As the United Nations celebrates the International Year of Forests in 2011, the New Forest National Park, located to the West of Southampton in the United Kingdom, has boasted of having a seasonal display of burnished colour to “rival the Canadian fall”.
Although the International Year of Forests was designed to highlight the importance of forests to biodiversity and combating climate change, it has also highlighted the varied offerings of forests around the globe – from tiger sanctuaries in Nepal to the vast expanses of conifer in Russia.
The New Forest has 300 square miles of wood and open moorland, 150 miles of car-free trails and 43 miles of coastline. The forest is populated with free roaming ponies, cattle and deer. The area is one of the last vestiges of “common rights” which survived changes to land ownership rights, allowing “commoners” to graze their animals on the land.
The care and management of the New Forest ponies is overseen by Verderers, who have an ancient court and oversee the annual round-up or “drift” in which animals are checked, branded and sold. The tails of New Forest mares are cut in distinctive patterns enabling “Agisters” to check whether marking fees have been paid and in which area the owner lives.
This year, the authority which manages the forest is highlighting the beautiful colours that will overtake the leaves of trees in the Autumn season, which usually starts in late September.
As part of the “Find Gold in the New Forest” campaign, Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway will be holding a Festival of Autumn Colour from 1st October – 6th November 2011 with special Autumn Trails showcasing fiery maples, dogwoods and deciduous azaleas all reflected in the lakeside, providing an ideal opportunity for photographers and families.
In addition, experts from the Hampshire Fungus Recording Group will lead walks through the New Forest in search of rare and unusual fungi. The dates are as follows:
- 1st September 2011, Rufus Stone. Meet at Rufus Stone car park SU271126. Lunch at the Sir Walter Tyrrell.
- 22nd September 2011, Fritham. Meet at Fritham car park SU231141. Lunch at The Royal Oak.
- 29th September 2011, Beaulieu Road. Meet at Pig Bush car park SU362051. Lunch at The Drift Inn.
- 6th October 2011, Rufus Stone. Meet at Rufus Stone car park SU271126. Lunch at the Sir Walter Tyrrell.
- 20th October 2011, Fritham. Meet at Fritham car park SU231141. Lunch at The Royal Oak.
- 3rd November 2011, Cadnam. Meet at Shave Wood car park SU294122. Lunch at Sir John Barleycorn Inn.
All the walks are from 10am to 12.45pm on a Thursday and cost £16 per person, with the option to stay for a drink or lunch at a pub afterwards. Bookings can be made through the Lyndhurst Visitor Information Centre on 02380 282269.
The season is also an excellent opportunity to partake in the British tradition of conker fighting. Horse-chestnut trees, which are plentiful in the New Forest, produce exceptionally hard seeds which are drilled and threaded onto string by British children. The children take it in turns to swing their conker at their opponent’s conker until one of them breaks. The owner of the intact conker wins the game. The UK even hosts a World Conker Championships in Northamptonshire each October for those who are bitten by the bug.
The New Forest is served by a ferries from the Isle of Wight, trains, buses and National Express services. The main town in the forest is Lyndhurst and the main road is the A31 between Southampton and Bournemouth.