of writing the parent birds are feeding their young chicks, so fingers crossed for a successful breeding attempt.

 

Roseate Terns on 14 May 2024 (photo: Jeremy McClements)

 

A less conventional breeding record concerned a pair of Oystercatchers that attempted to nest on the canopy of a tour boat used by Wild New Forest Guided Tours on the lower reaches of the Beaulieu River (see here). Wild New Forest Guided Tours also had some fantastic views of a White-tailed Eagle in the north of the New Forest on 15 May, with the photo below showing the size comparison with Common Buzzard. The White-tailed Eagles from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme also made the news the same day when an update on their diet was provided by Forestry England, indicating that in our region they are primarily feeding on rabbits, grey mullet, and cuttlefish, as well as taking carrion and robbing prey from smaller raptors (see here). There is no evidence that they are taking lambs or other livestock.

 

White-tailed Eagle and Buzzard on 15 May (photo: Marcus Ward)

 

Other notable bird sightings during the month included two colourful Bee-eaters over Acres Down on 09 May, a White-winged Black Tern flying east off Pennington Marshes and Lepe on 11 May, and the first Honey Buzzards back at regular sites from 15 May. In addition, the wintering drake Scaup at Pennington Marshes remained until 05 May, and a couple of Spoonbills lingered in the area.

 

It’s always interesting to see summary reports from those who regularly record wildlife on a local patch. The example at the link here is by Chris Roseveare and covers his patch in the south of the New Forest. A White-tailed Eagle featured in Chris’ summary report from this spring, and he also comments on the impacts of the exceptionally wet winter, the late arrival of House Martins and Swallows, and the ongoing woes of our breeding waders.

 

Wildlife and conservation news

May saw survey work get underway for the £1.3M Defra-funded New Forest Species Survival Fund project. A series of baseline surveys were conducted at several sites, with a particular focus on documenting the bird, invertebrate, and plant assemblages to monitor future change and identify any existing priority species (a more detailed survey update will be provided next month). In addition, the project team hosted a visit by Defra staff to two of the project sites, where they got to see Smooth Snake in the hand. The New Forest Biodiversity Forum is providing match-funding for the project, which is being delivered by a partnership including New Forest National Park Authority, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Wild New Forest, and New Forest Commoners Defence Association (see here).

 

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has recently released two reports that highlight the changing nature of our avifauna. The 2023 Breeding Bird Survey report (see here) documents the population changes of the UK’s common and widespread breeding birds, with many of the national trends mirroring what is happening here in the New Forest. For example, the species showing the greatest national declines over the last 30 years are Turtle Dove (-97%) and Willow Tit (-90%), which is reflected in their local extinction as breeding birds here in the New Forest over that period, while Wood Warbler (-81%) and Little Owl (-74%) are also at risk of local extinction in the coming years. In contrast, the species showing the greatest increase nationally over the last three decades are Little Egret and Red Kite, which are both now regularly encountered in and around the New Forest, followed by Ring-necked Parakeet and Egyptian Goose, which although still relatively scarce within the New Forest are establishing growing populations at nearby locations. The 2022/23 Wetland Bird Survey report (see here) highlights the ongoing decline in wintering wildfowl and waders visiting the UK, as milder winters are seeing many of these birds wintering closer to their breeding grounds in a phenomenon known as short-stopping. In the New Forest and surrounding river valleys this phenomenon has also contributed to the increasing rarity of previously regular winter visitors such as Bewick’s Swan, White-fronted Goose, and Smew.

 

In other news, the New Forest Pine Marten project is attempting to secure DNA samples for the first time this year, to better understand population size and structure (see here), and the Species Recovery Trust have announced a new project attempting to reintroduce the New Forest Cicada, based around a captive breeding programme using Slovenian stock (see here). 


Finally, of concern for the sensitive New Forest environment is a recent report (see here) that lists Southampton as one of the UK’s most polluted ports, topping the list for emissions of harmful sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate matter. Ship-based emissions of the nitrogen oxides are shown to be four times higher than those coming from all the cars registered in the city, and more than half the fine particulate matter is thought to come from cruise ships.

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