Flowers of the forest

People and plants in the New Forest National Park, by Clive Chatters

cover of flowers of the forestI love the New Forest - always have - so I was looking forward to reviewing Clive Chatters' book "Flowers of the Forest". I've spent a lot of time camping and walking through the varied landscapes and habitats of the Forest and try to encourage as many people as I can to go there and experience what the Forest has to offer. From now on I would also recommend they have a read of this book before they go.

The New Forest has over 1,000 years of documentation that records the changes in laws, land use, access and boundaries and is a system involving commoners (Verderers and Agisters) and the first chapter explains this rich and complex history, geology, politics, and economy. The forest is blessed with over 360 years of botanical records, the most accessible land of all the National Parks and is a stronghold for rare and scarce species. The fact these rarities thrive because working practices survive – a modern descendent of ancient land management - is enough to get me excited!

inside spread of flowers of the forestinside spread of flowers of the forest

The book is divided up into the varied habitats of the forest, and each chapter covers the history and management of the particular habitats and which species you are likely to find there. Beautiful anecdotal stories mix with hard facts about some of the more high profile species. The extinction of Summer Lady’s-tresses (a delicate orchid), due to habitat loss, drier summers, and extensive collecting by botanists. The subsequent shadowy re-introduction attempts by a ‘whimsical gardener’ makes this a nostalgic favourite.

The story of the Early Gentian is also a delight. It is said one reason it survives in the forest because a huge target cross for bombing practice was constructed out of chalk from elsewhere. No one knew why the gentian was growing in straight lines in this foreign habitat till some bright spark connected the flowering to the introduced chalk. All these great stories will greatly enrich your time spent in the forest.

On a personal note I have come across populations of Wild Gladiolus growing in the forest - which is on the very northern edge of their world distribution - and my understanding about them, gained from this book, has added more significance to that encounter.

Clive Chatters clearly knows the forest intimately and he shows the New Forest as a unique environment, a working ecosystem, which pays courtesy to all the complex links that allow it to retain its diversity. Buy the book, read it on the train and when you get off at Brockenhurst and start walking you will have a richer experience for it.

Don't miss the launch event of this great book at the New Forest Centre, Lyndhurst on Saturday 28th November where author Clive Chatters will be signing copies. Come along between 11am and 1pm.

Review by Darren Topps, Eden Project, November 2009

Available for around £25 from:




New Forest Centre