How safe is it in the New Forest?
The New Forest isn’t like the outback in Australia, in general the wildlife is pretty friendly (with one notable exception) and the terrain mostly easy going. Probably your biggest problem when walking off road will be getting lost so a good map, preferably a GPS one, or a phone app that does the same job, is a very good idea if you plan a nice woodland walk.
As with any off road walking, it’s a good idea to let people know roughly where you will be and when you will be back. Having a fully charged phone in case of emergencies is a good idea. It is also wise to be aware of your surroundings and, in particular the weather conditions. The south of England has the best weather in the country but it does rain, there are storms and it can be very windy.
Good walking footwear is also an essential. It can be boggy, the paths can be muddy, some are sandy or stony. This is not the terrain for high heels, unless you want a broken ankle.
Walking safely on New Forest roads
Bear in mind some simple road safety rules too when walking along some of the lanes where there are no foot paths. There are many lanes like these and the speed limit for cars is mostly 40mph so it is wise to take care. Always walk towards oncoming traffic. Remember in the UK we drive on the LEFT! This will help you see on coming traffic in good time. When a car does come, if possible, move as far to the side of the road as possible, if there are verges and they’re not boggy or overgrown with brambles, get on them. Cars should move out to go round you but don’t count on it. It’s a good idea to be visible too, wear something bright so you can be seen and don’t walk along chatting on your phone or looking at maps. If you need to look at the map stop and get off the road.
Should I be worried about ponies and other wildlife?
There is a lot of wildlife in the New Forest and, as I said before, most of it is friendly. The ponies are not as wild as you’d think. They are all owned by the Commoners so are very used to people. This can be a problem because they won’t run away when you approach, in fact they can be a pain blocking the path. DO NOT feed them, they are not hungry and it is against the law.
You may also see other animals, most notably cows or pigs, wandering around, it’s best to give them as wide a berth as possible. They are not likely to do you any harm but it really isn’t worth the risk, they can charge and they can bite. Things like deer and rabbits will probably only been seen in the distance as they run off, they’re quite shy, timid things.
Should I be worried about adders in the New Forest?
The one really dangerous animal is the adder. You may see them, you may not. I’ve very rarely seen an adder in the forest and I’ve spent many long hours walking and camping there. They are, however, poisonous snakes, the only poisonous snake in Britain. They are mostly found on the heathland, although they can be anywhere. It is very rare for so done to be bitten by an adder, they aren’t seen that much because they slither off if they know you’re around, but it is possible to accidentally step on one that’s not paying attention. If you do see an adder, leave well alone! On average, only a handful of adder bites occur in the New Forest each year and these are mostly to people who insist on picking them up.
If you are bitten, don’t panic. The venom is strong but is designed for small creatures like mice so is injected in very small quantities. Unless you have an allergic reaction you are unlikely to suffer any long term harm. Even so, it is best to go to a clinic or hospital AS SOON AS POSSIBLE as they all hold anti venom.
Ticks and Lyme disease are something to be aware of. I have no experience of either, despite many hours in the forest but they are there so worth knowing about. Ticks are most likely to be found in bracken and bushes areas and they burrows into your skin to suck your blood. Wearing good walking shoes and keeping the skin around your ankles covered with socks is the best prevention. Ticks should be removed as soon as possible as they can transmit Lyme disease, although this is very unlikely, especially I’d they are quickly dealt with. They are little grey things that look a bit like a round seed or pebble. To remove them use tweezers, as close to the skin as possible and gently pull them out.
If you do get bitten by a tick a d feel unwell afterwards or develop any odd skin rashes it’s best to visit your doctor.
If you are going to paddle in any streams or rivers it’s worth making sure any open cuts or wounds are covered with a waterproof plaster. As with ticks, this is not just true of the New Forest, it applies everywhere in the world. There is a disease called Leptospirosis, or Weils Disease caught from rat urine in water than can make you unwell.