The New Forest A Year in the Wild


The New Forest

A portrait of the ancient landscapes and spectacular wildlife of the New Forest, one of Britain's newest National Parks, seen through the eyes of the people who know it best.


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Transcript


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An hour's drive south-west of London,

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is a forest as old as England.

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Step into it, and you enter another world.

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A last glimpse of an ancient wild wood

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that once stretched the length and breadth of Europe.

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This forest is like no other.

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Here, pigs and ponies roam free.

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Secret pockets of heathland shelter

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some of the rarest creatures in Britain.

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And people live a unique forest life

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that has survived since mediaeval times.

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Through the eyes of those who live here,

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this is our smallest and most intriguing national park.

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# As the summer fades

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# To a watery light

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# And autumn's hues

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# Are coming to life

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# Can we start something new

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# Just me and you

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# Through low light and trees

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# A future unseen

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# Is a future I can believe... #

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All through the winter, the forest has slept

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but now the sap is rising in the trees once more.

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A promise of spring.

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Well, you can't really explain it

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it's just a feeling you get after working in the woods for most of your life.

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It's just as if everything is sort of waiting to actually burst into life.

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BIRDS SING

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Dave Dibden is a coppicer.

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Coppicing is an ancient way of harvesting wood from trees

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by repeatedly cutting them back down to their stump.

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Dave has spent the winter coppicing a patch of neglected hazel woodland.

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Now, in early April, he's looking for signs that the cut hazel

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is starting to grow again.

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When you cut in the winter and you think,

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"Nothing's gonna come back here," you know,

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it's just that stub you've cut off and you think, "Well, will it grow?"

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And then you start coming back in the spring time,

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you start seeing those little buds coming on.

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You start seeing the new shoots come up,

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the first little leaf forming on these new little hazel shoots.

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It's marvellous when you start seeing that and you think,

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"Yeah, everything's working."

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And it's amazing how it do work. Nature is absolutely wonderful.

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The budding of the hazel in Dave's small corner of the New Forest

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signals the return of spring.

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As he works the coppice through the coming seasons

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he'll play a vital role

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in uncovering the forest's rarest wildlife gems.

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As spring spreads through the forest,

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the canopy renews itself once more.

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Beech, ash, oak.

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These are the trees of the ancient wildwood

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the green heart of England.

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For a thousand years, the New Forest was a source of wood for warships

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and venison for kings.

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Today, it is a vital sanctuary for wildlife.

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But not all the animals here are completely wild.

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Wherever you go in the New Forest, there are ponies.

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Ponies are so iconic of this place,

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they have practically come to define it.

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But though they roam freely here,

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they are all owned.

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Beautiful evening.

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What a lovely view tonight. Right the way to the Isle of Wight.

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Robert and Lyndsey Stride are New Forest commoners.

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Our family goes back quite a long way in the forest.

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It goes back hundreds of years.

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-Look at the foal play.

-Playing now.

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Commoners are farmers,

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who, since medieval times, have had the right

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to graze their animals communally on the forest.

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Here he comes.

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Robert and Lyndsey are taking an evening walk

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to check up on the spring's new foals.

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It's playtime before bed time.

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I wonder how many foals we'll have this year?

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Oh, I dunno.

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'It's amazing how many people who think that the ponies are wild

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'and when you tell them that they are owned, they can't believe it.

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'The ponies are sort of an integral part of our life.'

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Yeah, nice bay filly with two white feet behind.

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'Most people see the forest as a wild place

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'but we see it as a working forest that is an extension to our farm.'

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I bet her mother's got a foal somewhere. She's away from her.

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She'll have to be caught up and branded.

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Commoning here has never been an easy life.

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The New Forest grows on poor soils,

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so is no good for agriculture.

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It's one of the reasons it still survives today.

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But over the centuries, commoners have found ways to work with the forest...

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..and those traditions have been passed down

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from one generation to another.

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Come on, I'll pull you up.

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Robert and Lyndsey are expecting twins shortly.

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-It's like climbing Mount Everest.

-It is when you're pregnant!

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It's their hope that their children will want to carry on

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with this unique way of life.

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But times are tough.

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The year ahead promises to be a challenging one.

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Today, we think of forests as places entirely made up of trees,

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but the New Forest has never been like that.

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Between the swathes of ancient woodland

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are wide open spaces, heathland,

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bogs and grass lawns.

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"Forest" doesn't actually mean "woodland"

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but comes from the old Norman word

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for a place reserved for the King to hunt deer.

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Nearly a thousand years ago,

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William the Conqueror needed a regular supply of venison

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to feed his court at nearby Winchester.

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This wild land was perfect for hunting

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and had deer in abundance.

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So, in 1097, William made it his very first Royal hunting ground

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or "new forest".

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Ever since those early days,

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there have been keepers charged with protecting the Royal deer

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and the trees that sheltered and fed them.

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Martin Noble is retired now

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but while he was head keeper, he came to understand

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as well as anyone the quiet, but age-old battle

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between grazing animals and trees.

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Well, this is a tiny little oak tree,

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originally an acorn of course, came from a nearby oak tree

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and managed to survive through the winter

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and in the spring was able to set down a root

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and now it's produced a shoot with three tiny little leaves on.

