Walk report: Franchises Lodge RSPB with Richard Smith and Saul Alonso

 Franchises Lodge is a nature reserve covering almost 1000 acres. In 2018 it was acquired by RSPB, whose impressive long-term vision for habitat restoration of the woodland, and development of open heath is already evident. An important objective is the development of a “bridge” between Langley Wood to the north and the wider New Forest to the south. (1 on the map)

Saul Alonso giving us an introduction to the reserve
© Tina Vaughan

On a bright sunny morning, a group of us gathered to meet Saul Alonso, the RSPB Warden in sole charge of the reserve. Saul provided us with a background to the estate and the geography of the surrounding land before heading off down the bridleway and onwards into the private reserved area. Walking through the mixed broadleaf woodland we heard numerous birds including Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Wren, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Firecrest, Siskin and Blackcap, though we often had only fleeting glimpses of bird life through the growing canopy of leaves.

Nest boxes at Cameron's Cottage 
© Tina Vaughan

We paused at Cameron’s Cottage; a formerly derelict building that has been completely refurbished by the Cameron Bespolka Trust in partnership with the RSPB (2). Much of the restoration has taken the cottage completely “off grid” using solar powered heating and electricity as much as possible. Bat, Swift and House Martin boxes have been installed during building. A hibernaculum for reptiles and a very well appointed bug hotel (formerly an outside lavatory) have been built in the surrounding grounds. A Grey Wagtail flew in carrying food and obligingly perched in a nearby tree for the photographers.

Grey Wagtail with food near Cameron's Cottage
© Chris Robinson

Following down the footpath we came to an area of Scots Pine where the sheer scale of Rhododendron clearance and the challenge ahead were evident. This non-native, invasive species has engulfed large swathes of the woodland, much to the detriment of the habitat. This is being systematically removed and burned on site with a long-term plan for eventual eradication which is expected to take many years to complete. Radical management and culling of deer, predominantly Fallow doe has already been undertaken. An initial survey suggested as many as 2000 deer were entering and grazing the reserve preventing any woodland regeneration. 

Small-flowered Wintercress
© Richard Smith

Herb Robert
© Chris Robinson

Further on, we stopped for our coffee break at what had been dump where fly-tipping had been a major problem in the past. Much of this has been cleared and the remaining rubble, and mounds of earth are already colonised with Buddleia and wildflowers plus some probably garden escapes. A long-term plan is to develop this are for reptiles and for a butterfly bank. Goldfinches were seen feeding amongst the nettles and waste ground. The botanist in the group identified numerous wild plants including Small-flowered Wintercress, Dove’s-foot Cranesbill, Herb Robert, Verbascum sp, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Spear Mint, Lemon Balm and Hedge Garlic.

Germander Speedwell
© Tina Vaughan

Yellow Pimpernel
© Chris Robinson

Walking along the path beside the pylons that thread across the lower part of the reserve, we saw more Greenfinches and a Common Buzzard circled overhead, Along the path, we identified Tansy, Germander and Wood Speedwells, Lesser Trefoil, Marsh Thistle, Silverweed, Yellow Pimpernel, Greater Stitchwort and Wood Spurge.

Speckled Yellow (moth)
© Richard Smith

Carder Bee © Tina Vaughan

We returned to the cars up a steep climb, passing behind Cameron’s Cottage where we saw more Blue and Coal Tits and a Dunnock. An enjoyable and inspiring visit to this site which is already providing access and education for young people and has an ambitious and exciting future development plan.


1/ ‘Secret forest’ becomes one of the RSPB’s most significant purchases : https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/franchises-lodge/

2/ Cameron's Cottage In partnership with the RSPB in the New Forest : https://www.cameronbespolka.com/cameron-s-cottage


Franchises Lodge route
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