Forest Diary: The New Forest is the star of the show

Guest blog by Christine Wilkes, Permissions Officers at the Forestry Commission

The New Forest has stared in many productions over the years – from wildlife documentaries to Hollywood blockbusters like Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. The stunning and varied landscape attracts a wealth of interest and thanks to its unique character, and history it’s a very special place. It’s a privilege and sometimes a challenge to manage the Crown lands, which make up nearly half of the total area of the National Park. It’s a role that requires us to balance the needs of people, nature and business, and ensure that folk are able to enjoy the forest in the most appropriate way.  Our job is to co-ordinate different activities, assessing permission requests against conservation and ecology requirements and the needs of other forest users – all set in the context of a working forest.

So why do we do make sure people get permission before they film, etc?

The New Forest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA) and also a Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance). All of these accolades mean it’s safeguarded by something called the European Union Habitats Directive. This Directive protects certain species of plants and animals which are particularly vulnerable. In a nutshell, this means that to permit certain activities on the Crown lands – such as filming may need to undertake and submit something called a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) to Natural England.  This might sound complicated but it’s all focused on making sure the key bodies involved in permissions in the Forest are working together to keep this unique location safe and protected.

A key part of this involves co-ordinating activity, which we do through good planning and a permit system for activities, including filming. In addition to this we are also able to check that events and activities don’t clash with anything else occurring on the Forest, for example timber operations, or other events.

We will also make sure that proposed routes and filming locations avoid sensitive wildlife habitats and don’t cause damage to features of historic interest.  You may have heard the New Forest being referred to as ‘common land’ and you’d be forgiven for assuming this means the public has the right to use it as it chooses, but in fact the main right of public access only really covers ‘quiet recreation on foot.’ In fact, the whole area is governed by a complex set of New Forest Acts and Forestry Commission byelaws.

Many recreational activities which take place on Forestry Commission land are unfortunately in breach of the Forestry Commission byelaws. We’ve had to decline requests for filming battle scenes and landing helicopters, but we’ve also been able to find a way to work with production companies on shows like Blind Date, which featured a couple horse riding and lots of well-known clothing companies have used the Forest for photoshoots.

From scientific studies, to model aircraft events, cross country runs, acrobat displays, wedding blessings and music videos, as the land managers we need to issue permits to event organisers so that activities can take place appropriately.

How do you get permission for filming?

Due to the large number of activities taking place in the New Forest and the many factors involved, we strongly recommend that you contact our office to discuss your programme or film. Please note that until we have issued your permission all requests are provisional and that a permit can take up to eight weeks to be issued.

To apply for a permit please complete the online form, or e-mail full details of the film you are planning, along with your full contact details to: