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Public Pressure on the Forest : Presentment from the New Forest Young Commoners Group

Here we welcome a guest post from Oliver Cook, Chair of the New Forest Forest Young Commoners Committee, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

As Young Commoners, we recognise the vital contribution that tourism plays in the local economy and through the very definition of “Commoning” we very much understand the concept of sharing this remarkable area that we are fortunate enough to live and work in with others.

Despite this we too are genuinely concerned by the effect that ever increasing public pressure is having on the Forest’s Landscape, ecology and traditional practices (particularly commoning). Greater visitor numbers is not something that is going to change, nor should it, however we believe that actions must be taken now to help manage the associated impact.

This is not the responsibility of any one body. We believe that it is the responsibility of all individuals and organisations that have a management role or other interest in the Forest. The commoning community is currently looking into how social media can help educate visitors of the Forest to ensure that they are better informed on how the commoning system works and how they can come and see our livestock without inadvertently putting themselves or our animals in danger. We are here today to call for support from the key Forest Authorities to assist us in our challenge, and we make the following four requests and recommendations:

  1. We believe that the quality of the experience for all users should be prioritised over the quantity of visitors that we can get to the Forest. Whereas other National Parks may struggle to attract visitors to support the tourism industry, our problem is how to manage the large volume of visitors that we already receive. Our first request therefore is that there is a shift in policy away from the Forest’s Authorities proactively marketing the New Forest as a tourist destination, which includes promoting arranged events/attractions.
  2. We echo the CDA’s concerns with the increasing number of organised events in the Forest and their impact on commoning activities. The difficulties of trying to navigate the Forest roads with a livestock trailer when there is yet another organised cycle event on or being prevented from “drifting” a particular area due to concerns that there is another organised event on or that there are simply too many people, are specific examples of activities which are collectively beginning to reduce the enthusiasm of the next generation of commoners to get involved. Clearly the implications of this do not need to be explained.We suggest that an effort is made to encourage organised events to take place on Private land which is not as environmentally sensitive and where events are not going to provide obstacles to commoning activities.
  3. We are very concerned by the lack of understanding that our visitors (from both nearby and afar) have about the New Forest. We feel there needs to be a greater effort to inform and educate people on the “do and donts” of our “working Forest”. We urge all Forest Authorities to be more proactive in this regard, whether it be at the Forest Campsites, carparks or on various social media platforms.
  4. The enforcement of the Forestry Commission’s bylaws should be a method of last resort, however, we believe that their profile should be raised and their messages promoted. Also, their enforcement must be one of the tools in the toolbox to be deployed in certain circumstances when there is a clear repeated breach due to a lack of respect for the Forest. We believe that there is currently an impression given that there is no will for them to be enforced, surely this is not a healthy impression to give.

Let me be clear, we are not asking to have the Forest to ourselves, we are simply asking for help with mitigating the impacts of a problem, which if not addressed, we believe will see a decline in the enthusiasm of the next generation of commoners to get involved.

Oliver Cook. a practicing Commoner, is Chair of the New Forest Forest Young Commoners Committee. This has been shared with his express permission, and represents the view of the New Forest Young Commoners Group.

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Recreational Harm : Presentment from the Commoners Defence Association

Here we welcome a guest post from Dr Tony Hockley, Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

The September court heard several presentments on pressures and abuse of the New Forest. The CDA supports such concerns.

Commoners have long been involved in educational efforts. But education alone will not suffice for companies that see the Forest as a profit opportunity, or for those who care only for their own entertainment.

Enforcement action is a sad necessity. In 2005 the Forestry Commission prosecuted one of the kite-buggy riders using Wilverley Plain*.  That sent a warning to others.  Similar resolve is needed on other routine breaches of the byelaws.

I would highlight two current issues that typify the challenges that can only be resolved by the Forestry Commission:

  • The Ordnance Survey, another public body, has started to facilitate mountain-bike trespass; allowing subscribers to its online mapping service to upload their routes for others to follow. The Forest is now covered with these unlawful routes.
  • On 2nd December the Forest will face its first commercial event in the hours of darkness. It is sponsored by a headtorch company, and hosted by Foxlease. For £30 entrants are offered the thrill of a night-time incursion into Forest. The company says that the racer will have: “a wealth of wildlife to keep your mind occupied”.  **

Both of these are abuses of the Forest that the Forestry Commission could and should stop. It seems that the tranquility of the Forest is being sold to anyone capable of making money from it whilst we all stand by. Our livestock and this special place deserve much better and we would urge to Court to do whatever it can to make this case.

Dr Tony Hockley is a Practicing Commoner and Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association.  This has been shared with his express permission, and represents the view of the CDA.

