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Presentment April: England Coast Path

England Coast Path proposal shows new Rights of Way on one map (middle right), Habitat Exclusions on another in a different document (top), and both maps do not show the relevant Site of Special Scientific Interest (bottom), a small fraction of which is in the Exclusion.

I’d hoped that my previous presentment on the England Coast Path would be the last, and thank the court yet again for its inclusion in unusual circumstances.

The complexity of the proposal demands a bit more, the longest of the 31 (of 66) published to date, including a Sensitive Features Appraisal running 222 pages, nearly 5 times larger than the average (excluding itself), and twice the size of the next largest (Burnham-on-Crouch to Maldon). The maps Natural England provide are misleading as they do not adequately reflect the key spatial relationships between the path, protected habitats and coastal margin. At a minimum Natural England should provide useable maps for comment, and extend the consultation proportionately to reflect the scale of the proposal. They should also be at pains to perform a complete Habitat Regulation Assessment and resolve the rife inaccuracies in the features appraisal.

As for issues under the Verderer’s remit: fields that may come into or out of management as backup grazing are not excepted land (as it is not arable), but Natural England have not required dogs on leads on the route adjacent or through potential backup land. They have not followed their own guidance from the Coastal Access Scheme [*]:

Guidance 2.4.6 As on other land with access rights under Part 1 of CROW, a person with a dog must keep it on a short lead in the vicinity of livestock. The purpose of this provision is to prevent dogs from approaching livestock.

We hope the Verderers, in their statutory role on behalf of commoning, will request that this is applied in all possible instances. The NFA, for our part, will go further asking that dogs be kept on leads for any portion of the route that is adjacent to protected habitat, grazing which may be used by livestock, or spreading room leading to either habitat or grazing.


[*] The Coastal Access Scheme 2013, page 14 – this guidance document was mandated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 Section 298 The coastal access scheme. The first version of the Scheme (NE268) was approved on 23rd March 2010, under section 298(2) of the 2009 Act. Section 299(2) of the Act required Natural England to complete an initial review of the Scheme within three years, which they did, publishing that result 11th July 2013. However, by that time they had only had three stretches published, and one of those approved.


ADDENDUM:

We have secured an agreement with one of the statutory consultees that we will request that the Ordnance Survey not depict “coastal margin” the spreading room associated with the route at all for our stretch of the coast. As noted previously, the OS policy would be to show the entirety of the area seaward of the route, which is potentially coastal margin, under a “magenta wash”.

A conservative estimate of the proposal shows that at least 75% of the potential margin will fall either under excepted land (arable, buildings and their curtilage, etc) or excluded land designated by Natural England for either Public Safety reasons (S25) or Habitat Protection (S26). This would make the OS default depiction grossly inaccurate.

Consultation Map Issues

The maps provided do not adequately reflect the key spatial relationships between the path, protected habitats and coastal margin, and make it exceedingly difficult to make judgements. There is only one map that depicts the entire route (index map), within each chapter separate maps show sections numbered for comment, no map showing the route for each entire chapter is provided, and only landward spreading room is depicted, no excepted or excluded areas are shown. Maps of exclusions appear in the separate Overview document and don’t show path or even other exclusions that overlap the map area depicted. None of the maps of paths or exclusions show the relevant areas of habitat designation (SSSI, Nature Reserves, SAC, SPA, Areas of Special Protection and Ramsar Wetlands).

ECP with Exclusions, SSSI, SAC
As an example of what would be useful, you’ll find attached my approximate overlay map of the route shown in orange (part of Chapter 3, and all of Chapters 4 and 5 of the proposal, the Orange diamonds showing the chapter divisions). The North Solent Site of Special Scientific Interest is outlined in magenta pink with diagonal hatch, and the Solent & Southampton Water SPA is shown in orange with vertical pinstripe. Areas wholly excluded from Coastal Margin year round under Section 26 Nature Conservation are depicted with a grey overlay. Section 25a Exclusions under Public Safety are not depicted, but to the Salt Marsh and Flats portion of the SSSI along the Beaulieu estuary (but not its terra firma), and similar areas from the mouth of the Lymington river and including Keyhaven (not on the map) and Solent shore. It would also be useful to have maps in each chapter clearly delineating which sections are “new” as opposed to those that are part of existing Rights of Way, Highways etc.

