We must save wildlife ‘Noah’s Ark’ in New Forest, says BBC presenter

Conservation biologist: We should improve habitats to help birds

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Located in the New Forest he sees it as one of many Noah’s Arks around the country acting as a haven for wildlife. That can then act as a springboard to recolonise other parts of the countryside. Throughout his life he has chronicled the magic but also the decline of wildlife, and knows better than most how much help it needs.

The most recent State of Nature report said 41 percent is in long-term decline.

One in four British mammals faces extinction including once familiar species such as the hedgehog, red squirrel, water vole, hazel dormouse and grey long-eared bat. Chris said: “We know that the wildlife in the UK is in crisis. Many of our species are disappearing or in decline.

“We need to act now and one of the best things we can do is acquire more nature reserves.”

A long-term resident of the New Forest, Chris, 60, knows Horse Common well.

He visited it in February when the Daily Express, with its Green Britain Needs You crusade, first launched its appeal.

He was greeted by a buzzard wheeling overhead, flocks of Scandinavian thrushes and coal tits and great tits singing away.

The reserve sits next door to the 910-acre reserve of Franchises Lodge, run by the wildlife charity RSPB.

It also helps provide a link with the Loosehanger Copse Site of Special Scientific Interest and Langley Wood National Nature Reserve to the north and the New Forest SSSI to the south.

But for decades it has been dominated by commercial forestry plantations. These tend to be clumps of the same species of tree of the same age, so are of limited use for wildlife.

The RSPB wants to buy it, rewild it and restore it to its natural state of mixed woodland, heathland and boggy mires.

This will create a haven for wildlife that is either in trouble or in relatively small numbers, such as red-listed lesser spotted woodpeckers, willow tits and potentially nightingales.

Chris said: “Horse Common could be a brilliant nature reserve. It has enormous potential and is ideally placed on the edge of the New Forest to attract new species once it is owned and managed by the RSPB.

“But it does need managing. If we modify it we can make it a better place for wildlife. As soon as the land is better managed for nature, and we can trust the RSPB to do this brilliantly, the wildlife will bounce back.   

“One of its greatest assets is a bog running through it. That’s a really important habitat because so much of our landscape has been drained for agriculture or convenience.

“That bog is a magnet for a specialist group of fauna and flora including invertebrates.”

“In winter it will be good for snipe. In summer it would be good for dragonflies which could attract hobbies – birds of prey.

“Wet woodland is increasingly rare but that would be good for marsh and willow tits and lesser spotted woodpeckers.

“These birds are on the site already, not necessarily as breeding birds, but they could become so. Horse Common also has plantation woodland which is not all bad for wildlife if you manage it correctly.

“Another key point is its location. If you buy a lovely woodland in the middle of hard-core farmland, all you have bought is an island. Nothing can get in and nothing can leave.

“But by buying a reserve contiguous with SSSIs, a national nature reserve, a national park and another RSPB reserve, you’re investing in something with inherent resilience and strength. It should prosper.”

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