* Verderers Court minutes, January 2006 (item 2006/2082).
** This event is promoted by Maverick Race as part of their Silva Dark Series of night time trail running events, Silva is the headtorch sponsor.  http://www.maverick-race.com/races/silva-dark-hampshire-2017

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Saving the Future of the Forest: a Verderers Court Presentment

Here we welcome a guest post from one of our Members, Ian Thew of Burley, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

Official Verderer, members of the Verderers Court, good morning and thank you for this opportunity to speak to you..My name is Ian Thew and I live deep within a New Forest Inclosure and for many years I have been an active New Forest Sporting Licencee; in consequence of which, I’m probably more aware of what is happening on the Forest than most people.

I am here today to express my fears for the future of this unique place that we call the New Forest. The New Forest National park is the smallest and in many ways the most fragile of all the National parks but contains more special designations protecting fauna and flora than any other. During the past few months, I have witnessed enumerable off-road and night-time cyclists; many, so called, wild campers; overnight camper vans in Forest car parks; several incidents of fly-tipping and on two occasions my wife and I have been subjected to, all night long, heavy base music bouncing across the Forest and, on another occasion, we had to deal with a party of rowdy scouts at 1.30 in the morning. I could go on but I do not wish to waste the time of this court; I am merely trying to demonstrate the enormity and the variety of the abuse that this Forest is being subjected to.

It is obvious, from the overflowing car parks and the masses of gazebos and tents that sprout-up like small villages across the Forest during the summer, that there are just too many visitors for this fragile environment to cope with. At the moment, recreation is taking precedence over conservation and protection of the environment which is in direct contradiction of the Sandford Principle.

There is no doubt that visitors are here to stay and, as one who makes part of his living from tourism, their business is welcome. But, for the sake of the future of the New Forest, their numbers must be limited to a sustainable level and their activities must be restricted to those that do not inflict harm on this very special environment. The ground rules should be clearly apparent to all who come here so that ignorance cannot be used as an excuse by those who offend and, similarly, it should be policed and there should be provision to enable those who are protecting the interests of the Forest to penalize or prosecute those who choose to ignore these rules.

Enforcement of the by-laws on the New Forest Crown Lands is the responsibility of the Forestry Commission who seem to be reluctant to prosecute offenders. Furthermore, we have been told that budgetary restrictions have reduced the numbers of front-line people on the ground. But this cannot be used as an excuse for the ruination of the New Forest and the necessary funds must be made available to enable sufficient policing and prosecution when necessary.

This budgetary shortfall is now common knowledge and I am often rendered speechless and helpless when informed by offending, anarchistic visitors that there is nothing I, or anyone else, can do about them. Surely it’s time that something is done, before it is too late, to stop these people, who are hell bent on destroying that which we all love and cherish and that which the majority of people come here to enjoy.

That his Forest is under threat is obvious to all; so what are we going to tell our grandchildren or our great grandchildren when they ask us why we didn’t do something to save it before it was too late?

I request that the Verderers use the authority of this court to urge the Forestry Commission to police the New Forest and enforce its by-laws and, similarly, to urge the New Forest National Park Authority to exercise their duties in accordance with the Sandford Principle.

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“Look, Don’t Pick” – The Arguments

Over the months since the Forestry Commission announced their “Look, Don’t Pick” Policy for Fungi on The New Forest SSSI on the Crown Lands under their stewardship, we’ve heard a number of arguments against this move.  The NFA support the Forestry Commission’s policy as an important step to honouring the protections the habitat of the New Forest has, and ought to have in practice.  In that spirit we offer our rebuttals below:

Foraging is wonderful and magically connects people to nature.

Fine, just not fungi + here, please.

The New Forest is amongst the most highly protected habitat we have.  Would you challenge the existing prohibitions on fungi foraging on Wildlife Trust or National Trust land? The New Forest SSSI has the status of a National Nature Reserve.  

We could quibble that you shouldn’t need to ingest nature to enjoy and appreciate it, but then again Chris Packham once said he started his journey eating tadpoles he’d found.  No accounting for tastes. Foraging can foster a relationship for many with nature, but this is a protected habitat, we’re just asking those who actually care about nature, to respect its protection and find their fungi elsewhere. 

We’ve done this for thousands of years (Entitlement vs loss of habitat)

You speak of what’s been done for “thousands of years”, that includes loads of behaviours that are no longer appropriate in the face of unprecedented population growth, habitat loss and climate change.  Butterfly collectors once showed their appreciation of Lepidoptera by popping them in killing jars then mounting them on pins.

More than one in ten UK species is now threatened with extinction.  The house is burning, and you’re concerned with raiding the larder.

