The popularity of the New Forest Wildlife Camp persuaded the organisers to arrange an Autumn event in addition to the traditional Spring one. The response was excellent; 19 young wildlife enthusiasts travelled down to Cameron’s Cottage in RSPB Franchises Lodge at the end of October.
This was the fifth New Forest Wildlife Camp the Trust has sponsored. These camps are co-ordinated by Wild New Forest who do an excellent job in guiding, informing and entertaining the campers.
“I wanted to thank you so much for running the Wildlife Camp a couple of weeks ago - I had a great time and am now a keen fungi spotter - even if I can’t identify a lot! Also, I enjoyed the bird ringing. I also enjoyed meeting some new people who are into wildlife.”
The campers met up on the Friday night and after a quick dinner and an icebreaker quiz, they headed straight out into the forest under the cover of darkness to search for nocturnal wildlife. Several Fallow Deer were glimpsed, and a roaring buck in the distance indicated that the rutting period was in full swing. Despite the damp conditions, they were able to find and discuss a good variety of fungi and various invertebrates, including some giant Leopard Slugs.
Saturday saw an early start to check the moth traps. The rest of the morning was spent exploring Franchises Lodge nature reserve and hearing about reserve management from RSPB residential volunteer Sonja Bottomer.
The bioblitz competition on the Saturday proved a hotly contested event with the group splitting into teams and challenging each other to find as many species as possible in an hour. 160 species proved to be the winning score, showing just how alive with wildlife Franchises Lodge is. The afternoon was given over to a bird ringing demonstration.
In the afternoon they returned to the cottage for a brief rest, before the group split and headed out for bird ringing, mammal camera trapping, or yet more fungi finding. A hearty dinner was then followed by another nocturnal jaunt, which bizarrely produced a Common Toad five feet off the ground on a fallen tree.
On the Sunday early rain meant a delayed departure, so Marcus usefully filled the time by providing an excellent slide show on the New Forest Pine Marten Project. Once the rain had cleared, they headed out to the open forest. Campers were accompanied on the walk by Andy Page, Head of Wildlife Management at Forestry England who was able to share his wealth of experience of forest management.
“Thank you so much for last weekend. I had the best time! Thank you for sharing your expertise on fungi with me, I really was fascinated. The people on the camp were wonderful, I have made some great friends and we are all keeping in touch on WhatsApp. It's fair to say that everyone misses being at the Cottage together! Overall, thank you for bringing us all together and teaching us so much. I'll definitely remember that weekend for a long time!”
A snack break on a hillside overlooking a block of woodland was rewarded with the sight of three Goshawks drifting over the treetops, while back at ground level the attendees were treated to the subtle delights of the internationally scarce Nail Fungus. A flurry of more charismatic fungi after lunch included a brief search for the tiny but beautiful Holly Parachute - with so many keen pairs of eyes it took less than a minute for the first to be located, with another cluster following soon after. A probable Lion Shield, a tier of giant Southern Brackets, and some fine Parasols also helped to keep the budding fungi photographers happy.
On the long walk back to the cottage there were ominous clouds looming on the western horizon, but the weather gods and the explorers arrived back at the cottage without incident and in good time for a final clear-up and a de-brief session. However, as the parents started arriving for the scheduled pick-up at 1600 hrs an impressive thunderstorm broke overhead and torrential rain ensued for several minutes.
Many thanks to the support team and volunteers who make the weekend such success; particularly Sonja Bottomer, Andrew Colenutt, Ali Dennis, Andy Page, Jane Pownall and Christine Sams as well as New Forest Wildlife directors Marcus Ward and Russell Wynn.
You can read a full report on the weekend's activities on the Wild New Forest website