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Sadly, the prospects for this little tree are slim.

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I mean, it's a beautiful little tree

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and it's a great shame to think it's going to get eaten, but at this stage

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if the top is nipped out - and it probably will be -

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certainly by the winter, if not before, and it'll die.

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The good news is that an oak tree will produce many thousands of acorns

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and it only needs to have one of those acorns surviving

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to produce a mature tree

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in 200 years to replace the tree it came from.

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Animals have always grazed the forest,

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but because ancient woodland has become so rare in Britain,

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Martin has had to learn over his working life

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how to give trees a helping hand.

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In the past, people were allowed to collect fallen wood for the fire.

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We now realise dead wood provides a vital home for wildlife,

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so today, keepers ensure it's left alone.

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And there's an added benefit.

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Where a dead branch falls,

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it can cradle a seedling, too.

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This little oak tree's had the fortune to fall as an acorn

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into this patch of bramble.

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The bramble itself was formed

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because of a tree, or branch of a tree, which had fallen earlier

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and allowed it to get a foothold.

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And the bramble now is acting like a barbed wire fence, effectively,

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around the developing oak tree, and providing it with protection

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from grazing animals, such as deer, ponies, cattle, etc.

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Hopefully, with luck, it'll survive to a good old age.

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It's said that an English oak takes 300 years to grow,

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300 to live and 300 to die.

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That is a life worth nurturing.

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Although first set aside as a hunting ground,

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it was the New Forest's trees that became its most valued resource.

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As demand for timber grew,

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areas of woodland were fenced

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to protect them from grazing animals.

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Some of these enclosures grew the oak for Nelson's warships.

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Others protected coppices.

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Hazel was once a hugely important raw material

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for anything from broomstick handles

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to the wooden hurdles that fenced the nation's livestock.

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Today, the value of coppicing is being rediscovered,

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and the Forestry Commission, who manage much of the New Forest,

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are calling on the skills of people like Dave Dibden.

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I manage it for them on a rotation basis,

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so you've got ten acres. You do an acre one year,

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the next you move on to another acre until you've got to your tenth year.

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That's your ten acres done and you're back to your first one,

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so you've got a continual diversity of growth of hazel.

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The benefits aren't just in a renewable source of wood.

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Where Dave has cut back the overgrown coppice,

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there's been a revelation.

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By clearing out all the old hazel,

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where it had been in the years before,

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just over-stood, dark and cold,

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it's just as if you've flicked a switch.

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I've allowed the sunlight to actually come in,

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and re-germinate the seeds that are in the ground.

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They could have been laid dormant there for 50 years or more.

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Violets, stitchwort, spurge -

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plants like these were once the only way of banishing smells,

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flavouring stews or treating ailments.

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It's also good to see now the hazel I cut in previous years

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is all come into leaf. It will produce a lot of habitat,

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a lot of cover underneath now for a variety of birds

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and the species that'll come back there, insects as well.

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You get the insects back

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and you get all the small birds back after the little insects.

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Trees, left to their own devices, can crowd out everything else.

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But with his skilful management,

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Dave's 10-acre patch has become a miniature wonderland for wildlife.

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The New Forest's diverse treasures also lie beyond the trees.

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Throughout the forest are unusual pockets of land,

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where the soil is so sandy and acidic,

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trees find it hard to grow.

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Over his life as Keeper,

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Martin Noble has become fascinated by these lowland heaths -

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so unique, they're of global importance.

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Now in his retirement,

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he continues his watch over some of the rarest animals in Britain.

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One of the things I've been doing for years

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is monitoring certain areas of the forest

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for the reptiles that live there.

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As the sun warms the heath in spring,

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male sand lizards begin chasing after females.

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In the late 1980s, Martin pioneered a programme of captive breeding,

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and successfully brought the lizards back from the brink of extinction.

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Sand lizards are so rare because this habitat is rare.

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The New Forest has more than a quarter

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of Britain's remaining lowland heaths,

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and so is crucially important for heathland creatures.

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Martin's careful stewardship extends

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to those that might not have so many friends.

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One of my favourite reptiles is the adder.

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There are certain places where, in the spring,

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if you walk very carefully, you can seem them out in the open,

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soaking up the warm sunshine.

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Adders are our only venomous snake, but they're not aggressive.

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If you leave them alone,

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they'll just slip quietly away into the undergrowth.

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These heathlands are also home to some of Britain's rarest birds.

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Like the tiny Dartford Warbler.

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It survives through the cold months seeking out insect larvae

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hidden in the gorse buds.

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But it's vulnerable to harsh winters,

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so exists on a knife edge,

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hugging the warm south coast of England,

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but at the northern limit of its range.

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For the Dartford Warbler, Spring never comes soon enough.

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Hobbies are migrants, arriving all the way from West Africa.

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They rely on the heathland for feeding and breeding.

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I just love hobbies. They're just such beautiful little birds,

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little falcons, similar to but smaller than the peregrine,

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and hunting smaller prey, so they hunt small birds,

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even dragonflies and things like that

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they'll catch on the wing, wonderful flyers.

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The heathland is as much a part of the New Forest as the woodland,

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and it all needs looking after.

