SIR – The New Forest landscape offers a mosaic of different and rich habitats and, as a result, can support a wide range of wildlife including many species long since lost from other parts of the country.
The diverse mix of wildlife here includes many rare and endangered ground-nesting birds which travel here each year to successfully breed on the heaths; many rare species of bats who nest in the woodlands; an incredible 63% of Britain’s 24,000 types of insects, and 75% of all dragonfly species.
The New Forest is also one of the few places left where you can find all six species of the UK’s native reptiles including sand lizards, and the UK’s only venomous snake – the adder.
The goshawks arrived in the New Forest naturally in 2002 and certainly not as part of a reintroduction programme. How they arrived isn’t known, but since then have prospered here, demonstrating the strength of habitat.
Their return is regarded as a conservation success since they were effectively lost to the UK as a breeding species in the late 19th century as result of habitat loss and persecution. Forestry England monitors them each year and they are at a fairly stable 40 pairs at present.
Likewise, the return of otters is a sign that the water quality of rivers and ponds in the New Forest is improving. Again, their presence is a sign of the health of the New Forest ecosystem – the impact of chemical pollution and persecution meant that otters had all but disappeared from England as recently as the 1970s.
They are at the top of the food chain and their presence shows that the waterways of the New Forest are in good condition. Like the goshawk, their population is still vulnerable to habitat loss and the impact of human encroachment.
On the question of striking the right balance of wildlife, it should be remembered that the jays, magpies, woodpeckers and even the squirrels referred to (Letters, 18th September) are themselves predators of birds’ eggs and chicks.
The habitats of the New Forest are constantly evolving in response to changes in management, climate change and the impact of human activities, so changes in the make-up of local bird populations and other wildlife will be observed over time in different areas of the New Forest.
The key thing is to ensure that the national park and surrounding countryside is managed and supported by a range of Forest organisations in ways that extend habitats and enable species to continue to thrive and adapt to such changes in this very special place.
Head of environment and rural economy – New Forest National Park Authority