The New Forest IPA
Location: South-west Hampshire, to the west of Southampton Water.
Grid Reference: SU 256 053
The New Forest IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.
The key features of this IPA are:
Flood plain and riverside forests with Alder;
Beech forests on calcareous soils;
Beech forests with holly on acid soils;
Sparsely vegetated open peat with White Beak-sedge;
Purple moor-grass meadows;
Lowland oak woodland on acid sandy soils;
Nutrient poor lakes with sparse vegetation;
Nutrient poor acidic lakes on sandy plains;
Mediterranean temporary pools
The New Forest is the largest area of mature, semi-natural beech woodland in Britain, and also contains the largest remaining area of lowland heath in Europe, made up of a patchwork of dry and wet heath.
The Forest is a unique mosaic of habitats from ancient woodland, open heather-covered heaths, wide lawns, pools, rivers and valley mires to a coastline of mudflats and saltmarshes.
The mix of habitats to be found in the Forest hosts a rich variety of plants. The numerous ancient trees are important for epiphytic lichens and bryophytes. In the spring the woodland areas are home to wood anemones, early flowering orchids, wild garlic (ramsons), lesser celandines, bluebells and primroses, and later in the year to bird’s-nest orchid, helleborines and the rare wild gladiolus which grows among bracken on the edge of the ancient pasture woodlands - the New Forest is the only place in Britain where it is found.
In early summer heathland is bright with yellow gorse and bracken begins to unfurl, and you could also find lousewort, petty whin, heath milkwort, tormentil, cotton-grass, sundews and, in wet, boggy places, the rare early marsh orchid. Later in the summer bell heather, cross-leaved heath and dwarf gorse come into flower, along with the dodder and harebells. It is the time to look for orchids: the common-spotted, heath-spotted and lesser butterfly orchids are in flower on the heathlands, while in the valley mires the rare, tiny bog orchid is starting to bloom.
The bright flowers of yellow irises appear in the wetland fringes as do gypsywort, watermint, water forget-me-not and brooklime. In wetland areas, look for the intense blue of the rare marsh gentian. Marsh St John’s wort, mints, sundews and bog asphodel are also flowering in the valley mires and other boggy places.
As the summer draws to a close the peak fruit and fungi season begins. New Forest fungi can be found in an often bewildering variety of shapes and sizes. Of the 12,000 species found in Britain, around 2,700 are present in the New Forest, making this one of the most productive fungus habitats in Western Europe. Woodland areas are the best place to find fungi such as the chicken-of-the-woods, fly agaric, birch bracket fungus, cep, puffballs, beefsteak fungus, staghorn, sulphur tuft and stinkhorn.
Image: The New Forest IPA © Graham Cooper