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It's a responsibility that everyone who lives in the forest

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takes seriously today.

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Get you out in the forest,

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take you back to see your offspring.

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See, this horse is 13 to 14 years old.

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He's been all over the forest now, hasn't he?

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It's early May,

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and Robert Stride and his father Richard are taking their stallion,

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Rushmore Playwright, out onto the forest to run with the mares.

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Rushmore's been kept on Richard's farm all winter,

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where he's been living an easy life,

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but that's all about to change.

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Hopefully, the horse might lose a bit of weight.

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After a short journey to where the mares are grazing,

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it's time for Rushmore to be released.

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Come on, boy.

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HE NEIGHS

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Look at the mares coming. Look!

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It's been a while since the call of a stallion has been heard

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on this bit of the forest.

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HE NEIGHS

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Mares coming from miles around!

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HE LAUGHS

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There's two nice grey mares -

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proper forest ponies. Let him go.

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There was a time when Rushmore spent all year with the mares.

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But recently, commoners have decided

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to reduce the number of foals born on the forest.

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Stallions like Rushmore now have just a few weeks of freedom.

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He didn't get them in foal last year, did he?

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I think he possibly will lose some weight.

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THEY LAUGH

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I think you possibly would if you had so many women as what he's got on the go.

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THEY LAUGH

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Very lucky chap.

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Though he has just a short time on the forest,

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the Strides are hoping he'll sire around 25 foals,

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which will be born next spring.

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Commoners are all too aware that too many ponies leads to overgrazing.

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But no ponies would be the end of their traditional way of life.

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-Look at that.

-Sad day if you don't see a stallion

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rounding up the mares in the forest.

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The key for Richard and Robert is in balancing the old ways

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with what's ultimately best for the forest.

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He's been dreaming of that for 11 months, and now...

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BOTH: ..his dreams have come true.

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BIRDS CHIRP

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Summer is always the busiest time in the forest.

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Millions of visitors flood into

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one of the most accessible bits of wilderness in Britain,

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but it's only 20 miles by 20 miles.

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At times like this, the forest can feel very small.

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But venture just a little way from the beaten track

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and you find another world.

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Once you walk off the road, walk off the path,

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you could be in the middle of a forest 100 miles by 100 miles.

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You soon lose the sound of the road,

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the feeling of modern order.

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Taprisha is a story teller.

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She grew up here and knows the place intimately.

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The source of her inspiration

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is walking in the forest.

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One of the mysteries about

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being in your own favourite part of the forest -

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and many of us who live here have

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just one little part of the forest that we call our own, really -

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is that, even though I've been here ever since I was eight, in and out,

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I never really know it off by heart.

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I never quite know where I'm going next.

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I know the stream will be there,

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and I know the trees and the time of year it is,

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but there's always something that surprises me.

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People often think nowadays in nature of it being very healthy

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to be out and about

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and very healthy to be moving through it,

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using their eyes in a sort of a panorama.

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And actually, the forest isn't such a panoramic landscape.

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It's just...

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a curlicue of tiny, different, little experiences.

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It's a place of discovery.

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If you have an eye for the artistic,

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there are amazing shapes in this forest.

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Amazing things.

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The fear of getting lost in the forest

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is surprisingly real in all of us.

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Maybe it explains why many people

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don't venture very far from their cars.

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But the deeper you go, the more you discover.

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The forest is full of so many places, they're really places.

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It's not one forest that's all the same all the way through.

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And the mood created by different kinds of trees

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and different kinds of places is intensely different.

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Oh, I love beech trees!

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Their canopies are so thick in the summer

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that nothing grows beneath them.

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And so they create extraordinary spaces,

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right in the thick of the forest.

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I had no idea this place existed.

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They're all in a circle...

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..as if somebody's planted them

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like temple columns, to stand there.

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And in-between?

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This vast, vast, temple-like space.

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From the ground, the trees reach vertically up to the light...

0:25:530:25:58

..and high, high above is this beautiful green ceiling.

0:26:010:26:05

The sun shining through gives the impression of stained glass,

0:26:080:26:13

as delicate as in any cathedral.

0:26:130:26:15

How much better to find yourself in a cathedral

0:26:200:26:24

than in a car park.

0:26:240:26:27

Summer for Dave Dibden

0:26:420:26:44

is about sorting through all the hazel that he cut in the winter.

0:26:440:26:47

It might not look like much,

0:26:470:26:50

but he has an eye for what can be turned into useful products and sold.

0:26:500:26:55

When I'm cutting during the winter months, coppicing it,

0:26:550:26:58

you haven't got time to sort of sort too much of it out.

0:26:580:27:01

It looks like a load of old twigs

0:27:010:27:03

and a lot of old branches, which it probably is,

0:27:030:27:06

but a lot of gardeners now are going back to the old way of growing things,

0:27:060:27:10

and as I work the rows up,

0:27:100:27:13

you'll see that I'll just sort through stuff that I can think

0:27:130:27:18

we'd better use for pea and bean sticks,

0:27:180:27:20

and anything else that comes out.