Where is your proof of the so-called gangs? (Denial)

They and their effects have been seen  by the Forestry Commission Keepers and Ecologists, the National Trust Rangers, the Hampshire Fungi Recording Group, other local surveyors, and many of our members.  Last Autumn the Forestry Commission intercepted 140 groups and/or individuals as part of their “disruption” campaign, seizing and destroying amounts over the then “personal” limit.

You’ll forgive us if those of us out walking don’t whip out our cameras and ask strangers engaged in illegal activities to pose nicely to satisfy your curiosity.  Or that we haven’t photographed every square fungi populated inch of the Forest ahead of time so that when it is subsequently stripped of fungi we could provide a before and after (hopefully recorded at exactly the same angle for the before and after).  The experiences and observations of many individuals, seem to count for nothing to those in denial.  

If you are that sceptical would a photo of a group of people holding bags in a wood convince you of anything? Or before and after pictures? If the FC put wildlife monitoring cameras by some patches of rare fungi, that would be rightly deemed too big brother (although police have said a private land owner doing this to catch similar acts would be perfectly legal).

You are criminalising ordinary people.

Similar bans already exist, the inclusive language of the Epping Forest byelaws have allowed the Keepers employed by the Corporation of the City of London to enforce its policy against fungi forage.  Meanwhile the CROW Act which opened up larger areas of countryside to Ramblers has an overarching ban on foraging on the nationwide network of Rights of Way, and the Right to Roam areas.

This is a SSSI, the FC already had the right to authorise picking of fungi under the consents they have from Natural England.  Their byelaws ban removal of a range of things that are not currently enforced, and it is only a trick of taxonomy that fungi are excluded (FC byelaws prohibit: dig up, remove, cut or injure any tree, shrub or plant, whether living or not, or remove the seeds therefrom, or dig up or remove any soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals of any kind).  It is as much a policy decision to choose not to enforce all the elements of the byelaws as to restrict fungi foraging under their SSSI consents and the precautionary principle to protect the entire habitat.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the legislative instrument that defines the protections for wild animals and plants and defines Sites of Special Scientific Interest along with their extra protections and the statutory obligations of their landowners.  Rare species found on the Schedule 8 list, often referred to as the Red Band or Red List Species, are protected from being picked, uprooted or destroyed (section 13 subsection 1), and further from being sold, transported for sale, or even advertised for sale (subsection 2).  These are arrestable offences, the CPS guidance for prosecutions :

Most offences are punishable on summary conviction by six month’s imprisonment and/or by a maximum fine of £5,000 (level 5). Where an offence is committed in respect of more than one bird, nest, egg etc the maximum fine shall be determined as if the person had been convicted of a separate offence in respect of each such item.

In addition to offences being multiplied by number of items taken, the law also gives power of forfeiture: 

Under s.21 (6) b a court may in the same circumstances order the forfeiture of any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing used to commit the offence found in the offender’s possession. Forfeiture of a vehicle is often likely to be an effective means of deterring repeat offences relating, for example, to rare birds and eggs as well as of incapacitating an offender’s future ability to conduct such activities. ….

The section 13 protections apply ANYWHERE in the Wild, not just SSSI.  The Red List includes fungi species such as the tasty, targeted and allegedly medicinal Hericium erinaceus (bearded tooth).

Hericium erinaceus in the New Forest

On SSSI’s intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging flora or fauna by reason of which land is of special interest is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 28 (P).   The New Forest is one of the few SSSI which have fungi as one of these notified features of special interest. Whether or not the fungi harvested is one of the notified species, the ancillary consequences of the activity of foraging, including trampling and disturbance may be covered by this as well. Hefty penalties invoked here may give prosecutions considerable bite.  Damage to SSSI could be prosecuted, and yield realistically punitive fines (£10k-20k).  Of course the burden of proof is less straightforward than the section 13 offences, but I’m describing this to show the extent to which some fungi foraging activities were already criminal, and the legal basis which obligates the Forestry Commission to protect the notified features of the SSSI it manages.

This is Common Land – don’t we have the right to forage from it as part of rights of Common?

The Crown Lands are not actually registered commons as applies under the Commons Registrations Act, and so would not implicitly include any rights that may be extended to registered commons either under that act or in common law.

The modern legal framework for the Forest rights as applied to the New Forest are in the New Forest Acts which clearly defines rights of Common for the Crown Lands, these 1) don’t include Foraging 2) can only can be claimed by those occupying land with registered rights attached.

The ban is not scientific, because we have studies that show that harvesting fruiting bodies doesn’t have a detrimental effect.  (Selective research)

Compared to botany, mycology is positively medieval.  Not enough is known. We’re only just now coming to appreciate the complexity of the relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and the trees they service symbiotically.

