Waterside Natural History Society walk from Pig Bush in the New Forest

Beech Tree in autumnThe walk for November followed a circular route from the car park at Pig Bush on the B3056 between Beaulieu and Beaulieu Road Station.

After walking through the small copse a track in a south westerly direction took the group over a footbridge on Shepton Water and across Halfpenny Green.

On exiting the wood at Rowbarrow a gravel path was followed through Frame Heath inclosure to the railway crossing at Woodfidley.

The route then continued in a northerly direction through Denny Lodge inclosure to Woodfidley Passage.

A path round the edge of the wood clockwise brought the walkers back over the railway and Bishops Dyke to Penny Moor.

A small track over the marsh and up the escarpment led back to the car park at Pig Bush. The walk of about five miles took nearly three hours.

The area covered within the New Forest National Park consisted of a variety of habitats including heath, marsh and wooded areas typical of the park.

Members who regularly walk in the forest have noticed a marked change in colour over the last few weeks.

Leaves on the trees have gone from shades of green through yellow and red before falling to the ground in a remarkably short period of time.

The summer seems to have held on for as long as possible before collapsing into autumn around the middle of November.

The pink and purple of heather flowers has given way to the dull green leaves of the heath, the forest floor is covered with tree leaves in all shades of brown, and the space in between once covered in green bracken has become a uniform sepia colour.

Bracken belongs to the fern family of plants and can be distinguished by its branched stems and deciduous habit.

This makes it a good time of year to identify other types of fern which remain green through the winter whilst bracken turns brown before dying back to the ground.

Clumps of Male Fern were found growing at the side of the tracks and Hard Fern in the ditches.

The leaves having fallen off the trees also enabled Polypody Fern to be more easily seen on the older Oak trees.

Although the autumn has been milder than usual this has been at the expense of having to put up with more rain and many areas around the water courses have standing water to a small depth.

This has been exacerbated by the policy of reinstating old water courses to slow down the flow of water and allow the land to retain moisture.

It has the added advantage of reducing flood waters further downstream.

For the walker however this means having to wade through stretches of shallow pools without knowing how far they will sink into the mud.

Members of the Society, being an intrepid bunch and wearing wellies, managed to negotiate most of the pools of water but it took even longer than anticipated to finish the walk.

During periods when the track emerged onto higher ground there was a chance to look at the trees.

Most of the leaves had fallen on to the ground but some remained attached including those of Beech which produce arguably one of the best ranges of colour through light yellow and gold to a shiny chestnut brown.

The walk was mostly on level ground and any undulations were created by artificial means.

Bishop’s Dyke for instance which was crossed several times consisted of an artificial mound made long ago for some unknown reason.

These raised mounds or borders are common throughout the area to mark the inclosure boundaries or to control the movement of deer.

Park Pale near Lyndhurst was supposedly used to funnel deer towards the hunters but Bishops Dyke could have been used to keep deer within land owned by the Bishop of Winchester.

Whatever the reason it pales into significance compared to the large ridge formed to take the railway line through the Forest.

Stream at PigbushAll these features change the flow of water throughout the area and with the damning of streams it seems changes are still in progress.

Although it was a good time of year to get out for a walk there was not a great variety of birds, insects or flowers and even the fungi were few and far between.

The screaming sound of Jays drew the attention to their presence high in the trees but it was some time before they were seen.

The greatest collections of birds were observed at bird feeders placed near the cottages at Woodfidley railway crossing.

These included Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Marsh Tit, Blackbird and Pied Wagtails on the lawn.

Occasionally groups of Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit and Blue Tit were seen flitting from tree to tree.