0:27:200:27:23

And people generally do like 'em that shape

0:27:230:27:26

I mean, some don't seem to worry too much,

0:27:260:27:28

but the peas don't mind really what they grow up,

0:27:280:27:31

but that's just a nice sort of shape

0:27:310:27:34

that can sit up alongside a fence in your garden.

0:27:340:27:37

It's just another way of keeping our woodlands alive,

0:27:370:27:40

and the more people buy this sort of stuff,

0:27:400:27:43

the more we can work our coppices to where they used to be worked.

0:27:430:27:47

The dogs are doing tug-of-war.

0:27:470:27:50

HE LAUGHS

0:27:500:27:53

That's one a bit different, look.

0:27:550:27:59

It's a hazel,

0:27:590:28:00

but when the hazel's growing, this is the honeysuckle

0:28:000:28:04

that would be growing with it when it's young.

0:28:040:28:07

And as the hazel grows, it gradually tightens up and gradually grows,

0:28:090:28:12

and you can see this bit here, it grows right in to it.

0:28:120:28:15

When that's cleaned up and seasoned for a year,

0:28:150:28:18

in the workshop, peel this honeysuckle off,

0:28:180:28:22

trim it up and use that as a walking stick.

0:28:220:28:26

When it's properly finished off,

0:28:260:28:28

Dave can get over £30 for one of his twisty walking sticks.

0:28:280:28:32

He's well known for them.

0:28:320:28:35

But the real rewards for his work are right here in the forest.

0:28:350:28:40

This summer, he saw his first pearl-bordered fritillary in the coppice.

0:28:420:28:47

The caterpillars of this rare butterfly feed only on violets,

0:28:480:28:53

which have flourished here since Dave cut back the overgrown hazel.

0:28:530:28:57

They used to call it "the coppicer's butterfly",

0:28:590:29:02

as it followed the old coppicers from clearing to clearing.

0:29:020:29:07

As coppicing died out, it did, too.

0:29:070:29:10

Now, the adults have returned for the first time in generations.

0:29:120:29:18

It's like a big jigsaw.

0:29:190:29:21

Things click into place.

0:29:210:29:23

You can't push nature,

0:29:230:29:25

but over a period of time, it will click, click, click, click.

0:29:250:29:29

And in the end, you've got a big picture,

0:29:290:29:31

and things come back.

0:29:310:29:33

The full richness of the New Forest comes out

0:29:350:29:37

only when people are part of the bigger picture.

0:29:370:29:41

BABIES CRY

0:29:410:29:43

This is Edward Charles and Amelia May.

0:29:480:29:53

The next generation of commoners

0:29:550:29:57

arriving at the busiest time in the farming year.

0:29:570:30:01

Most people take paternity leave.

0:30:040:30:06

Luckily it rained for the week they were born

0:30:060:30:08

so Robert could come to the hospital with me.

0:30:080:30:10

Didn't have to go haymaking that week.

0:30:100:30:12

But the following week, he did go haymaking, so we didn't see him much.

0:30:120:30:16

Like all commoners, the Strides have some land.

0:30:210:30:25

The rights to graze livestock on the forest are tied to that land.

0:30:260:30:30

They can keep their animals here when they're not on the forest,

0:30:300:30:33

and grow winter fodder for their cows.

0:30:330:30:37

And if the sun's shining, haymaking can't wait,

0:30:370:30:41

even if you've just had twins.

0:30:410:30:43

Haymaking is a fundamental part of a commoner's life.

0:30:430:30:46

I mean, if you haven't got any feed in the winter, you're stuffed.

0:30:460:30:50

When the sun comes out like this, it's a real haymaker.

0:30:530:30:57

The grass wilts as you're looking at it, which is good for us.

0:30:570:31:01

Makes our life a lot easier.

0:31:010:31:02

By midsummer, Robert's pastures need a rest.

0:31:140:31:18

Come on, come on.

0:31:180:31:19

So he now leads his cows out into the forest to find fresh grazing.

0:31:190:31:24

Dad always says it's good for a cow to go out in the forest.

0:31:380:31:41

It keeps them active in their minds.

0:31:410:31:44

You'll turn them out and away they'll go.

0:31:440:31:46

Animals are not silly, are they? They know which plants to eat.

0:31:580:32:02

If you had enough time to study what a cow eats in a day

0:32:020:32:04

you would have a surprise to what a cow would eat out in the forest.

0:32:040:32:08

We're used to seeing cows in fields,

0:32:090:32:11

but their ancestors evolved in the ancient forests,

0:32:110:32:15

so they're quite at home here.

0:32:150:32:17

And whenever they move back into their ancestral home,

0:32:190:32:21

they join the ponies and the deer,

0:32:210:32:24

in having a profound effect on the nature of the forest.

0:32:240:32:28

The ancient woods are not really the dense woodland you might expect.

0:32:380:32:41

Because with the grazing pressure from ponies, cattle and deer

0:32:410:32:44

there are a lot of open spaces within the trees.

0:32:440:32:48

One of the most visible elements is what we call a browse line,

0:32:480:32:53

this is effectively a line, up to which the ponies and other species can reach.

0:32:530:32:58

It means that there's clear visibility between the trees.

