27 JUNE 1896, Page 31


NO estate in the South of England offers such attractions to bird life as that of Beaulieu between the New Forest and the Solent Sea. Its tidal river goes up into the heart of the forest, between seven miles of oak-woods and coppices; its lakes swarm with duck which come in by day from the sea ; the gulls and cormorants fly daily to the pools on the heath to wash in the fresh water; woodcocks nest in its pine-woods and fly squeaking like bats across the rides at sundown ; and behind it lies the forest, and the forest heaths with a separate bird population of their own. The heath at Hill Top, as the part of the forest north of the Beaulieu boundary is called, is an epitome of the beauties of the wild forest. Here for eight hundred years Nature has had a free hand, and the contrast shown by land with which man has meddled for centuries and that on which he has scarcely been allowed to set foot is evident and astonishing. The " tame " woods and fields within the manor bank, beautiful as they are, show in every acre the enormous modification of Nature due to man. There is almost nothing there in which seven centuries of cultiva- tion have not produced a profound change, though that change is so general throughout our island that we have come to look upon it as normal. There is nothing, from the grass on the soil to the waters which fall from heaven, which man does not in some way change from its natural order. Every shower which falls on those broad woods of oak and pine—each tree of which was planted by hand—is led away to the river, or its natural flow diverted by the ditcher's spade. The grass and flowers which grow below are protected from cattle, and grow in unnatural luxuriance between the stems. Not only the sown crops but the less obviously artificial elements of grasses, hedge-flowers, and nnderwood, the unnatural result of felling higher timber, the divisions by banks and hedges, the hard roads, gates, and buildings, the presence of hundreds of acclimatised or greatly modified animals not natural to the soil—sheep, store-cattle, heavy draught-horses, and birds of hardly less artificial breed, pheasants raised in hundreds from the coops, partridges dependent on the cultivation for their living, and the host of smaller creatures living in commensalism with man, and following the plough as "trade follows the flag "—are the out- ward visible signs of the triumph of man over Nature, a con- flict and false triumph which would neither be noticed nor regretted but for the survival of Nature unsubdued in her wild forest beyond the manor bank. To picture this "state of Nature" it is not enough to subtract each and every one of the items of "domestication" given above. Nature is constructive, and has made the wild heath and forest something more than the negation of the tame manor, and planted her woods, set out her heaths, levelled her lawns, bordered her streams, trimmed her shrubs. hollowed her pools and water-brooks in inimitable fashion, besides making one thing which cultivation has never tried at all, and probably could not make if it tried, the spongy soaks of the New Forest bogs, with their unique carpet of mosses and primitive flowers. To these heaths, furzebreaks, woods, streams, alder-beds, bogs, brooksides, and pools, the Forest birds flock each after their kind. Natura loci,—the nature of the place, absolutely determines the number and nature of the inhabitants, whether birds or beasts. No rotation of crops, or tree-felling, or ploughing, or laying down to grass, brings any change ; the same birds and beasts and flowers are probably now to be found in the same spots of this heath as they were when King John founded the abbey below. Round the edge of the manor bank, and stretching for thirty yards into the Forest, runs a riband of tho finest turf, grazed short as plush by the ponies. This is the last haunt of the grain-eating birds of the manor. Then the rough heath begins, deep heather, little seedling firs, and junipers. It was to see the birds of the forest that the writer last visited the heath. Whin-chats were flying from top to top of the bushes, or feeding their young, bidden in undiscoverable nests among the heather labyrinths at the roots of the bushes. On the brow of the hill two of the primeval woods of the Forest stand in the sea of heather, divided by a valley which warmth, shelter, and running waters combine to make into a paradise for the smaller Forest birds, while the two ancient woods are peopled by the carrion-crow, hawks, brown owls, and wood- peckers, which breed in the huge forest-trees of their hoary woods. The streams which soak out of the begs on the higher heath cut a narrow channel below the wood, and creeping from pool to pol, bordered with alder and the dwarf-willow of the Forest, collect into a miniature lake at the bottom of the valley. The banks of this stream rang with the song of the black- cap, nightingale, white-throats, and linnets. The briar- bushes and juniper-tufts held numbers of their nests, and in the tall furze-bushes which had survived the frosts of 1804, stone-chats, whin-chats, and the rare Dartford warblers were in incessant motion, the greater number being engaged in catching insects and carrying them to their young. In the ancient thorns and hollies which fringe the wood the turtle- doves were nesting in numbers. In one of those bushes so often seen in the natural Forest, in which a thorn, a crab-tree, and an oak have all grown up together, a turtle-dove was sitting on her nest. When she found that she was discovered, she at once fluttered to the ground, and lay apparently dis- abled on the turf. Willing to encourage the bird in the belief that its artifice was successful, we ran towards her, when she rose, and slowly flattered up the grassy glade, then rose and flew a few feet, and when at some sixty yards from the nest, took wing, and dashed off into the wood. This wood at Hill Top is one of the few ancient groves of the New Forest, in which the oak, and not the beech, is the dominant tree. But every species of native timber flourishes there— ash, yew, beech, the thorn, elm, and holly—while the browsing cattle keep the lawns clear of underwood, and crop the grass as level as a tennis-lawn.

To step from the cool shadow of the woods to the blazing sunlight of the heath, then to pass from the cocoa-nut scents of the blossoming furze to the quaking bog, where the waters lie in soak in mosses five feet deep, is one of the charms of Beaulieu Heath. The surface of these upland bogs is set with danger-signals, easily read by every forest rider,—tufts of cotton-grass, waving in the wind. Slender rods of aesee_aeea Rarmvi ‘g;r1, g tat of white. like a ninch of

white floss silk, grow from the moss cushions. Through the mosses, yellow and pink and golden green, white spikes of orcbis grow, so loosely rooted that they can be drawn out with their roots white and as clear of earth as if they had been standing in a vase of water. On the edge of the bog, but on firm ground, are little starry beds of sundew, whose plants are busy all day long catching the midges of the heath. Each plant is couched like a tiny scarlet star, patterning the ground like the tiles on the front of some Central Asian mosque.

The banks of the tidal river below are the haunt of a separate community of birds, or rather a place where the most unlike species meet and live together. Hen-pheasants with their young broods and wild ducks with their ducklings may be seen together on the paths through the woods feeding on the caterpillars which drop from the oak-trees. At low tide the pheasants, in their turn, visit the shingly shore, and join the wild ducks and their broods in roaming along the exposed river bottom seeking food. Near "Buckler's Hard," where the battle-ships were built in the old war, the woods re- cede from the river, and enclose a marshy meadow bordering on the stream. This meadow, planted with furze on the land side, set with tussocks and rushes towards the river-bank, and fringed by the thick woods, contains more varied bird-life than any similar area which the writer has seen in England. Redshanks and plovers nest in numbers in the marsh, and on the occasion of the writer's last visit, besides the young of these species, there were found in this meadow the nests of the white-throat, the black-cap, the meadow-pipit, the yellow- hammer, the whin-chat, the chaffinch, the greenfinch, and the pheasant. The numbers of nests were even more remarkable than their variety. The furze seemed to hold a nest in nearly every bush. Twelve linnets' nests, holding either eggs or young, were found in an area of not more than half an acre.