There are only have a handful of studies on a few species, some not in comparable locations/habitats, that show negligible effect on individual fungi organisms of picking fruiting bodies, but not much on the long term viability of a given species and genetic diversity over time given the disruption to dispersal mechanisms.  

These studies do not consider the knock on effects on the rest of the ecosystem, putting aside the fruiting bodies as a food source, at least 600 (likely over 1000) species of invertebrate are reliant on them for their life-cycle (many are species specific).  Committed eggs don’t have the luxury of jumping to unpicked neighbours.  There are no studies showing ancillary effects on the rest of the ecosystem, therefore no substantial body of evidence for sustainability.  

Furthermore, the “sustainability” argument shouldn’t even apply on a SSSI with fungi as one of its notified features.  An attitude that recognises only supporting science in isolation, claims an absent weight of evidence, and ignores the bigger picture, is utterly self-serving.

Europe is a free for all.

This is simply not true.  France and Spain have no go areas.  There are licensing schemes in Italy and Poland and other eastern European Countries.  It is unlikely you would be allowed to pick fungi at all in Poland’s National Parks which include Strict Protection Zones, no go areas for any human interaction — reasons given include fungi conservation along with other habitat considerations, some parks even have buffer zones excluding people from an area outside the park.  Other European countries have similarly strict regimes if they have signed up to the level of habitat protection promoted by the IUCN and the Biosphere initiative.

Just because European cultures supposedly favour a tradition of fungi forage doesn’t mean they are blind to the need for conservation.  The Crown Lands of the New Forest have the highest levels of habitat and landscape protections and designations available in UK law.

And Finally, that old, ahem, chestnut: It’s just like picking Blackberries!

NO IT ISN’T (sorry for shouting):

  • Blackberry population is much greater and currently sustainable.
  • Blackberry pickers take only the fruit, not the entire visible portion of the plant.  In the protected landscape of a National Park the autumn display of fungi should be left for all to see.
  • Blackberry fruits are only harvested by pickers when they are ripe, they may be eaten by wildlife before this, and when pickers miss the optimal ripeness opportunity, after. Fungi are being removed when they are seen, not left for an optimal ripening.  If picked when still at “button” stage, they have not released spores.
  • The seeds in blackberry fruit are part of its distribution mechanism, the amount left unpicked, and fed upon by wildlife sustainably spreads the next generation.  Fungi fruiting bodies contain spores that go unreleased if they are picked, and may contain insect eggs, interrupting both distribution mechanisms, depleting the next generation of invertebrates.
  • Blackberries tend to conveniently, for pickers, grow on the sunny side of rides and paths, much blackberry picking is done from here, an inherently more robust location, without, or with much less disturbance to undergrowth.  Fungi are spread throughout the woodland floor. The trampling damage by harvesters alone is of grave concern, and contributes to potentially damaging operations which are restricted on SSSI.
  • The fruiting mechanism in plants is much better understood.  While there are studies that allege sustainability of picking based on individual mycellium continuing to produce the fruiting bodies, there is no body of work to show the extent to which this may stress the mycellium, or degree to which the organisms other ecosystem functions are altered by the energy and nutrient that must be expended in that process.

So again, NO IT ISN’T!!! (sorry for shouting, again).  To be glib (but no less right): no one is worried about the decline of the blackberry, get back to us if this changes.
 
If you are using the blackberry analogy, you are either willfully ignorant, or presume your audience is gullible. You should drop that line of argument, it makes you sound like an idiot or a con man.

Limited apologies if you feel we’ve oversimplified the case against (done for style, and attempted brevity).  We’ll welcome nuanced discussion, and well founded arguments, should they arise.

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The Wild Trout Trust and New Forest River Restorations

For some perspective on some of the issues raised by river restorations we contacted the Wild Trout Trust, themselves deliverers or partners in many river restoration projects addressing similar issues to those met by the Latchmore proposal.  As it turns out, they had made an advisory visit in September 2015; this was undertaken by their Conservation Officer, Mike Blackmore.

Their advisory visit programme is “very much focussed on identifying good and poor trout habitat and what can be done practically to make the poor good. Mike looked at a 1 km reach of the Brook and a 500m reach of a tributary, the Thompson’s Castle Stream.” 