0:33:100:33:14

When you're walking in the woods you can see through

0:33:140:33:17

and it makes it very attractive for the walk

0:33:170:33:19

because you can see a long way ahead although there are quite a lot of trees around.

0:33:190:33:23

The open nature of these ancient woods,

0:33:280:33:30

isn't just a result of recent grazing practices.

0:33:300:33:34

People and their livestock were helping to shape them from the earliest times.

0:33:340:33:39

If you go back far enough into Mesolithic times,

0:33:400:33:44

maybe 8,000 years ago, then this would have been

0:33:440:33:46

the sort of land that most of Britain and a large part of Europe would have been.

0:33:460:33:50

And I have a feeling that the reason that so many of us

0:33:500:33:53

actually love the New Forest, and love walking in it,

0:33:530:33:55

is because this is the sort of habitat we would have lived in.

0:33:550:33:58

It's something in our psyche which says

0:33:580:34:01

this is really what our habitat should be.

0:34:010:34:03

The New Forest is the very last place in Western Europe

0:34:100:34:13

where we can directly experience this link with our own forest past.

0:34:130:34:18

It's a connection that some feel is fundamentally important to us today.

0:34:180:34:23

"And then said Father, it's time for a midnight stroll.

0:34:240:34:28

"When you have come to the end..."

0:34:280:34:30

I think the forest is rooted deeply inside all of us.

0:34:300:34:33

"Well that night they put on coats for it was getting cold."

0:34:330:34:38

As a storyteller, I tell folk tales from all around the world

0:34:380:34:43

but still for me, this is where the stories I love most come from.

0:34:430:34:48

Hansel And Gretel, Robin Hood, The Hobbit,

0:34:500:34:53

so many of the stories we heard as children

0:34:530:34:56

owe their genesis to the wild wood.

0:34:560:34:58

Well, many of the movies we see, and the novels we read,

0:35:050:35:10

even in urban settings, continue to play out the same themes.

0:35:100:35:13

The forest draws you in,

0:35:140:35:16

but at the same time you're frightened of what you might find there.

0:35:160:35:20

It's a metaphor for life.

0:35:200:35:22

We all carry this place around with us in our imaginations,

0:35:240:35:28

but today, most of us have lost that physical connection.

0:35:280:35:32

If you can actually get out into the forest,

0:35:340:35:37

it can be a hugely powerful experience.

0:35:370:35:40

The forest is not just a fascinating place. I think

0:35:420:35:46

it's the ancient heart of our culture.

0:35:460:35:50

Late summer in the New Forest, is the start of the annual pony round-ups, known as "drifts",

0:35:590:36:06

and the first social engagement for the Stride twins.

0:36:060:36:09

It's a big thing in the social calendar of the forest.

0:36:090:36:13

It looks like a bit of a Wild West show, I think, to the outside world.

0:36:130:36:18

The drifts are a once-a-year chance to gather up ponies for sale

0:36:220:36:26

but they're also a way of checking up on their welfare.

0:36:260:36:29

You need a bit of luck and lot of skill to catch ponies.

0:36:320:36:36

You've got to use stealth.

0:36:380:36:39

If they see you riding out through, they'll twig.

0:36:390:36:44

Usually split up into small groups

0:36:440:36:47

and everybody knows where their positions are.

0:36:470:36:49

You've got to come round, sort of in a pincer movement

0:36:490:36:53

and it's like a surprise attack, really.

0:36:530:36:55

At the end of the day, it is a job, not just a jolly,

0:37:090:37:11

but there's something about riding across the forest after ponies at speed.

0:37:110:37:15

Some people say we're absolute maniacs.

0:37:150:37:17

Well.. most people actually.

0:37:170:37:19

-Idiots.

-Idiots.

0:37:190:37:20

We do get fired up and we will get annoyed with one another and say,

0:37:290:37:32

"Why the hell didn't you do this, why the hell didn't you do that?"

0:37:320:37:35

You always told me as a boy, if you didn't get swore at,

0:37:350:37:39

you wouldn't be any good.

0:37:390:37:40

We're all right again the next day, or the day after.

0:37:400:37:43

-It might take a couple of days.

-Settle down.

0:37:430:37:46

Usually you go out three or four times on a drift

0:37:500:37:53

and sweep different areas to get as many ponies in as you can.

0:37:530:37:57

You've really got to pit your wits against them to catch them.

0:37:590:38:02

Some of the riders will be waiting in key positions to push them on towards the pound.

0:38:040:38:10

But things don't always go to plan.

0:38:150:38:17

They don't all get caught, there are some very elusive ones.

0:38:310:38:35

The plan worked, three-quarters of the plan,

0:38:380:38:40

the ponies came right down to the pound,

0:38:400:38:42

but the riders weren't up with the ponies

0:38:420:38:46

and ponies had a chance to think, and if you give ponies a chance to think, they'll outwit you.

0:38:460:38:50

And they turned back before we could catch up with them.

0:38:500:38:54

And once they've turned back, that's the end of it.

0:38:550:38:58

You have good days and bad days on drifts.

0:39:020:39:05

Last week we had five mares and foals to take home,

0:39:050:39:08

today we've got nothing, but that's the way it goes.

0:39:080:39:10

Even though I haven't got anything to go home with, somebody else has.

