Work to rejuvenate Alice Holt Forest has been paused because of the predicted heavy weather coming our way this week.

Thousands of trees have already been lopped, stacked and made safe along the forest’s popular tracks. Walkers and cyclists are praising the efforts of Forestry England in letting in more light and creating more space and wider tracks, ensuring social-distancing rules can be followed by the hundreds of daily visitors.

Contractors began harvesting and thinning work early this year under the direction of Forestry England’s on-site team. They are targeting overgrown areas to create more room for young trees to grow and mature. The work also allows more sunlight to reach the forest floor, supporting other plants, wildlife and habitats.

How long the work will take depends on the weather. Meanwhile, lots of explanatory signs are popping up advising visitors to take care around the machines and lorries involved.

“We have paused the works and will finish when conditions allow,” said a Forestry England spokesman.

The works are carried out as part of long-term plans and ongoing care for the forest’s 850 hectares. The works are not costed separately so the exact spend is not known just now.

The spokesman added: “Thinning work is normally undertaken on a five-year cycle with the planning for each area starting a year or more ahead of work starting. This gives time to consider and manage the likely effect on forest visitors, wildlife and heritage features.”

Two machines are in use – a harvester removes the trees and a forwarder collects and stacks the removed timber. Foresters assess tree quality and health to identify those that should be removed.

Forestry England’s wildlife ranger also gets involved and will mark out any areas that should be avoided based on wildlife and sensitive breeding seasons or locations.

The spokesman continued: “We have a range of health-and-safety measures in place while these works are being carried out. Those visiting us for exercise have been very supportive and we appreciate their co-operation.”

Alice Holt saw a significant increase in visitor numbers during summer 2020 when the lockdown restrictions were eased. In the current lockdown they are experiencing fewer visitors as people stay local and stay home.

Attractions such as Go Ape, special-needs cycling and park runs are all currently unavailable, although the cafe is open and operating under strict guidelines to meet social-distancing rules. ‘Exciting and secret’ work has also closed the Gruffalo sculpture trail, easy access trail and Willows Green until February 15.

“Resumption of any group activities will be entirely led by the government’s guidance and restrictions,” said the spokesman. “As and when these change, we will review them and work with the groups affected to determine the best approach. Warning signs will be in place around the work and it’s vital all our visitors comply with the signs for their own safety, and that of others.”

The ancient forest once supplied timber for the building of Royal Navy ships in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is situated on the north-east county boundary of Hampshire, bordering Surrey, four miles south-west of Farnham and bisected by the A325 from Farnham to Petersfield at Bucks Horn Oak.