Their key findings were:

  • Valuable wild trout habitat is under threat by the status quo condition of the Latchmore Brook and tributaries.
  • Channel incision and accelerated morphological processes as outlined by the JBA Consulting report and as observed during the site visit are limiting the abundance and quality of marginal habitat (important for freshwater invertebrates and juvenile trout). These factors are also likely to be significantly impacting the viability of spawning habitat in the main channel.
  • Reconnecting paleo-meanders will result in a net increase in habitat for wild trout (as a result of increased channel length) and is likely to help protect existing spawning habitat by reducing the rate of channel incision and the magnitude of cut and fill events.
  • The overall paucity of in-stream and low-level bankside woody habitat features significantly limit the abundance, diversity and quality of cover and refuge habitat for trout.
  • Habitat quality and diversity is being significantly reduced by over-grazing and bank poaching by livestock.
  • Further habitat enhancement, including tree planting and the introduction and retention of woody habitat features, will be required to provide a good quality and diverse habitat for wild trout.
  • Improvement in the wild trout population of the Latchmore Brook and the aquatic ecosystem upon which it is dependent will require a significant change in land management including improved protection of the riverbanks from grazing livestock.

Their conclusions recognize the problems with the status quo and acknowledge the benefits of the project to fish species and wildlife. They also suggest measures which would make the habitat optimal for trout species, promotion of stream shading scrub, and fencing to prevent livestock poaching scrub and vegetation bankside, which would fly in the face of traditional forest management, and would even restrict the amenity in ways to which even the protesters would object.  How would Forest users react to the sight of a fenced off stream, with access only through gates?

Scrub does vary over time, and we know that historically there has been, at times, little scrub along stretches of the stream on the open forest.  Even now, there is about a kilometre stretch with next to no riparian shade.  The Commoners often push for active scrub removal to create more grazing (The NFA will usually push for key nectar species to be left where possible), and of course the livestock themselves will have nibbles that hamper growth.  

So, neither the current stream nor the proposed change would be absolutely ideal for fish species, but here’s where the point is being missed by objectors’ narrow focus.  Habitats are complex.  What benefits some species may be detrimental to others.  The biodiverse rich habitat of the New Forest is not managed solely for any single species.  Scrub removal may warm some of the unshaded water, but this will benefit the Dragonflies, even if it narrows the tolerances for the fish.

Despite the insufficient scrub, both historically and at present, fish tolerate the conditions in the Brook.  Restoring the meanders will recreate the more natural morphology that benefits these species.  The claim that changing the stream will frighten away shy fish, is refuted by many the projects elsewhere aimed at wild fish habitat improvement which restore meanders (some other successful projects go even further and create meanders), including projects directed at fisheries (over 900 in the RRC database), and even more strikingly here in the New Forest, by the fish themselves.  Brown Trout were recorded spawning in a restored section at Harvestslade within three months of the completion of that project.

We thank the Wild Trout Trust for their permission to share their findings (particularly their director, Shaun Leonard who provided the bullet point summary quoted above), and for their candour and generosity in response to our queries.  We commend them for their fine works in implementing and promoting habitat restoration. According to Environment Agency monitoring, their upper Itchen project has produced a four-fold increase in trout biomass, compared to unimproved, control sites.

For further information on some of their projects, and ways to help, on the WTT website: http://www.wildtrout.org/content/projects-1. 

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Chalara Ash Dieback Reaches The New Forest

At tonight’s Consultative Panel, the Deputy Surveyor announced the first laboratory confirmed case of ash dieback within the New Forest National Park.  This was discovered in trees near Picket Post.

Chalara Ash Dieback is a disease caused by fungal infestation of Hymenoscyphus fraxineus.  This fungus originated in Asia, where it is benign to the native Ash species.  The disease was first identified in Europe as Chalara Fraxinea in Poland in 1992. It is devastating to European species of Ash, and is now firmly entrenched across mainland Europe.  2012 saw the first confirmed cases in the UK in a Buckinghamshire nursery in imported plants from the Netherlands.   East Anglia, Kent and Essex have had the highest concentration of cases so far, but the outbreak is spreading to the west, with cases in the wild in Wales, and past the Forest to Cranbourne Chase and further west in southern England.

The fungus produces tiny fruiting bodies on the leaf stalks of infected trees.  By the following summer these produce spores which spread to other trees via their leaves.  A slightly different form of the fungus then migrates into the branches and trunk where its mycellium interrupts the flow of water and nutrients, slowly starving the tree.

Little can be done about it, there is no treatment.  It kills small trees very quickly.  Mature trees may be severely weakened, then killed by secondary pathogens.  Some survive indefinitely in a weakened state, and there may be various degrees of resistance in these, although they remain infected carriers. The only active practical measure that may be taken, as the spores are spread in the leaf litter of infected trees, is basic biosecurity, clean your boots off between walks in different woodlands, limiting transport of, or treating wood harvested from infected trees, etc.

Small comfort, but the Forest landscape will be less impacted than much of the countryside, as Ash is less common on acid forest soils, typically present here in wet/riverine woodlands.  That does not reduce its threat to the overall biodiversity of the country, nor the potential impact on the forest’s habitat assemblies that include Ash.

