Situated near the English coast in Hampshire, the New Forest National Park covers 566 km2 of unenclosed heathland, pasture, and woodland. A wide range of wild, semi-wild, and domesticated animals roam the park such as sheep, cattle, ponies, and fallow deer. This combination of grazers creates a semi-artificial wilderness of open heath and forest. The extent of heathland and presence of habitats lost across southern England, such as wet heaths, bogs, and alder carr mean the New Forest supports a range of interesting wildlife. In particular, the New Forest’s heathlands provide a home to rare birds such as the Dartford warbler, woodlark, and nightjar. Rarely seen reptiles include smooth snakes and adders. As well as beautiful but threatened insects such as the silver-studded blue butterfly.
Average rating: 4.0 (good)
Average cost: entrance to the park is free so your costs typically depend on food, guides, accommodation, and transport.
Best time to visit: you can visit any time of the year although spring is the time when birds are most vocal and the park is at its most lovely.
How to get there: the New Forest’s vast size means there is lots to explore and various different habitats and locations that provide unique experiences. As most of the New Forest is largely remote, driving is the most convenient mode of transport and will allow you to visit the harder to reach locations. The New Forest can be accessed via train and bus although these options largely stop within small towns away from the wildlife hotspots.
Typical activities: trekking, wildlife spotting
Number of reports: 1
Wildlife in New Forest
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Adder – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Adders are common and widespread in the open areas of the New Forest although spotting one can be challenging! They live in heathland, open woodland, and rough grassland – tending to avoid dense woodlands and upland areas. The best places to look are where there is an open, south-facing bank, such as along parts of the old railway line between Burley and Brockenhurst. Sunny mornings are best, especially in early spring. While they are the UK’s only venomous snake, they only bite when they feel threatened, are stepped on, or picked up. Bites are painful but rarely fatal.
Dartford warbler – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
A small, almost freakish looking bird which looks right at home over the New Forest’s heathlands. Within the UK, Dartford warblers are confined to heathlands across southern England and the New Forest is one of the best locations to spot them. They are most easily found during sunny, spring mornings when they are most vocal. Look out for flashes of grey and purple and a scratchy bird song coming from gorse bushes. Areas such as Dur Hill near Burley and Hampton Ridge, near Frogham, are good places.
Nightjar – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
One of the world’s most unusual birds, the nightjar has adapted to life at night. Echoing out a vibrating song from dusk until beyond the midnight hours. These ground-nesting birds hide within the heather during the day. At night they come out to display a mating ritual like no other – clapping their wings and swooping against the moonlight. Nightjars can be found during spring and early summer across the heathland and conifer plantations. For the best chances of seeing this unforgettable bird head out onto the open heaths such as Beaulieu Road Heath or the areas around Burley and wait to hear their churring song. The best times to go are during the early evening in June and July.
Silver-studded blue – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
While rare across the UK, silver-studded blues are relatively common in the New Forest. This striking blue, orange, and silver coloured butterfly is a specialist of heathlands. Adult silver-studded blues appear in May and again in July. So if you wish to spot these, head to the New Forest’s heaths during these months where you are bound to see them fluttering around the heather. The best places to look for silver-studded blues are on large areas of open heath with some damper spots during July and August.
Smooth snake – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
The smooth snake is the UK’s rarest reptile and is limited to a few heathland sites in southern England. The New Forest is a hotspot for this elusive snake, which tends to spend most of its day hidden beneath the heather. Spotting these snakes is incredibly difficult and you will need a lot of patience and luck. We’ve only ever seen one once in the wild and that was in the New Forest! Your best chances are to slowly and quietly search south-facing heathery slopes. Watching out for them basking or moving across footpaths as the sun rises and sets.
Fallow deer – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
With a population of around 1,300, fallow deer are the most commonly seen deer in the New Forest. They can be seen almost anywhere in the park although deciduous woodlands are the best spot. This is particularly so during autumn and winter when they forage in the woodlands for food. If you want an (almost) guaranteed sighting of these beautiful deer you can visit the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary. There is a viewing platform to see the deer which are fed each day from April to September. Reports on TripAdvisor also suggest that the Long Meadow Campsite is a good spot for close encounters with deer.
Photo credit: Ragamuffin Brian under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr