Wildlife to look out for in the New Forest National Park


Posted by Kate W on 20th January 2021

This county is home to an amazing array of creatures, from the New Forest ponies down to common geckos, so we have put together a guide to the wildlife to look out for in the New Forest National Park.

Originally inspiring William the Conqueror to designate the area his royal hunting ground due to its abundance of wildlife, the New Forest has long been known as a bustling home for spotting animals in the UK.

What animals live in the New Forest?

First things first, what animals can you see roaming wild in the New Forest? Many of the large creatures you’re most likely to come across are still owned by New Forest Commoners who use the common land to graze their animals. These include the New Forest ponies, donkeys, cattle and pigs.

Deer are a wonderful sight to see, with a beautiful range of markings and the male’s impressive antlers, and there are many ways you can get close to these shy creatures.

Other wildlife living in the New Forest National Park include a host of birdlife – birds of prey, wetland and migratory birds, and garden birds – alongside rare insects and even reptiles.

New Forest cottages

We’ve tried our best to collect lots of information on the wide range of New Forest wildlife but there’s so much to see, you’ll have to get out there and search for it yourself!

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New Forest ponies

New Forest ponies

You’re sure to spot one of these magnificent animals roaming the landscape during your holiday to the New Forest – they’re hard to miss! Although we can’t guarantee a sighting, you’d be hard-pressed to miss spotting a pony grazing on the moorland.

There are over 5,000 ponies in the New Forest and they have been around since the end of the last Ice Age, although they are on the native breeds ‘at risk’ register.

The New Forest ponies are owned by New Forest Commoners who have the right to graze their ponies and cattle on the open forest throughout the year.

A few top places to see the New Forest ponies include:

  • Hatchet Pond – a watering hole where they’re most likely to be spotted taking a drink on hot days.
  • Bolton’s Bench in Lyndhurst – the mighty tree offers a great shady spot for ponies.
  • Burley – this village often sees large animals pass through or grazing on the green.

New Forest donkeys

New Forest donkeys and cattle

There are only a few hundred New Forest donkeys who are let out to pasture on the landscape, an insignificant number compared with the thousands of ponies that live in the New Forest.

While New Forest ponies prefer open moor and heathland, donkeys can usually be found around hedges, bushes and trees, and can sometimes cause trouble by eating the hedges in front gardens!

The New Forest donkeys graze alongside over 3,000 cattle that are released to roam the landscape of the New Forest during the summer months. You don't have to go searching for cattle in the New Forest, with a simple stroll you're likely to see cows on the common land.

A few places you’re most likely to spot New Forest donkeys include:

  • Hyde Common, near Fordingbridge
  • The Foresters Arms, Frogham – known locally as ‘the donkey pub’
  • Walking through the villages of Beaulieu, Brockenhurst and Burley

New Forest pigs

New Forest pigs

Despite only being released to roam free during autumn, the pigs serve a very important role in the New Forest ecosystem.

This is the season when acorns, chestnuts and various other nuts have fallen from trees, all toxic to ponies and donkeys, so the pigs are released to eat them up – this event is called ‘Pannage' or ‘Common of Mast’.

Around 600 domestic pigs and piglets owned by Commoners are sent out to gobble up all of these autumnal treats, and the Pannage season usually lasts around 60 days depending on how well the pigs do their job.

There isn’t a specific breed of New Forest pig, you’re likely to see a range of swine and might even spot a few of the old English breeds such as the Large White, Tamworth, Berkshire or British Saddleback.

The New Forest pigs don’t congregate in one particular place, rather they go wherever they fancy, so keep an eye out as you explore.

In previous years, New Forest pigs have often been spotted at:

New Forest deer

New Forest deer

There are five types of New Forest deer to discover: fallow, roe, red deer, sika and muntjac (also known as the barking deer). The last two species are the most elusive although keen-eyed visitors may spot a sika deer camouflaged between trees or hear the peculiar bark of the muntjac deer during a forest walk.