One resistant tree has been identified in the UK, and several on the continent, which may support future propagation and DNA fingerprint tests for other resistant trees.  Panel Chair and botanist Clive Chatters observed that this is not as bad as Dutch Elm disease. That outbreak was exacerbated by the lack of genetic diversity in Elm (once intensively nursery produced), whereas in Ash in the wild “there is a vast amount of diversity”.  This diversity is important as the likelihood of extant resistant plants is increased. While the vector for the disease is in the leaves, on a typical Ash plantation it would be a nonsense to hoover them up, Clive noted that “in our wood pastures, where the Commoners turn out their stock, the stock hoover up all those leaves, particularly in the wet woodlands where they get in there this time of year, they’re absolutely hoovering up that fallen green. And I think the forest will be very interesting to monitor as a model for how things may cope in the future.”

Much more information about Chalara Ash Dieback, including how to report possible sightings, is available from this Forestry Commission page: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/ashdieback. 
A 2012 Episode of the BBC Radio 4 Programme The Long View contrasts Dutch Elm Disease and Ash Dieback .  And their programme from nature writer Richard Mabey, Mabey in the Wild of 3rd July 2013, featured a discussion of New Forest trees including Elm, Holly and Beech with Clive Chatters.

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NFA Comment on Dibden Bay

The perennial threat of development of Dibden Bay by Associated British Ports (ABP) for a container port appears to be back on the table according to stories yesterday from both the BBC and the Southampton Daily Echo, with ABP complaining of limited capacity and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond saying he would support the development which would no longer be subject to a local planning inquiry, but would be considered a National Infrastructure Project.

Our Chair, John Ward, has commented:

Dibden Bay at Low Tide - geograph.org.uk - 386918
The harmful impacts to wildlife and to the landscape of the New Forest that would be caused by developing Dibden Bay as a container port would be no less today, tomorrow or in the coming decade than they would have been in 2004 when a lengthy planning inquiry led to the rejection of a similar proposal.

The one thing of major significance to have happened since then has been the designation of the New Forest National Park, recognising that in addition to its massive importance for habitats and wildlife the New Forest is one of ‘the finest landscapes in England’. Government national planning policy emphasises the great weight that should be given to conserving the landscape and scenic beauty of National Parks.

Dibden Bay is immediately adjacent to the boundary of the New Forest National Park. There is no hinterland, no buffer zone. At present on one side of this line there is Forest heathland and trees and on the other the environmentally important marsh and reclaimed land of Dibden Bay. Apart from the destruction of valuable habitat, a container port would bring vast cranes reaching far into the sky, 24 hour intensive lighting and greatly increased traffic not just from transporting containers but serving all of the ancillary activity that would spill out across surrounding areas.

The west side of Southampton Water is already a busy area jostling against the fragile special qualities of the New Forest. It is no place for further major development.

Fracking the Forest?

With the Government taking the decision on fracking away from Lancashire County Council on 6th October 2016, this brief review of our position and the possibility of hydraulic fracturing in this region could be of use.

The NFA support the position of the Campaign For National Parks, that fracking in or under our National Parks has significant environmental impacts – polluting groundwater, damaging the landscape and ruining tranquility, and is inappropriate for the setting.  While we’ve been given to understand that the New Forest’s geology would not be attractive to fracking, we do not want to see this for any of our National Parks or other protected areas. Additionally the precedent it establishes for putting supposed infrastructure demands over these designations is truly chilling. 33 years ago an application by Shell UK to drill for oil and gas in Denny Inclosure was seen off, a battle we shouldn’t have to fight all over again.

Last year, when the Government was in the midst of its U-Turn on a promise not to license fracking in National Parks (eventually arriving at the position that they would allow drilling from just outside National Parks to go under them), Durham University published an article ranking the Parks likelihood for hydraulic fracturing.

New Forest National Park: (Geology: http://bit.ly/1zPvEi0)
A relatively young geology and the rocks close to the surface have no shale gas, shale oil, or coal bed methane potential. Oil and gas have been found in rocks beneath areas close to the New Forest, and there has been exploration in the national park, but there is no evidence of any oil- or gas-bearing shales that would be of interest to fracking companies.

The Briefing Note puts the Forest in its middle Amber (fracking unlikely) category (along with Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, and Northumberland).  It listed four national parks as Red (fracking possible): North York Moors, Peak District, South Downs, and Yorkshire Dales (rocks of possible interest to companies looking to frack for shale gas, shale oil, or coalbed methane).

