Because the New Forest belongs to us all, we all need to care for it. It’s one of the UK’s biggest Sites of Special Scientific Interest and is home to some of the country’s rarest plants, animals and fungi, as well as the world-famous roaming New Forest ponies.
Whether we’re riding, cycling, walking our dogs or just driving in to enjoy a lunch out, there are plenty of things we can do to help this amazing place survive and thrive. Here are some of them:
Don’t feed any animals - Ignore their pleading looks – they are all cared for and fed over the winter and the wrong food can make them ill. They can also become aggressive over food, and it encourages them to approach vehicles.
No touching or petting - It also goes without saying that you must not attempt to touch any of the roaming animals. A pony or cattle kick can kill or injure and ponies can bite or become aggressive, if they think they are being threatened.
The good news is that provided you are at a safe distance (several metres away) they seem fine about being photographed, giving you a unique image of a unique place!
Drive carefully - Take enormous care everywhere. Why? Because our ponies, donkeys, cattle and the pannage pigs that you’ll see during the autumn have no road sense. Always assume they will walk or trot straight in front of your car with no warning whatsoever, and drive accordingly.
Watch out, too, for deer, which have a habit of leaping from behind the bushes which grow all over the forest and remember that all these driving issues are even worse at night because very few forest roads are lit.
If a pony or donkey is standing in the middle of the road, wait for it to move and then gently overtake, giving a wide berth. The same goes for those nibbling at the grass verges, which is another reason why we ask people not to park on these places – it’s harder for drivers to see animals and harder for them to see us! Most car parks in the New Forest are free, with plenty of spaces, and you can stay all day.
Dogs – Always keep your pet under control, especially around wildlife. Autumn is the season of the rut – when stags can become ultra-sensitive to danger and can charge if they feel under threat. Our roaming ponies, donkeys and cattle also need to feel safe, so call your dog away or put them on the lead when you’re around them and remember - it’s an offence to allow your dog to worry or cause harm to livestock.
Please also pick up after your dog and take their waste home with you. That goes for litter, too.
Cycling? - Please keep to the permitted cycle tracks – your wheels may cause damage to an already fragile landscape if you off-road or off-track. The same goes for walkers – please keep to the waymarked paths – it helps preserve vital wildlife habitat, especially for nesting birds. Keep your dogs on the paths too!
And while we’re on the subject of wildlife – please remember that fungus foraging is not encouraged. The New Forest National Park Authority advises that people look, photograph but definitely don’t touch the fungi that are appearing in its woodlands. Not only is it a vital part of the eco-system – the web-of-life that all our animals and plants ultimately depend on for their survival - some species are lethal to humans.
Wild camping is not allowed in the New Forest but there are plenty of campsites – many open all year round – where you can stay and get even closer to nature. Wild fires and barbecues are not allowed because of the risk of a blaze, but there’s plenty of excellent places for a picnic, including many spots with tables, which are free to use.
Always follow the New Forest Code!