From the cute and furry to the scaly and fierce. Native to exotic, there are plenty of opportunities for days out for animal lovers here in the New Forest.
Discover some of the animals that make the New Forest so special
The New Forest is a haven to lots of animals. One of the things probably the most synonymous with the New Forest National Park is our New Forest Ponies.
As part of a tradition that dates back centuries, New Forest Commoners are permitted to undertake certain agricultural activities on New Forest “common” land, and one of these activities is the grazing of New Forest Ponies as well as other animals. Today, there are around 5,000 ponies which are able to roam the New Forest freely (although all are owned by commoners). You won’t need to spend long searching for them, you will often find them grazing on our open moorland in small groups.
Image - New Forest pony
Along with ponies, donkeys can be spotted across the New Forest. Although much smaller in numbers (around 300), donkeys can be found in the New Forest all year round. Great places to see them include Hyde Common, near Fordingbridge, Beaulieu village, Brockenhurst and Burley.
During the autumn, commoners are allowed to release pigs into the forest as part of the annual pannage. Pannage is when the pigs are released to eat the fallen acorns from the oak trees (acorns being poisonous to the ponies, donkeys and cattle). Usually lasting around 6-8 weeks, this annual tradition sees around 600 pigs and piglets snuffle their way around the forest floor.
Other animals you may see grazing on open moorland include cows (again, owned by New Forest Commoners) and deer. In fact, the New Forest is home to five main types of deer; fallow, roe, red, sika and muntjac.
Image - Herd of Deer
One of the best places to find deer is at the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary. Park up at the car park and head to the viewing platform. From April-September, there is daily feeding of the fallow deer by New Forest Rangers, making a great photo opportunity.
Another way to spot deer is on a New Forest Deer Safari which takes you through Burley Park on a tractor/trailer tour to find the park’s red deer. Tours run regularly throughout the summer holidays.
Last but by no means least, have your chance to get close to some of our native reptiles at the New Forest Reptile Centre, near Lyndhurst. Open seasonally, the centre gives you opportunities to see reptiles including the adder, sand lizard and smooth snake – all of which can be found in the New Forest.
Image - New Forest Reptile Centre
Animal attractions for all to enjoy
If you are travelling to the New Forest with children, then you might like to explore some of the animal attractions that you can find here.
At Longdown Activity Farm, you can find a wealth of farmyard animals with hands-on opportunities to bottle feed kid goats and calves as well as duck feeding. The farm also runs special events through most of the school holidays.
Come close to over 300 species of animal, both native and exotic, at the New Forest Wildlife Park, near Ashurst. Watch the otters at play (there are several species of otter on display here), wander past a mob of wallabies and sneak a peak at the tiny harvest mice. Join the animal keepers for the regular feeding sessions to learn more about the various animals which reside here.
Image - New Forest Wildlife Park
Make a visit to the Dorset Heavy Horse Farm Park for its 20th anniversary. Enjoy a hands-on farm experience at one of the only heavy horse centres left in the UK. Please note – tickets must be purchased in advance.
For all kinds of exotic species, travel to Marwell Zoo, an easy day out from the New Forest. Here, you can journey through the ‘Energy of Life’ tropical house, get close to wallabies and look out onto other animals including rhinoceros and giraffes.
Image - Marwell Zoo
Another great way to spend time with animals is with some of the animal-based activities that are on offer.
Take a sedate stroll through the forest with Brockenhurst Donkey Walks. This is a great way to de-stress and see some of the beautiful New Forest at the same time.
Image - Brockenhurst Donkey Walks
Wind your way through the New Forest on a tour with Burley Wagon Rides to see the majestic shire horses at work. Bookings for these tours can be made in advance. Tours depart from the coach park in Burley.
Stop at Hockey’s Farm, near Fordingbridge for the farm shop (great for topping up supplies) and meet some of the farm’s resident animals including horses, alpacas and pigs.
Image - Hockeys Farm
Agricultural shows and animal-related events
Finally, another great opportunity to watch animals is at the local agricultural shows. From show jumping to cattle displays and much more. The biggest agricultural show locally is the New Forest & Hampshire County Show (25-27 July). There’s also the Ellingham Show (12 August) and for dog-lovers, there’s Dogstival (3-4 June).
Image - New Forest and Hampshire County Show
Keep an eye on our events listings for other animal-related activities as well.