Coastal Margin

Throughout the documentation and guidance Natural England refers to coastal margin including the entire seaward side of the route, however this definition does not exist in the primary legislation, but is created by a subsequent statutory instrument. This means the definition of coastal margin was never consulted upon leading to the legislation. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 Section 3(3) defines “coastal land” as “the foreshore, and land adjacent to the foreshore (including in particular any cliff, bank, barrier, dune, beach or flat which is adjacent to the foreshore).” Section 3A(1) (inserted by the 2009 Act) specifies “The Secretary of State may by order specify the descriptions of land in England which are coastal margin for the purposes of this Part.”

That order “The Access to the Countryside (Coastal Margin) (England) Order 2010 No. 558” was discussed by the Delegated Legislation Committee by 17 MPs on 23 February 2010 for twenty minutes, and was discussed at unspecified length by the Lords Grand Committee on 9 February 2010 during a 3 hour meeting which included five other items of legislation. Here’s the definition from the Order:

Descriptions of coastal margin
3.—(1) Land in England is coastal margin for the purposes of Part 1 of the CROW Act (access to the countryside) if it falls within one or more of the following descriptions.
(2) The first description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of an approved section of the English coastal route passes,
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line, and
(c) land which is seaward of the line of an approved section of the English coastal route and lies between land within sub-paragraph (b) in relation to that approved section and the seaward extremity of the foreshore, if the land within sub-paragraphs (a) to (c), taken as a whole, is coastal land.

(3) The second description of land is land which—

(a) is landward of the line of an approved section of the English coastal route,
(b) is—

(i) foreshore, cliff, bank, barrier, dune, beach or flat, or
(ii) land of any other kind, which is treated by section 15(1) as being accessible to the public apart from the CROW Act, and

(c) when taken together with land within the first description in relation to the approved section, is coastal land.

(4) The third description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of an official alternative route which is for the time being in operation passes, and
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line.

(5) The fourth description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of a temporary route passes, and
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line, to the extent that the land is within section 55I(4)(d) of the 1949 Act(b) (land over which the owner has agreed the temporary route may pass).

We believe that Natural England have been overly inclusive in their interpretation, 1) the order has no scenario to reflect what to do with the coastal margin should the “coastal land” the foreshore etc., be excluded for habitat or safety reasons, it should not follow that the margin leading up to excluded areas should be included 2) this becomes even murkier where the path must travel away from the coast up an estuary to the first foot crossing, particularly one so protected as the Beaulieu – Natural England have the option to terminate the path either side, but avoid this to keep the route contiguous and not create demands for honey pot infrastructure and the terminal points.

The Natural England consultation on this stretch runs until 9 May 2018, more information, criticism and analysis may be found on our website newforestassociation.org.

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NFA President’s Report 2017-18

Our President, Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre sets our work in big picture context, Brexit, the 25 Year Environment Plan, Recreation Management Strategy and Local Plans.  Last of our series of Annual Reports relevant to our AGM on Saturday 21st April 2018.

Much has happened over the last twelve months on the national scene that will have an impact, one way or the other, on the Forest, a number of which were mentioned in my report last year.

Farm Subsidies

The Forest’s organisations have come together to form a group in order to deal directly with the Government and present the best case for what our local farmers and landowners need once EU funded subsidies cease. The group, which I have chaired, has already given the Minister responsible for National Parks, Lord Gardiner, a clear and simple request in writing which I personally handed to him at the New Forest Show. We asked for a basic principle to be acknowledged, which is that farmers in highly protected areas of national importance like the New Forest should be rewarded for the public benefit that they supply by conserving the landscape. We also asked that any such reward be governed by a scheme that was locally designed and locally led. I am happy to report that in the long awaited 25 year Environment Plan this principle has been firmly acknowledged.

25 Year Environment Plan

The plan was launched by the Prime Minister herself, which is a very encouraging sign of how high up the government’s agenda conservation has reached. The plan is full of quite widely worded ambitions for our countryside, but overall it is a positive and very encouraging document, the main theme of which is a determination to ensure that there is a net gain for the environment over the 25 year period, with an ambition for this generation to be the first to hand it on in a better state than we found it. Quite a challenge!

I can report that in a follow-up meeting between Lord Gardiner and England’s National Park chairmen, it was made clear to us that special places like the New Forest are expected to become exemplars of landscape conservation. We were all encouraged by the Minister to go away and consider putting together pilot schemes which would show how best to replace the existing regime of EU farm subsidies. The Forest’s farming group has much thinking to do.

