As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the New Forest, Philippa Jacks spends a day on a conservation volunteering break with the New Forest Area Conservation Volunteers.
As my saw cuts through the trunk of a healthy young ash tree and I watch my first sapling crash to the forest floor, I don’t feel like much of a friend to wildlife.
Jan Anderson and her team from the New Forest Area Conservation Volunteers (NFACV) assure me it’s important to remove the most slender of these trees, to give other species a chance, but it certainly feels a little destructive to start with. Carefully identifying ash by the black tips on its twigs (and trying not to decimate hazel and oak in the process), I soon master use of the saw and loppers and begin to find the strenuous labour and gleeful yelling of “timber” rather therapeutic.
I’ve joined the NFACV on a sunny morning at Roydon Woods in Setley near Brockenhurst - just one of many sites across the forest where volunteers give up their Sundays to plant trees, build paths, pick litter and clear invasive species.
Tasks vary according to the season, and today is the last chance to take out saplings before birds begin to nest. The sawing and carrying of branches is hard work, but we take time out to identify different birds by their song, and to spy upon a family of shiny lizards, sunning themselves on a fallen log. Most of our merry band of volunteers are local people, and when we break for lunch and a chinwag, it's clear how passionate they are about preserving the wildlife which has given them such pleasure over the years. But visitors to the New Forest are also invited to volunteer their time, even for a single session, and you only need to bring a packed lunch, suitable clothing and a willingness to get your hands dirty.
Spaces for visitor-volunteers are limited to five per session so check the NFACV website and make contact in plenty of time.
Where to stay
Daisybank Cottage in nearby Brockenhurst is the perfect base from which to explore the New Forest and, being just a few minutes walk from Brockenhurst station, it's ideal for those travelling without a car.
Since opening last year, charming hosts Cheryl and Ciaran have welcomed guests ranging from birdwatchers and cyclists to horseriders and honeymooners. The boutique B&B has proven particularly conducive to a romantic break, with several couples getting engaged during their stay.
Each of the three en-suite double rooms are kitted out with a coffee machine, iPod docking station and a small fridge, and guests are welcomed by home-baked cupcakes and local treats like New Forest Biscotti. Daisybank is a member of the New Forest Green Leaf Scheme and sources as much produce as possible from local suppliers. There are 12 restaurants within walking distance from Daisybank; I recommend the cook-it-yourself Hot Rocks menu at The Snakecatche. Rooms are priced from £45 per person per night including a delicious 'New Forest Breakfast'. Brockenhurst train station is 1 hour 29 minutes from London Waterloo.