A FIVE-YEAR project to transform a Hampshire woodland has seen it bloom into a wildlife haven.

The Forestry Commission is reaping the fruits of its work at the previously overgrown Whiteley Pastures, near Wickham .

The new open areas have benefited wildflowers such as wood violets, wood anemone, yellow archangel and lesser celendine.

They support butterflies such as the rare pearl-bordered fritillary, which became extinct here but returned last year.

The newly planted areas are likely to encourage nightjar to the forest, an extremely rare and protected ground-nesting bird, which can be identified at dusk when it puts on its own musical concert of “churring”

and “chirruping”. Historically the area, part of the ancient Forest of Bere, was home to one of the largest populations in Hampshire.

Once planted with non-native conifer trees, such as western hemlock, it was dark with overgrown pathways in the wood.

Now sunlight is bursting through on to the cleared forest floor, enabling birds, wildflowers, butterflies and other wildlife to re-colonise.

But the future is even brighter because thousands of native broadleaf trees such as oak, ash, sweet cherry and alder have been planted for generations to come.

Simon James, Forestry Commission beat forester for Whiteley Pastures, said: “The transformation has encouraged local people such as dog walkers who live in the area to visit the forest more regularly.

“The work over the last few years with heavy harvesting machinery can look destructive as it creates a lot of mud and mess in the short term.

“But forestry is a long term business and as the natural processes take over nature bounces back into life with abundance.”