Another surprise inclusion in the plan is a “21st century review” of National Parks and AONBS, which together cover 25% of our landscape. Lord Gardiner was not able to tell us what this might entail or when exactly it would begin. One of the key areas that such a review will cover is whether there is scope for the expansion of existing parks and the creation of new ones.

Recreation

The consultation that I mentioned last year has now taken place and the overwhelming priority chosen by the public is raising awareness and understanding of the special qualities of the area (especially the safety of commoners’ animals), with sustainable transport (ie public transport, reduced traffic and safer roads) coming a close second. The consultation was commissioned by a group of the Forest’s statutory bodies, including the Verderers, Forestry Commission and National Park Authority. The next step is now to formulate some clear and concrete actions, which will then be subject to a final public consultation in the summer. The ultimate aim is to ensure that recreation is properly managed, including taking a fresh look at where recreational facilities are provided in the Forest (such as car parks, which have changed very little since the 1970s) and in places that are away from sensitive areas and close to where people live. The group has as its watchword when deciding on any of these actions “Is this good for the Forest?”, not just now but for the next fifty years or more – the long term protection of the Forest must always come first.

New Housing

Our association, the proud watchdog for the Forest, is always on guard when it comes to planning and development, and has been watching the emergence of both of the areas’ Planning Authorities Local Plans, and making comment and criticism whenever necessary. The biggest potential development on the near horizon is the old power station at Fawley, however as I sit on the planning committee at the time of writing I can say no more on the matter! On behalf of our members I will conclude my report with a heartfelt thanks, as ever, to our Chairman and Council for all their hard work and vigilance over the year.

— Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre

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NFA Habitat and Landscape 2017-18

RSPB Franchises Lodge - credit Terry Bagley

Habitat and Landscape Chair, Brian Tarnoff reviews with uncharacteristic brevity the past year on the Forest Design Plan, Recreation Management Strategy and the England Coast Path.  Part of our series of Annual Reports relevant to our AGM on Saturday 21st April 2018.  Updates since original publication, reflecting these ever changing issues, are provided below each section.

Once again I am full of gratitude and amazement at the generous contributions of our committee members this year. This included countless hours volunteered to pour over one of the most vital consultations we’ve seen in some time, and days spent trudging the Forest in all weathers on site visits for works proposed by the Forestry Commission on the open Forest.

The Forest Design Plan

Consultation continued this year. Our ecologists took part in round table discussions on this year’s draft, a palpable improvement over the March 2016 version. The detail, which had concerned us previously, now was much more in line with the commitment from the 1999 Minister’s Mandate (strongly supported by subsequent policy) to restore pasture woodlands, heathlands, valley mires and Ancient and Semi-Natural native woodland, and favour broadleaves over conifer. In these meetings, Forestry Commission staff expressed sound underlying principles that would serve this plan, both in its current form, and going forward, to manage towards these goals.

Our main quibble is that the documentation of the plan does not adequately express those principles. This may seem a small thing, given how close the detail plan is to delivering many of our Association’s goals, but without them in place the plan may not be able to show its logic adequately to stand on its own against Habitats Regulations Assessment, or possible changes in future management of the Forest which could veer away from the promise this plan holds.

After the public consultation on the plan, the Forest Services review determined that consent under EIA regulations is required for the deforestation proposals (some areas being returned to open Forest habitats). Forest Enterprise has been tasked with producing an Environmental Statement for consideration, and we are amongst the stakeholders invited to a scoping exercise in January 2018. DEFRA have agreed to roll forward some elements of the FC’s expired felling license, which was dependent on the now unknown date for approval of the plan by the Inspectorate for renewal.

The Forestry Commission have opened up the next stage of consultation which runs for eight weeks from 11 Apr 2016 to 6 Jun 2016. This will produce the version of the plan which will be submitted for the inspectorate, and final consultation later this year. The NFA will argue that the planned eight weeks may not be sufficient for less nimble organizations (those that meet less frequently, such as Parish Councils, or those larger whose relevant knowledge is spread across expert and consequentially busy staff); we would prefer ten to twelve weeks. When the timeframe was sprung upon the great breadth of Forest organizations in attendance at a special launch day on March 22nd, the FC suggested that they may be “flexible” about the length of the consultation. We will be making our case later this month.

