Keeping this place special

Enjoy the New Forest and look after it too
If you ask someone to describe the main job of a national park they may well say ‘conservation’.

And they would be half right: one of the two main purposes of a national park in the UK is to ‘conserve and enhance’ the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area.

In the New Forest this means looking after the mixture of ancient woodland, open heaths and unspoilt coastline. It means supporting the tradition of commoning that sustains the landscape. And it means ensuring that we continue to share the Forest with an extraordinary diversity of animals and plants, many of international importance.

The second key role of a national park is to help people appreciate and enjoy the ‘special qualities’ of the place.

In the New Forest this means providing opportunities for quiet recreation such as walking, cycling, horse-riding and sailing. It means offering ‘quality of life’ for people who live and work here and those who visit. And it means using a range of methods – events, information points, websites, publications – to share with people what is special and how they can help to keep it that way.

It is sometimes said that these two purposes are in conflict, but I take a different view. I believe that they complement and serve each other.

The huge public benefit provided by access to these special places helps to justify the significant investment of time and money in conserving them, while people who enjoy and value their national park are far more likely to look after it.

Two new initiatives illustrate how the New Forest National Park Authority provides ‘understanding and enjoyment’ while conveying a conservation message at the same time.

In spite of the difficult financial circumstances for the public sector, the National Park Authority has switched some of its resources from other areas to boost its small ranger team.

The Park Ranger is an icon of national parks – the friendly face that welcomes and guides people ‘on the ground’, in this case helping them to enjoy the New Forest through walks, talks and community projects while learning how to look after it too.

The second project is at the other end of the scale, using the latest technology to do the same job. Working in partnership with New Forest District Council, the National Park Authority has launched an ‘app’ for the iPad and iPhone.

You can download ‘New Forest UK’ from the iTunes store for free and find inside a growing selection of e-books. These are a rich source of information that you can enjoy at home or out in the Forest, reducing the need for intrusive signage or wasted paper.

Martin O'Neill