The rutting season can be an amazing time to see the stags fighting and the season varies between species, but generally takes place during autumn.

If you see an injured stag, they can be just as dangerous as an uninjured animal so please keep your distance. If you come across an injured animal, you can call the Verderers Office or Forestry England.

One of the most sought-after sights is a herd of deer all together and when you are New Forest deer watching in the spring, it’s always wonderful to see a young fawn wobbling along after its mother.

A few of the top places for New Forest deer watching:

  • Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary – there’s a deer-viewing platform and a wheelchair-friendly nature trail. You’re most likely to see fallow deer grazing in the meadow below the platform.
  • Burley Park – take the tractor-drawn trailer ride on a deer safari where you might get to feed strawberries, raspberries and sweetcorn to the timid mammals. You’re most likely to see red deer or fallow deer.
  • Beaulieu – if you’re really keen to see the rare muntjac deer, you’re most likely to spot them early in the morning in woodlands around Beaulieu hiding in the scrub – take binoculars and hot coffee to keep you warm while you search.

New Forest birds

New Forest birds

The New Forest is known as a home to many rare and scarce breeding birds and is a popular destination among birders hoping to track down sought-after species. The wide range of valuable habitats, from wetlands to woodlands, allows a large cross-section of British birds to thrive and breed.

New Forest birds of prey to look out for in the skies include the honey buzzard, hobby, and goshawk which are often seen soaring high up in the sky. The honey buzzard and hobby prefer a habitat of damp heathland while goshawks are woodland birds and most likely to be spotted within the large central block of woodland in the New Forest.

Meanwhile, smaller birds that you may want to look out for while birdwatching includes nightjars and firecrests whose numbers have dramatically increased in recent years.

Where to watch New Forest birds:

  • Landford Lakes Nature Reserve – heather, wet woodland and lakes creating a habitat for over 150 different bird species including kingfisher, water rail and gadwall, you may even spot a rare osprey.
  • Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve – habitat for wetland birds. In the winter, you’re most likely to see black-tailed godwit, golden plover, teal, wigeon and brent goose, while in summer you may hear the call of the Cetti’s warbler, reed warbler and bearded tit from the reedbeds.
  • Blashford Lakes – a former gravel quarry-turned nature reserve with lakes, woodland and a small river with six bird hides. The wide range of wetland birds who live or visit includes goldeneye, goosander, lesser black-backed and black-headed gull, black-necked grebe brambling, redpoll and great egret.
  • Beaulieu Road Station – the heaths near Beaulieu Road Station are a great place for spotting hobby in the New Forest. Visit in the early evening in May or early June for your best chance, although spotting one is not guaranteed.

If you’re really keen to get up close and meet New Forest birds of prey, Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre at Ringwood offer raptor displays and experience days so you can meet a range of remarkable bird species.

Under your feet

Under your feet

When you have sighted the large animals and winged beasts of the New Forest, look down and you might be surprised what New Forest wildlife you discover scampering among the heather and long grasses in this corner of the UK.

You might spot a poisonous adder with its zigzag patterning bathing in the sun, grass snakes hiding in the reeds at the edge of a lake or slithering through bog, or sand lizards darting among sand dunes.

To ensure you get to see a reptile, head to the New Forest Reptile Centre near Lyndhurst where they have ‘pods’ of reptiles and amphibians native to the New Forest for visitors to view.

At the centre, they also have cameras focused on goshawk nests so you can see eggs hatching and chicks with their parents in their natural habitat.

Wild days out in the New Forest

For even more family-friendly animal days out in the New Forest, visit one of the attractions below.

Beaulieu House

Explore the New Forest

We have put together a range of things to do and places to visit so you can plan your New Forest holiday.

If you’re ready to meet the wide range of New Forest wildlife that make their home in this beautiful county, take a look through our holiday cottages and begin planning your stay.

From cottages with gardens to retreats with walking routes just outside the front door, we have a wonderful collection for you to browse in scenic locations, including rural villages and coastal towns.

New Forest cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.