Wetland Restoration Strategy

In a similar spirit of openness the Forestry Commission proposed a Wetland Restoration Strategy at a well-attended December workshop including representatives across the spectrum of the debate. In addition to more constructive engagement with all stakeholders, we hope this will lead to a monitoring program that is apt, affordable and will adequately support future efforts.

The FC have just updated us (12/04/2018) with a view of present and future monitoring plans. We believe these will be robust and adequately adapt and augment standard river monitoring techniques to the unique challenges of the New Forest’s streams and wetlands.  We hope sufficient funding will be allowed to cover a range of catchments including both restored and untouched.

England Coast Path

Understandably our section of Coast, with a nearly uninterrupted series of very protected habitats (some garnering between four and five layers of designation, nationally and internationally), has been a very thorny problem for Natural England, who have nudged the consultation forward throughout the year. Once mooted for March 2017, now February 2018 (the original target date for implementation was March 2018).

Although a habitat adjacent inland route may be viable, the coastal margin created by the default spreading room designated in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 would potentially create up to 3,500 acres of new access land on these easily disturbed habitats, where it would cause irreparable damage. We hope that Natural England will exclude these, but even if they do, the Ordnance Survey will not show those exclusions. Our main role currently seems to be to remind one and all of the immense importance of our Coast with greater fragility and importance than the precious habitats of the Crown Lands that typically draw our focus.

The eight week consultation on the Highcliffe-Calshot stretch finally began on 14th March 2018 and is due to run until 9th of May 2018. The route itself (barring some quibbles) is reasonable, however the exclusions for spreading room are either incomplete or lacking classification for habitat protection.  The consultation documents themselves are of greater scale and complexity (the sensitive features appraisal alone, at 215 pages is three times larger than the equivalent document for any of the other published stretches), and yet we’re expected to comment on them within the standard 8 week consultation window.  The Sensitive Features Appraisal is rife with error and stops short of a full Habitats Regulation Assessment (relying on flimsy mitigation measures which have failed elsewhere).  We could go on (and we will elsewhere….), but in short, the needs of our habitat point up severe flaws in the legislation, specification and consultation processes.

Recreation Management Strategy

The welcome review of the NPA’s Recreation Management Strategy has been mentioned above in this annual report. Unfortunately the public survey reiterated paragraphs from the current strategy alongside each potential subject heading, leaving some confused as to whether to respond to these remarks or implicitly approve them? For our response we asked that the next RMS should feature priority projects with clear objectives and timeframes. We proposed a comprehensive review of recreation infrastructure within the park, including surveys of habitats, campsites and parking, with actions leading to a provision that is ‘Fit for Purpose’. We proposed initiatives to raise the profile of the National Park so the decision makers of adjacent Authorities and communities become more aware of their impacts on the Forest and ‘Section 62 Duties’, create adequate, proportional mitigation, and petition Central Government for more strategic targets to take pressure off the Forest. We also asked for clearer messages in Education that would easily highlight the Forest’s need for protection as a National Nature Reserve, Working Farm and Working Forest.

Our full response to the RMS survey is here. Subsequent remarks on the Park Authority’s flawed draft interpretation here.

Going Forward — Other areas of concern to address in 2018:

Dibden Bay (ABP) / Fawley Power Station (Fawley Waterside Ltd)

Along with Associated British Ports revisiting their goal of a deep-water container port at Dibden Bay, our Association and the whole of the Forest will be facing many challenges for renewed development of the already heavily urbanised Waterside. This includes the proposal by Fawley Waterside Ltd for the development of a new town, with an estimated population of 3,500 on the site of the Fawley Power Station. The development on the brownfield portion of the site, originally exempted from the National Park, might be hard to resist, but the current proposal includes a ‘village’ built out into the National Park on Tom Tiddler’s Ground*, which is a young coastal grazing marsh and forms a rough habitat that is prime for rehabilitation.

— excerpted with updates and links from the NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee Annual report, by Committee Chair, Brian Tarnoff

* Tom Tiddler’s Ground is considered over several pages in committee member Clive Chatter’s tome Flowers of the Forest.

Finally, we should note that many of our committee members were involved in steering the process which led to the purchase by the RSPB of a major landholding in the Forest, now to be known as RSPB Franchises Lodge.  We’ve been embargoed from discussing this effort as it has unfolded over the years (and at long last announced on 23 Mar 2018).  I wish to thank the RSPB for the purchase, and the members of our committee who identified and shepherded this opportunity to fruition.