0:39:100:39:14

It's their turn to take their ponies home this week,

0:39:140:39:17

and next week it'll be my turn again so that's the way it is.

0:39:170:39:20

By coming together at the drift,

0:39:230:39:25

the commoners can collectively look after the welfare of the ponies

0:39:250:39:28

and properly manage their numbers on the forest.

0:39:280:39:31

The ponies are first wormed, then reflective collars are fitted

0:39:330:39:37

to make them more visible to cars at night.

0:39:370:39:39

To show that the fees for keeping them on the forest have been paid,

0:39:420:39:45

their tails are cut.

0:39:450:39:48

Each area of the forest with its own unique pattern.

0:39:480:39:52

Any new foals that are staying on the forest are now marked

0:39:540:39:58

with the owner's brand, so that everyone can see

0:39:580:40:01

who is responsible for the animal's well-being.

0:40:010:40:04

Ponies that have been picked out for sale

0:40:060:40:09

are now taken home by their owners.

0:40:090:40:11

But they won't know whether they've made a profit

0:40:120:40:15

until the pony sales in the autumn.

0:40:150:40:18

By late August, morning dews are growing heavy

0:40:570:41:01

and summer visitors are preparing to leave.

0:41:010:41:04

Across the forest, heather is now in full bloom.

0:41:220:41:26

The last of summer's nectar,

0:41:310:41:34

with the first signs that autumn is not far away.

0:41:340:41:37

In Dave's coppice, this year's shoots are now at head height,

0:41:450:41:49

but until the sap is down again,

0:41:490:41:51

he can't start cutting his next patch of hazel.

0:41:510:41:54

With time on his hands, there's a chance to practise another lost skill.

0:41:570:42:02

Charcoal burning -

0:42:040:42:06

once an essential part of every woodsman's year

0:42:060:42:09

and a way of using up any left-over hazel.

0:42:090:42:12

You get a real good fire going, a real good hot base.

0:42:120:42:16

And then the drum, I raise it up about roughly about four inches with wooden blocks.

0:42:160:42:20

You pack it in the drum as tight as you can, really.

0:42:220:42:25

It's looking quite good at the moment.

0:42:280:42:30

It's building up a lot of heat,

0:42:300:42:32

actually inside the drum now, which is what we want.

0:42:320:42:36

You don't want the wood to really burn

0:42:380:42:41

so you're more or less cooking it,

0:42:410:42:43

but once you know it's well alight at the bottom,

0:42:430:42:45

you can start shutting the air out.

0:42:450:42:48

Then you're just keeping the fire... It's just turning over then.

0:42:490:42:53

And it's not roaring away.

0:42:530:42:55

That's when it really starts cooking and you get loads and loads of white smoke come out.

0:42:550:43:01

Charcoal is formed when the heat from the fire drives off water

0:43:020:43:06

and impurities to leave just carbon.

0:43:060:43:08

The white smoke is the water being turned into steam

0:43:110:43:15

and you gradually see the smoke changing and it goes yellowy

0:43:150:43:20

and that's the minerals being burnt off.

0:43:200:43:23

The real skill is in constantly reading the smoke.

0:43:260:43:29

Get it wrong and you can easily burn the wood

0:43:290:43:32

and end up with a pile of ash.

0:43:320:43:35

A lot of it...OK, you can read it all in books

0:43:350:43:39

but it's like a lot of all these old crafts, it's done by the feel of it,

0:43:390:43:43

listening to the way it's drawing up through the drum

0:43:430:43:45

and using your instinct, really.

0:43:450:43:47

When it starts to really turn to charcoal,

0:43:490:43:52

very thin smoke starts coming off then, bluey colour.

0:43:520:43:55

And that's when you can start really shutting it down.

0:44:000:44:03

You shut all your gaps up round the bottom

0:44:030:44:05

and then you shut the top off without the air getting to it,

0:44:050:44:09

it will just naturally go out.

0:44:090:44:11

Just let the drum cool down then.

0:44:130:44:15

With a bit of luck you'll have some nice charcoal.

0:44:170:44:20

Just enough to make a few pound here and there on a bag.

0:44:210:44:24

The charcoal from hazel coppices was once the most valuable source of fuel in Britain.

0:44:270:44:32

It's almost pure carbon, burning hotter than coal.

0:44:320:44:36

And for thousands of years was the only fuel hot enough to smelt iron.

0:44:370:44:41

These days it goes for barbecues,

0:44:430:44:45

so long as Dave can get it home safely.

0:44:450:44:48

Sometimes it has been known, you've just got to leave a little spark in there

0:44:490:44:52

and it can reignite again, so the first few hours is crucial

0:44:520:44:58

or else you'll be driving home and you'll say, "What's that burning?"

0:44:580:45:01

and your bag's alight in the back of the truck, you've got another fire.

0:45:010:45:04

It's the first pony sale of September

0:45:110:45:13

and the biggest sale of the year.

0:45:130:45:15

Tourists come from all over the world for the spectacle,

0:45:200:45:24

but, for commoners, it's much more important than that.

0:45:240:45:28

On the grate 15...

0:45:280:45:29

40 or 30...