Whilst researching other goings on at the Verderers Court, this item from 2014 popped up that suggests that fracking could come closer to the Forest than we had supposed:

2014/
7364
HAMPSHIRE MINERALS & WASTE – OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT – REPORT ON MEETING ON 5TH JUNE 2014

Mrs Westerhoff attended the meeting on behalf of the Court. The discussion centred around fracking. Two areas have been identified as potential sites, one being The Weald (as far west as Winchester) and the other is in Dorset reaching east to Thorney Hill adjacent to the New Forest. Whilst the New Forest could be fracked in the future, Mrs Westerhoff understood it would only happen under exceptional circumstances and would be subject to the European legislation protecting the SAC.

–Verderers Minutes June 2014
DISCHARGE

With the unknown shape of the Brexit plan, the reassurance of protection from the SAC (Special Area of Conservation, a European designation), is under threat unless those protections are formally and thoroughly back-stopped in UK legislation and policy.

The most recent Hampshire Minerals and Waste Plan was adopted in 2013, before the more recent changes in policy and legislation. Subsequently, December 2015 they updated the On-shore Oil & Gas FAQs  (60 pages) and in February 2016 the Hampshire Authorities adopted the Oil and gas development Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) (90 pages).  From the FAQ:

Oil and gas exploration in National Parks

There are known oil and gas resources within Hampshire’s two National Parks and exploration already takes place within the South Downs National Park. There are other examples nationally of where oil and gas development takes place within designated areas. This includes western Europe’s largest oilfield at Wytch Farm, Dorset and sites in Surrey all of which are located within designated areas for nature conservation. The potential impact of a proposal on designations will be taken into account in detail at the planning application stage. The Government has recently announced new planning guidance on unconventional oil and gas development in areas of designation such as National Parks, AONBs and heritage sites (see question 23). There are also policies in the adopted Hampshire Minerals & Waste Plan in relation to minerals developments in designated areas (including Policy 4: Protection of the designated landscape) which will be used to guide whether planning permission should be given in such locations.

In December 2015, there was a vote in the House of Commons regarding hydraulic fracturing in National Parks. MPs voted in favour of allowing hydraulic fracturing to take place 1,200 metres below National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, as long as the drilling (and associated infrastructure) takes place from outside the designated areas.

There are no licences in the New Forest National Park administrative area.

The Weald in the South Downs National Park is a target for fracking, and would be a potential testbed for the 1200 metre rule.  In September 2016 their Authority rejected a plan for horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing.  The applicant believes “this proposal would be supported by the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State in the event of an appeal.”  Given that the British Geological Survey (BGS) estimate 2.2 and 8.6 billion barrels of shale oil beneath the Weald Basin, that appeal could be in with a chance as that may be deemed nationally significant.  We may need to lend our support to our neighbours should this go forward.

The “Reverse the decision to allowing fracking under our national parks.” parliament petition closed on June 19th 2016, with just 38,732 signatures, not enough to be granted a debate(>100k), but enough (>10k) to trigger a Government response, which includes these provisos about protected areas that leave us feeling much less protected:

The protected areas in which hydraulic fracturing will be prohibited have been set out through the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations, which were formally approved by both Houses of Parliament in December 2015. These regulations ensure that the process of hydraulic fracturing cannot take place above 1200 metres in National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), World Heritage Sites and areas that are most vulnerable to groundwater pollution.

Rather than enabling operations in protected areas, these regulations introduce an additional protection to our most sensitive areas and complement the strong protections already provided by the planning system. Moreover, it is worth emphasising that the regulations do not in themselves grant any form of permission for “associated hydraulic fracturing” to take place under any of these sites. They simply establish the principle that hydraulic fracturing should be prohibited by legislation in the specified areas and down to the specified depth. A company looking to develop shale will still need to obtain all the necessary permissions, like planning and environmental permits – and any proposals will necessarily be subject to further detailed consideration and scrutiny under our legal and regulatory regimes.

Orwellian newspeak at its finest “an additional protection to our most sensitive areas”, these sensitive areas would not need additional protection, if they weren’t under threat from this activity in the first place.  They should simply be removed from the equation entirely.  Putting an arbitrary depth of 1200 metres also ignores the fact that those 1200 metres (and the water table) will be drilled through to get to that level, that hole, however well engineered will be connected to the area into which fracking fluid will be pumped at high pressure.  What could possibly go wrong?  Fracking was temporarily suspended in 2011 after earthquakes were caused near Blackpool.

In the 16th December 2015 vote on the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015 — Extension of Prohibition of Shale Gas Extraction, New Forest East MP Dr. Julian Lewis spoke against the regulation publicly, but abstained from the vote. New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne voted with the Government to allow fracking under National Parks. This is all the more troubling as the west of the Forest is in closest proximity to proposed sites, as noted by David Harrison, Lib Dem councillor, member of the New Forest National Park Authority, “I imagine the west of New Forest will be mainly affected.”

