The New Forest: research on our doorstep

Of all the locations where the members of PLUS conduct their fieldwork, mine is almost certainly the least far flung – my research is based in the New Forest National Park, in the county of Hampshire in south-east England.

Undertaking fieldwork in a Park whose nearest border lies a mere six miles (9.7 km) from the University of Southampton’s main campus, has at times seemed somewhat unexciting and undeniably less than exotic. However, whenever I have entertained such thoughts, I have fallen into what I believe to be one of the major pitfalls of working so close to home – taking things for granted. I have at times harboured dreams of carrying out research somewhere ‘more interesting’ and occasionally, I admit, jealous thoughts of those who do, all the while failing to fully appreciate the amazing scenery, wildlife, culture and history that surrounds me.

So, I decided to fully embrace and enjoy my fieldwork in the New Forest, and recognise how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to spend so much time there. And it is a great place to do fieldwork. First of all, it’s ONLY SIX MILES from the University of Southampton’s main campus! So I can pop out there whenever I like. Very handy for taking advantage of good weather or remedying the odd bit of fieldwork gone wrong.

Secondly, it is a very beautiful place. I have, in the past, visited quite a few ‘exciting’ and ‘exotic’ places around the world, and the Forest can compete with the best of them in terms of views, particularly on a sunny autumn day when the trees are changing their colours. I carry out fieldwork all over the Park, and so have the chance to admire its ancient woodlands, heathlands, mires and rivers as well as all the flora and fauna they contain.

Then there are the people. Lots and lots of people. The thing that surprised me most the first time I visited the Park more than two years ago, on a very hot Sunday in October, was the sheer number of people who come here all year round to enjoy all that it has to offer. It wasn’t what I expected. But I have grown to appreciate the role of people in the Forest (it is after all the main focus of my research: human-environment interactions), and how fundamental they have been in shaping this area and in creating the cultural landscape that we see today.

So, I count myself lucky to have spent time in such a place, and very much look forward to the days of fieldwork to come.