Stay on track to support New Forest wildlife this spring

Stay on track to support New Forest wildlife this spring

People are being asked to help rare ground nesting birds survive in the New Forest again this year by staying on the main tracks and keeping dogs with them here.

Special quiet zones will be set up at the most sensitive breeding locations with nearby car parks closed and signs in place to highlight the presence of the birds and help avoid disturbance as they attempt to breed and raise chicks.  

The New Forest is a Special Protection Area for Birds. Under pressure in many parts of the UK, helping ground nesting birds breed successfully in the New Forest has a key role to play in their overall survival. Whilst the fortunes of some species of these rare birds have improved in recent years thanks to people’s support, others still remain under considerable pressure.

Dartford Warblers, a small bird that nests in gorse or close the ground, have done well with the highest ever numbers recorded in the Forest and nearby locations in 2023. The numbers make the area one of the most important UK locations for this species.

Conversely, Nightjars which travel all the way from Africa to nest in the New Forest saw their numbers here decline by around 18%. Curlews, a key species of waders, had some limited success in breeding in the Forest last year but overall numbers still remain critically low.  

Unlike most birds, ground nesting birds build nests and raise their young on the ground around woodland edges and on the open heathland areas of the Forest. This makes it especially important to avoid startling parents causing them to flee their nests and leave eggs and chicks exposed to predators.

Leanne Sargeant, Senior Ecologist for Forestry England, said:

“Anyone visiting the New Forest during spring can’t help but notice the huge amount of bird song and activity. This really is a special place in the UK for birds, and making sure we continue to see ground nesting birds here in good numbers is key to this continuing. Everyone spending time here has a role to play and it’s really simple to help – please stay on the main, gravel tracks and avoid the heathlands and woodland edges to give these birds the space they need.”

Car parks closed during the breeding season include: Clayhill, Crockford, Crockford Clump, Hincheslea, Hincheslea Moor, Ocknell Pond, Ogdens, Shatterford and Yew Tree Heath.

Orange signs indicate areas very close to breeding grounds and can be seen in locations including car parks and on the main tracks. Red “stop” signs highlight nesting sites in the immediate vicinity and ask the public to avoid these areas.

People are asked to stick to the main gravel tracks and not to venture onto open, heathland areas where birds will be nesting. Dog walkers are asked to lend their support by keeping dogs with them on the tracks and where necessary using leads to keep them under close control.

Heather Gould, Chair of New Forest Dog Owners Group, said:

“It’s really simple for everyone who spends time here to help protect ground nesting birds by obeying the signs which are put out and avoiding sensitive area all together. We’d advise all dog walkers to avoid the protected heathlands if they can walk elsewhere during the nesting season. For more ideas on where to go instead just use Forestry England’s robust tracks map on their website.”

Everyone spending time on the Forest whether on foot, wheels or hoovescan take part in the campaign. 

Hannah Marsh, British Horse Society Regional Manager for the South of England, said:

“In spring and summer, many birds make their nests on the ground on heaths and open areas of the Forest. Making small adjustments to where we ride during this time can make a big difference to their survival. When you are riding on the Forest please to stick to the main tracks.”

Steve Avery, Executive Director at the New Forest National Park Authority, said:

“The New Forest National Park contains some of the most important wetlands and the most extensive area of heathland left in Europe – home to rare birds whose survival is under threat. We can all help by checking routes before heading out in the Forest, knowing which car parks are closed and where the quiet breeding zones are so we can avoid them. Always stay on the way-marked cycle routes and avoid veering off across open areas and heathlands where birds – although you might not see them – will be nesting and looking after precious young.”

Forestry England, working with local organisations and volunteers, surveys the numbers of ground-nesting birds every five years to monitor their fortunes. During 2024 it will assess numbers of Woodlarks and in 2025 look at the Curlew breeding population. During the breeding season the Forestry England team also monitors key ground nesting bird nests, carries out targeted predator control and supports ongoing research into these rare species.

More information about ground nesting birds in the New Forest can be found at and

For a full list of up-to-date car park closures visit

The robust tracks most suitable for dog walking in the New Forest during the ground nesting bird season are marked in red on this map.