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Time to nest

Updated 1st April 2020

The New Forest is a Special Protection Area for ground-nesting birds. This is why each year, from 1 March – 30 June, we remind people to keep to the main paths when out walking, cycling or horse riding in the New Forest and not to venture out onto the open heath. We also ask dog walkers to please keep their dog on the main tracks, and if necessary to use a lead, so that the birds and young chicks are not disturbed.

Several rare species of birds including the Nightjar, Curlew, Woodlark and Snipe, use the important heathlands of the New Forest to breed. Unlike most birds they choose the rather risky tactic of building their nests on the ground rather than in the trees making them extremely vulnerable. If disturbed, they may flee their nests and expose their eggs and chicks to predators.

The New Forest is a favourite spot to nest for these birds, one of the reasons that much of the Forest is a Special Protection Area for birds.  We will continue to monitor and assess the birds across the area to help us understand how best to help halt the decline of these species.  

Ground nesting birds can be very difficult to spot and when out walking across the forest many of us would simply be unaware that they are here. In fact, the nests are so well camouflaged that to the untrained eye it is very hard to see them before you are so close that damage has already been done to them.

To help spot where these sensitive areas are we have put up notices and signs at key locations around the forest. These will highlight the presence of the birds and advise people of the best ways to minimise disturbance to them. If you see an orange sign this will help you to know that ground nesting birds are in the area. A red sign indicates that you are in a very sensitive area and we ask you to take a different route to avoid disturbing the nest.