The New Forest national park is one of the largest remaining wildwoods in Western Europe, famous for its abundant wildlife and birds. Here, in 220 square miles, animals are free to roam and wander. There are over 3000 native ponies, donkeys, cattle, pigs and deer pootling around the forest and its chocolate box villages – the cheeky ones peering over cottage gates and through shop doorways, in the hope of a carrot or two. Pannage season begins in September, when hundreds of domestic pigs are set free in the forest to eat acorns and Beech mast. The pigs love these scrumptious nibbles and soon fatten up to provide a unique sweet, nutty tasting, tender pork.
Meadows, heathlands, woods and streams are teaming with life making it a paradise to view and photograph. For those looking up close, you can spot newts, frogs, toads. Plus, 55% of butterflies and moths, 46% of beetles, 74% of dragonflies and damselflies and 67% of grasshoppers and crickets that are found in Britain live here, amongst 700 species of wildflowers and around 2,700 species of fungi to forage.
Where to stay
Megs Cottage (sleeps 2)
A comfortable cottage in the village of East Bolder, Meg’s has direct access to open forest and two great pubs close by serving excellent food. It’s also just a couple of miles from Beaulieu village; famous for Lord Montagu’s stately Palace and famous Motor Museum. A one week stay from 3rd July costs £515.
Brookside (sleeps 5)
A beautiful thatched cottage in the village of Woodgreen, Brookside boasts two sitting rooms as well as two cosy bedrooms, plus direct forest access and garden with a little brook. One week from 10th July costs £652 (dogs welcome too).
What to do
The New Forest is home to a massive 74% of dragonflies and damselflies found in the UK. Learn about their habitat, hints, tips and tricks to get up close and take some superb shots of these incredibly beautiful creatures with New Forest Dragonflies.
Canoe along on Beaulieu River
Book a two hour family Canoe tour amongst the sights and sounds of the marshlands and riverbanks with an expert guide. Hear birdsong, spot deer through the trees, discover curlews digging for dinner, hawks hovering overhead and splashes of vibrant blues from a swooping kingfisher amongst wild samphire.
Tour a vineyard
A real treat lies beyond the unassuming entrance of the award winning Setley Ridge Vineyard and Farm Shop. Take a guided tour which concludes with wine and cheese tasting in the most amazing farm shop your likely to find. It’s brimming with home-made deli goods, fruit and veg from passionate local growers and producers, and some original crafts and gifts.www.setleyridge.co.uk 01590 622 020
Go for a walk
There are plenty of suggested routes to explore at your own pace, or, hire a knowledgeable guide who can talk you through the historical landscape, wildlife, what the ancient practice of ‘Commoners Rights’ means for the locals and lots of interesting info about the area.
Each year between September and November hundreds of domestic pigs are turned out to the forest to feast on beech mast and acorns. As well as enjoying a tasty feast and getting plumper, they are invaluable to the forest because acorns are poisonous to the free roaming ponies and cattle. The sight of pigs, ponies, cattle and donkeys all roaming free in the bronzed autumnal foliage is a wonderful thing.