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NFA Planning and Transport 2017-18

Here Planning and Transport Chair, Graham Baker weighs in, with some frustrations, over the past year, full of mounting concerns of increased pressure on the Forest. Part of our series of Annual Reports relevant to our AGM on Saturday 21st April 2018.

It is difficult to read the 2016 planning report and not to conclude that 2017 has been a largely wasted year. You will therefore excuse any frustrations that show.

There remains little between our Association and the National Park Authority (NPA) over individual planning applications. In the defined villages we are succeeding in coping with the need to increase central housing densities without disturbing the spacious nature elsewhere and coping with the reduction in retail outlets without losing the vitality of High Streets. Residents agree that the type of housing required is modest, suitable for younger people starting out and older people downsizing. But we are challenged by developers’ desire to build what is most profitable without regard to local need; currently this is managed flats for old people who can afford high charges.

Second home ownership and short-term letting are growing at a rate that could exceed the planned increase in housing numbers. This sometimes requires planning permission and it is always worth knowing the extent of the problem, so please let us know if it happening near to you.

In the countryside problems remain dispersed but accumulatively erode character and traditions. Commoning properties are sold to the extremely well off who then seek to convert their humble holding into something else. Extensions are maximised, tatty outbuildings are replaced by three car garages with fully equipped offices above, large loose boxes are replaced by a row of pretty stables, ménages replace a pleasing adjacent paddock and elaborate electric gates or cattle grids replace five bars. Any common grazing land owned outside the new fence is “tidied” – this usually means easing the entry of the Land Rover Evoque by dumping tonnes of gravel on common grazing land. Often these activities do not break planning rules. Where it does we seeks first to have the applicant reconsider and secondly seek refusal.

Discussions continue on the revised Local Plans of the National Park and NFDC. We have achieved protection for the NF Special Protection Area broadly similar to that of the Thames Basin Heaths. This caused several proposed housing sites to be withdrawn, but rather than reduce numbers, NFNPA sought more sites, previously considered unsuitable, to keep the likely new dwelling numbers at around 35 per annum. The average house price in the Park is £581,000, over 15 times average earnings and there is a desperate need for affordable homes for local people. The NPA recognise the problem but their solutions lack ambition. We believe a straightforward policy that all new housing should be affordable stands the best chance of resisting incessant government meddling and developer manipulation and that the NPA should accept a greater role in securing underutilised publicly owned land in the villages for development.

Since we have become a National Park, the NPA’s own data reports that the success of many species of ground and low nesting birds has suffered a “marked decline”. The universally agreed cause is disturbance from recreation and the extra dwellings being built around the New Forest will result in an additional million visitors per annum, considerably worsening the problem. Despite this it is difficult to find any action stemming from the NPA’s 75 page Recreational Management Strategy since its publication in 2010. The planning committee will do all it can to ensure the emerging Local Plans recognise recreational pressure on the National Park as the primary problem facing the New Forest and that compensation from developers is used in forthright measures to reverse the problem. The relocation or closure Forestry Commission car parks will be one of the most effective management tools in reducing disturbance and we have developed sophisticated mapping techniques to measure levels of disturbance from them.

In 2017, planning volunteers have scrutinised over 1,000 planning applications, responded to a dozen consultations, developed maps, maintained good relationships with the parishes, plotted aircraft routes and surveyed overhead cable routes (with some success the line south and west of Burley is to be buried in 2018). Our thanks go to them all.

Planning & Transport Committee Chair – Graham Baker

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Whistleblower Leaks Plan to Convert Forest To Car Park

artist’s sketch of the whistleblower

In what may be an advance preview of the next Recreation Management Strategy, a whistleblower has come forward with information indicating plans afoot to pave the entire Forest to put up a parking lot. The whistleblower, only willing to be identified by the handle JMitchell@CanyonLadies70, has hinted at other coming developments, but it is unclear whether these plans are from the National Park Authority or the District Council.

For now, the locations are vague (a comment about boutiques has suggested Lyndhurst), but, with some deduction, there is a chance that the Lyndhurst Park Hotel will be released from its development limbo to reopen under a fresh coat of pink paint and with a new entertainment venue described as a “swingin’ hot spot”.