The NFA discussed fracking issues at the November 2015 Council meeting, and although it is unlikely that the Forest’s geology would attract fracking per se, we’re completely against this approach both in principle, and the possibility that it would open the door to similar exploitation. These fights are perennial and ongoing.

The protections offered to designated landscapes and habitats, National Parks and SSSI, et.al. must  be honoured and remain meaningful.

Cables Buried At Buckland Rings


There….

Buckland Rings is an Iron Age Hillfort (and modern day informal BMX track) situated on the National Park’s border with Lymington.  To its south and east ran a 33v overhead cable which spoilt  the setting of the fort from the adjacent open access.

The cable has now been buried as part of Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks £15m project to underground 90km of overhead lines in AONB and National Parks in North Scotland and Central Southern England.  A few weeks after the burial no evidence of the work can be seen on the ground.

… and gone.

NFA are now championing the burying of the cable from Hicheslea west along the old Ringwood train line via Slap Bottom to Bagnam.  If anyone out there has an overhead cable in the New Forest National Park they particularly dislike, they should should contact planning@newforestassociation.org

— Graham Baker, Chair, Planning Committee

(web editor’s note: perhaps we could reduce our planning committee’s workload by only notifying them of any overhead cables anyone is actually fond of….)

The Forestry Commission’s New Forest Fungi Policy

The New Forest Association are pleased that the Forestry Commission are implementing a “Look, Don’t Pick” rule regarding fungi foraging on the New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest under their stewardship. This affirms the protection our habitat deserves. This is consistent with their obligations to the protections of the SSSI, their management of the New Forest SSSI as a National Nature Reserve and their powers to authorise or deny picking of fungi under consent from Natural England.  This brings the FC policy in line with the ban on fungi foraging on the Commons the National Trust, and the Nature Reserves the Wildlife Trust manage within the Forest.

We hope that enforcement may be hard hitting on  pickers taking undue advantage of the forest whether commercial or not.  Enforcement may also be soft and educational for casual foragers.  The message is the same, this is a protected habitat and landscape, leave the fungi to nature and the autumn display for all to see.

It brings the FC back in line with the guidance 1998 Wild Mushroom Pickers Code of Conduct, the misreading of which was the source of the arbitrary 1.5 kg “limit”, which has absolutely no basis in law. The code clearly meant the limit for undesignated habitats, not SSSI  or National Nature Reserves.  An allowance should never have been implemented at all in this protected habitat.

NCC Consent 25 January 1988 (subsequently under Natural England)
The Nature Conservancy Council issued the following consent to the FC regarding the above operation:-  “The collection of fungi as authorised by the Forestry Commission, subject to periodic review by the FC and the NCC.”

FC/Verderers/English Nature Declaration of Intent 25 July 1995
“The Forestry Commission will continue to manage the New Forest as an area with the status of a National Nature Reserve and to maintain the nature conservation interests for which it is designated under national and international legislation or agreements.”

In July 2015 the NFA launched its campaign for a very specific ban on fungi harvest from the SSSI on the Crown Lands of the New Forest.  In doing this we’ve sought to bring about best practice under existing laws, byelaws and guidance.  After careful consideration we decided that calling for an Epping Forest style ban was the most clear cut solution, with its obvious precedent.  We’re taking the precautionary principle that on a SSSI, especially one including fungi amongst its notified features, under heavy pressure from recreation and other use, that the fungi should be protected, part and parcel with the whole of this habitat.

The NFA campaigns for the habitat and heritage of the Forest.  In entering into this campaign we consulted with our own ecologists and local mycologists. We’ve consulted with and had support from the British Mycological Society, the Fungi Conservation Trust, Natural England, Buglife, Plantlife and the National Trust, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (the latter two had already banned fungi foraging on SSSI land they manage).  The fruiting bodies of the fungi are not merely food for other fauna, but are depended upon by at least 600 species of invertebrate using them as micro-habitats to fulfill their life cycles.

The New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest is in one of the most densely populated National Parks, surrounded on many sides by conurbation with insufficient alternative greenspace, and mounting recreation pressure.   As open access land, it is easily accessible to all users, and an easy touch for volume foragers.  SSSI is a designation that confers habitat protection under UK law. The New Forest is also a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Natura 2000 designations or initiatives under EU law, and a National Nature Reserve.  The Natural History Museum picked the New Forest as one of two biodiverse rich sites on which to base their ongoing climate change study.  It is a gem, one of the crown jewels of natural biodiversity in Britain, Europe and the World.  We ask all to understand importance of this ecosystem and the need for its protection, and that they respect its protection and find their fungi elsewhere.

For Immediate Release

We will be examining and addressing some of the counterarguments and myths surrounding this policy and fungi conservation in “Look, Don’t Pick – The Issues”. (available soon)