'The Secret Forest' 16 January 2018   
There was a very good turnout at the Camera Club to welcome Betty and Tony Rackham (both FRPS) for their presentation entitled The Secret Forest. During the club’s introduction it was mentioned that both Tony and Betty had been photographers most of their lives, starting out on a Box Brownie.
Betty started by saying that both she and Tony had been brought up in the New Forest, had been to school there and ended up lecturing at Brockenhurst College, where Tony became Head of Technology and Betty Head of Photography.
She gave us a potted history of the Forest’s existence, explaining the various influences that had made it what it is today. From Saxon times, when it was just common land; through William the Conqueror, who enclosed it as a hunting forest; its use as a resource for timber in the middle ages; and the re-establishment of common rights in the 19th century.
Betty explained that she and Tony would take it in turns to show various habitats in the New Forest and give us a close-up view of flora and fauna that most people would miss. She started with Ponds and said that, while you can see some unusual plants in these habitats, some are wild and others have been introduced and cultivated. We saw images of Royal Fern, which has clearly been planted on the edge of some ponds as ornamental features, but has also managed to establish itself in other areas as a wild plant. She said that white water-lilies are usually wild, but pink ones will have been introduced. She showed us close-up images of unusual and, in some cases, rare plants, including Burr Reed, Water Horsetail, Lesser Spearwort, Frog-bit, Bog Pimpernel and Pillwort.
Tony took over to talk about Streams and Rivers and Boggy Areas. He started with an image of baby Pond Skaters, followed by one of a forest of red Damsel Flies mating above a section of water weed. He then went on to say that many plants in these wet areas are insect eating because of the poor quality of the soil. He illustrated this with a series of images of various Sundews, including the English Sundew, which is larger than other sundews and, other than the New Forest, is more normally found in Scotland. Also Bladderwort, which catches organisms under water and Common Butterwort, which normally grows on mountains and whose leaves fold over insects that land on them.
There was a series of images of Gentians which, he said, flower in profusion some years and do not appear in others. Studies have suggested that the plants are there each year but do not always flower. Tony then presented an image showing that Brown Moth Caterpillars like to eat the buds and wondered whether this might be an explanation.
As the first half drew to a close, it had become clear that some plants that grow in the New Forest are not found anywhere else in England. This was again illustrated by Tony with an image of Club Moss which is rare and normally grows in mountains such as the Alps.
Betty began the second half talking about Plantations and Ancient Ornamental Woodland. She explained that, over many years conifers had been planted in stands amongst the ancient deciduous trees, but that this practice is being scaled back. She showed us some lovely images of woodland in autumn, together with pictures of coppiced Alder, Chestnuts, Crab Apples, ferns in the frost and flowering gorse covered in snow.
She also had shots of lichen in the autumn and a whole series of different fungi. Betty lamented the fact that many people come into the Forest and pick large numbers of fungi, perhaps to be used in the restaurant trade. She expressed her concern that this could prevent plants from reproducing and lead to a serious reduction in numbers and even extinction of some species.
Tony took over to talk about Heath and Lawns. He explains that some of the heathland had been cleared of undergrowth to provide Lawns of grass for the ponies and donkeys to graze on. In some areas the heather is beginning to re-establish itself. In these habitats we saw images, not only of pony and donkeys, but also various species of deer and reptiles. He was keen to tell us that 10% of adders in the New Forest are black adders.
Tony likes to take images of the Forest floor in close-up - what he calls “Fragments of Nature”. He shared some of these, including Nail Fungus, Heather florets and a lichen that presents tiny red fruiting bodies in winter.
During questions at the end, they were asked whether they have seen evidence of widely publicised plant diseases such as Ash dieback. Tony answered that, while some evidence can be seen from time to time, the plants usually recover well and the problem is not wide-spread anyway. Betty suggested that the biggest danger to the well-being of the Forest is the number of people that visit and their behaviour.
During the evening, it was clear that both Tony and Betty have a passion for the New Forest and their enthusiasm and knowledge made this a very entertaining evening. The audience showed their appreciation with a warm round of applause and, as they were leaving, could be heard discussing the excellent prints that had been displayed. DF