Being a National Park, the New Forest is packed with diverse habitats, welcoming many kinds of wildlife within its boundaries. Much of the park has been awarded Special Area of Conservation status due to how rich in wildlife it is, with New Forest wildlife finding its home within the hundreds of miles of bogs, woodlands and open heathland.
With such a variety of species to spot, the New Forest is therefore a haven for wildlife lovers, and its animals are undoubtedly one of the National Park's main attractions. Whether you’re interested in spotting a range of birds or seeing mothers care for their young, there are several wonders of nature to take in here. Below are just some of the wonderful animal species you can see near our New Forest lodges and cottages.
New Forest ponies
The New Forest is synonymous with its native ponies, who can be seen freely roaming and grazing the land not just out in the open countryside, but even in towns and villages. They come in several different colours and sizes, as over the centuries they have been interbred with other breeds to increase variety.
Learn all about New Forest ponies with our in-depth guide.
Donkeys can be seen in the New Forest year-round, as they have a hardy nature that makes them more tolerant of the winter weather conditions. Popular with visitors, they love to graze on hedgerows, and are therefore more likely to be seen in towns including Brockenhurst, Burley and Beaulieu, rather than out on the heathland.
As well as ponies and donkeys, you can even see pigs roaming about the New Forest. They are let loose every autumn by the Commoners in an act known as Pannage, which dates back to the time of William the Conqueror, who founded the New Forest. Pannage involves the pigs eating the acorns and chestnuts that have fallen from the floor, preventing the ponies from eating them, as acorns and nuts are poisonous to them.
The New Forest is home to not one but five different species of deer, with only two of these being native to the UK. Fallow deer are the easiest to spot; the females flecked with white spots, and the males sporting impressive antlers. The native species are the roe deer and the red deer, which are much fewer in numbers and more elusive. Sika deer and muntjac deer can also be sighted if you’re lucky. Dawn and dusk are the best times of day to look out for deer.
Like the other mammals already mentioned, cattle also roam and graze the forest freely. Up to 3000 cattle can be seen in the New Forest in the summer, though this number reduces in the autumn and winter. There are more than a dozen different breeds that live here, from the Friesian cow to the winter-ready Highland cattle.
It’s not only mammals who call the New Forest home, as reptiles, and in particular snakes, can also be found here, thanks to the area’s climate being warmer than much of the rest of Britain. The adder, the UK’s only venomous snake, lives here – however, they will tend to disappear into the undergrowth at the slightest sign of a human approaching, meaning attacks are very rare. Grass snakes, which are more common, and smooth snakes have also been spotted here – neither of these are venomous.
Difficult to spot, lizards can also be found in the New Forest, one of the few places in the UK they call home. Common lizards, which are a grey-brown or a dark brown colour, live in the grassland and open heath. Britain’s rarest reptile, the sand lizard, has also found a habitat here thanks to a successful breeding and release programme.
Having a mixture of woodland and heathland means that the New Forest has a very healthy bird population, and is sometimes one of the only places in the UK you can see certain bird species. The list of bird species you can spot is extensive, and includes: buzzards, crossbills, Dartford warblers, stonechats, woodpeckers, curlews, owls, hen harriers and sparrowhawks.
Badgers can be spotted in the woodlands if you are quiet and careful enough, as they are very shy creatures and easily startled. The best time to spot them is at either dawn or dusk, when they will emerge from their homes to search for food.
Rabbits are a common sight throughout the New Forest, and are spotted both on the grassy road embankments and grazing on the larger open areas of grassland. Though an outbreak of myxomatosis in the 1950s affected their numbers, the population has recovered well and remains healthy.
Squirrels are another widespread species in the New Forest, and can be spotted darting across the woodlands and forests. Unfortunately, it is the grey squirrels which remain the most common sight. They remain a threat to other local wildlife, as not only do they carry diseases which have helped to kill off the red squirrel, but they also steal eggs from birds’ nests for their food.