0:45:290:45:31

Robert and Richard Stride have brought ten of their ponies today.

0:45:350:45:38

I haven't got a bar behind them, have I?

0:45:400:45:43

110, at 110 guineas?

0:45:430:45:45

At 110, no money at all.

0:45:450:45:47

The experts say that a forest pony's got the most placid and lovely temperament

0:45:490:45:53

of any of the native breeds.

0:45:530:45:55

They're usually easy to break in and handle.

0:45:550:45:59

But the sale isn't going as well as hoped.

0:46:110:46:14

Today's not been the best sale I've ever been to.

0:46:140:46:17

Prices are very depressed.

0:46:190:46:20

Some of the very best foals in there didn't sell

0:46:200:46:22

and they only had reserves of £50 on them,

0:46:220:46:26

so it's a sad indictment of the times, I think.

0:46:260:46:30

At 80 guineas...

0:46:300:46:31

Richard and Robert have sold eight of their foals, but at a loss.

0:46:310:46:36

In a recession, there's less demand for ponies,

0:46:360:46:39

and that's coupled with higher production costs.

0:46:390:46:42

Each pony sold has to have a passport and an identifying microchip.

0:46:450:46:50

which is placed under its skin.

0:46:500:46:53

It's the seller who has to pay for both of these costs.

0:46:530:46:56

There was foals in there, lovely foals, for £10.

0:46:580:47:01

The cost of production is closer to 35 just for the paperwork

0:47:010:47:05

and the microchip, so it's an absolute loss.

0:47:050:47:09

It's pretty heartbreaking, really.

0:47:090:47:12

It's not all about the money, I mean, it's the old traditions and the heritage of it all,

0:47:130:47:19

but, it would be nice if they did make a bit of profit,

0:47:190:47:23

instead of a loss.

0:47:230:47:25

Even though times are tough, New Forest ponies, with their hardy nature and gentle temperament,

0:47:280:47:33

do still find good homes

0:47:330:47:36

and commoners have always been resourceful.

0:47:360:47:40

We've got to evolve our systems to suit the market.

0:47:400:47:42

It won't collapse, but it has got to change.

0:47:420:47:47

Like my mother says, we've got to evolve with the times,

0:47:470:47:49

it's no good being like a dinosaur. Look what happened to the dinosaurs.

0:47:490:47:53

As Autumn comes to the New Forest,

0:48:130:48:17

beech, birch, ash and oak, each in their own time,

0:48:170:48:22

turn the landscape golden.

0:48:220:48:24

GRUNTING AND BELLOWING

0:48:250:48:28

As the leaves start to fall away, the forest echoes with strange new sounds.

0:48:280:48:33

Fallow deer bucks are proclaiming their dominance,

0:48:400:48:43

hoping to mate before the winter sets in.

0:48:430:48:46

The oaks are always the last to turn,

0:48:530:48:56

but first they become heavy with acorns.

0:48:560:49:00

It's time for commoners to let their pigs into the forest.

0:49:000:49:06

Cows and ponies can be poisoned if they eat too many acorns,

0:49:210:49:26

but pigs are immune to their tannins.

0:49:260:49:29

And as they hoover them up,

0:49:310:49:32

they reduce the danger to other livestock.

0:49:320:49:35

Meanwhile, the pigs get fat on the fruits of autumn.

0:49:370:49:41

And for many, autumn is simply a time to get out into the forest

0:49:570:50:01

and soak up a brief but glorious moment of colour

0:50:010:50:05

before winter takes hold.

0:50:050:50:07

What a joy to come back into the forest in autumn, you know,

0:50:110:50:16

especially on a sunny day.

0:50:160:50:18

It knows how to die.

0:50:190:50:20

I think that's the joy about coming into the forest at this time.

0:50:200:50:24

Just like after a really good party,

0:50:250:50:27

everything sort of leaves at a different time,

0:50:270:50:30

that family collects itself and says, "Right, birches, out of here,

0:50:300:50:34

"on we go we've done our bit." And the oak says, "Nah, I'm sticking, on a while,

0:50:340:50:37

"I've still things to do."

0:50:370:50:40

And then the beeches go,

0:50:430:50:45

"Well, before I leave, you know,

0:50:450:50:48

"I'll do a turn."

0:50:480:50:50

They exit in style.

0:50:530:50:55

It's light through colour,

0:51:130:51:16

light through gold.

0:51:160:51:19

And it's a colour that just...

0:51:200:51:23

..it feeds you, it makes you feel a real deep joy.

0:51:240:51:29

I am of that age where suddenly you find yourself

0:51:370:51:42

at more funerals than christenings.

0:51:420:51:44

I've lost six close family members and two dear friends,

0:51:440:51:49

and in the confines of my home,

0:51:490:51:54

sometimes life hasn't made sense.

0:51:540:51:56

But...

0:51:580:52:00

..constantly by myself, with my dog,

0:52:010:52:04

with a good friend, I've gotten out into the forest,

0:52:040:52:09

and there's a really deep sense of contentment

0:52:090:52:13

and a deep interaction with things that are true

0:52:130:52:18

and are just doing what they do.

0:52:180:52:21

This is not the holiday world of time taken out of real life.

0:52:210:52:24

This is real life, this is a real place,

0:52:240:52:27

and we so need to be in real places.

0:52:270:52:32

When we're autumnal, when we're worn out,

0:52:340:52:36

whether we're 16 and worn out, or 60 and worn out,

0:52:360:52:41

the forest will give something back.

0:52:410:52:44

It's regenerative, it builds you up again,

0:52:440:52:48

it puts you back on your feet.

0:52:480:52:51

For over six months, the forest has been cloaked in leaves.

0:53:240:53:28

Winter brings a new, stark beauty,

0:53:300:53:33

as the bones of the forest are laid bare once more.

0:53:330:53:37

It's now that the trees most clearly reveal stories from the past.

0:53:370:53:41

There's a place I love called Soarley Beeches.

0:53:450:53:48

A place that says as much to me about the New Forest as anywhere.

0:53:500:53:54

It's a group of beeches of such impressive proportions

0:53:570:54:00

that you can't help but be moved by them.

0:54:000:54:03

But these trees are not entirely natural.

0:54:090:54:12

The reason they look like this is because they are pollards.

0:54:120:54:15

Pollarding was an ancient way of harvesting the wood from trees

0:54:180:54:21

by chopping the branches off at head height.

0:54:210:54:23

When pollarding stopped here over 300 years ago,

0:54:250:54:28

these trees just kept growing, branching out

0:54:280:54:31

from where they were cut to form these extraordinary shapes.

0:54:310:54:35

Today, these New Forest giants are coming to the end of their lives

0:54:420:54:46

and with them the record of a lost practice dies too.

0:54:460:54:50

But to think that such iconic trees were the result

0:54:530:54:56

of a few woodsmen's cuts so long ago

0:54:560:55:00

tells us a great deal about the true nature of this forest.

0:55:000:55:03

The thing I love most about the New Forest

0:55:070:55:10

is this deep sense of continuity with the past.

0:55:100:55:12

Soarley beeches for me is a clear reminder that this wilderness

0:55:140:55:18

has been made by nature, but in a long alliance with people,

0:55:180:55:22

to provide something which I don't think exists really anywhere else.

0:55:220:55:26

Nearly a thousand years ago,

0:55:320:55:34

William the Conqueror protected this forest for its deer.

0:55:340:55:39

Unwittingly, he preserved something that has become unique.

0:55:390:55:42

In 2005, the New Forest was made a national park

0:55:450:55:48

to recognise the value of its landscape and wildlife,

0:55:480:55:52

but just as importantly the relationship between forest and people.

0:55:520:55:57

Robert and Lyndsey Stride believe the long tradition of commoning

0:56:000:56:03

is fundamental to keeping the special nature of the forest

0:56:030:56:07

secure into the future.

0:56:070:56:09

Oh, that's better...

0:56:110:56:12

'The forest will always be facing challenges

0:56:120:56:17

'but essentially the forest will always be

0:56:170:56:22

'and I hope that,

0:56:220:56:25

'you know, for the twins,

0:56:250:56:27

'they're going to have that same sense of freedom

0:56:270:56:30

'that we had as children, and that they will learn to love the forest.'

0:56:300:56:35

'Nearly every member of our family is still actively involved in commoning one way or another,

0:56:370:56:42

'so I would hope that these two will carry on the traditions of keeping ponies and cattle and pigs

0:56:420:56:48

'and trying to keep the forest going in the traditional way.

0:56:480:56:52

'Without active commoners managing the forest and the landscape,

0:56:540:56:59

'through their animals grazing it,

0:56:590:57:02

'the forest would be a very different place for everybody.'

0:57:020:57:05

For centuries, people have grazed their animals on the New Forest

0:57:140:57:18

and harvested its trees.

0:57:180:57:20

Managed with care, it has phenomenal power to regenerate itself.

0:57:230:57:28

Work against it, and all will be lost.

0:57:310:57:35

Work with the forest, and you'll find it infinitely dependable.

0:57:350:57:40

# Can we start something new

0:57:420:57:45

# Further than you

0:57:450:57:48

# As death is to birth

0:57:480:57:51

# The Moon to the Earth

0:57:510:57:54

# Find a future I can believe... #

0:57:540:57:58

Next time, we travel north to a vast wilderness

0:58:020:58:06

where Britain becomes truly arctic.

0:58:060:58:09

Where conditions are so extreme

0:58:090:58:12

that they challenge even the toughest of survivors.

0:58:120:58:16

The Cairngorms.

0:58:180:58:20

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:410:58:44

A portrait of the ancient landscapes and spectacular wildlife of the New Forest National Park, seen through the eyes of the people who know it best.

The New Forest is a fragment of the ancient wild wood that once stretched the length and breadth of Europe - it is also one of Britain's newest National Parks. This enchanted forest is like no other. Pigs and ponies roam beneath mighty oaks and beeches, and pockets of heathland shelter some of the rarest creatures in Britain, including dartford warblers, hobbies and sand lizards. People live here too - with a unique lifestyle that has survived since medieval times. This film follows a forest keeper, a coppicer, a storyteller and a farmer as the seasons change, revealing the secrets of an exquisite forest that is as old as England.


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