The deforestation resulting from this paving project will require relocation of some conifers, and ostensibly large deciduous plants for viewing by the public. Another surmise is that this display may be in the New Forest Centre. However, no representatives of the Ninth Centenary Trust who run the Centre could be contacted on this proposed conversion of the Centre to a tree museum, nor the plan to abandon the Centre’s free entry policy to charge the people a dollar-and-a-half (just over £1 pound sterling, as determined by American tourist focus groups, as what it would be worth “just to see ‘em”).

The Forestry Commission has also been unavailable to comment on whether the proposed deforestation is within the scope of their Forest Design Plan, and the rumour that glyphosate may not be available post-Brexit, requiring use of the even more controversial DDT for control of pest plants like the non-native rhododendron. The informant did express concerns, which we believe are unfounded, that this may affect their right to forage for apples on the Crown Lands; although we do concur with worries over the effect of the pesticide on birds and the declining population of bees.

When asked why he/she had come forward, the whistleblower said that people “don’t know what they’ve got till it’s gone”. In this reporter’s experience it does always seem to go that way. When confronted with the NFA’s research showing no known basis of these plans from any of the relevant authorities, the informer fled the café, slamming the screen door on the way, and hopped in a big yellow taxi which sped off.

It is not known whether there will be car parking charges or a clock scheme. An unidentified Natural England contact may have stated “we welcome this plan as it will give visitors a place to put their cars when they come to use the boardwalk we’re erecting around the entire coast.”

It is worth noting, that beyond the lack of corroboration, the meaning of this article will evaporate to mere satire by noon on the date of publication. Whether the satire is weak, or based on deeper truths, is entirely up to you, dear reader.  If we have inadvertently misled, feel free to contact the relevant authorities, be sure to tell them “Shooo bop bop bop bop!” (with apologies to J Mitchell).
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Friends of the New Forest help to purchase ‘a secret forest’ in the north of the New Forest National Park.

RSPB Franchises Lodge - credit Terry Bagley

The trustees, members and supporters of the Friends of the New Forest (New Forest Association) are celebrating the purchase of a nature reserve, near Nomansland in Wiltshire, which is being hailed as a significant opportunity to create a nature rich bridge between two already internationally important areas.

Franchises Lodge, is a 386 hectare (almost 1,000 acres) woodland of deciduous and conifer trees. National wildlife charity RSPB, which has been the lead organisation for the project, describes it as a “secret forest” that – because it has largely been inaccessible to the public for many years – is home to a wide range of birds, invertebrates and plant life. The acquisition has been facilitated through a gift in respect of a settlement between the previous owners and HMRC, a generous legacy, and support from the New Forest National Park Authority and the Friends of the New Forest.

Mike Clarke, the RSPB’s Chief Executive said: “This is one of the most significant purchases in our 129 year history.  It is also our first nature reserve in the New Forest. We are delighted to take on the land from its previous owners who we know are passionate about the site, its woodlands and wildlife and we hope to build on their work over the years, safeguarding it for future generations.”

In its vision for the near 1000-acre site the RSPB will be focusing on maintaining the existing broadleaf woodland, enhancing areas of wood pasture and recreating open heath.

To date, the site has been under the careful stewardship of the previous owners.  Initial surveys confirm the site has a good woodland bird community, including wood warbler, hawfinch, spotted flycatcher, firecrest and redstart.  These woods are also known to be fascinating botanically, with an internationally important lichen community. It’s also good for a range of invertebrates, from beetles to butterflies.

John Ward, Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest said:

“I am delighted to see the successful outcome to a process which we helped inaugurate.

The Friends of the New Forest were a primary influence in initiating and motivating the project.  Some of our Council members were able to provide expertise and guidance to the partnership group that was set up under the leadership of the RSPB. The team at the RSPB has put in a tremendous amount of work over the past five years. We are inordinately grateful to them for managing the project and achieving the significant result we are celebrating today.

The Friends of the New Forest could immediately see the benefit from an extended ‘New Forest’ on several grounds, including heathland habitat restoration, potential to reduce pressure on existing lands, and an opportunity for links with other areas through wildlife corridors and were able to contribute £25,000 towards the purchase of the site.

I would like to thank our members and pay tribute to those who have given donations and gifts in their wills that have enabled us to support this worthy project. We feel this justifies their faith in our work of protecting and restoring the unique character of the New Forest. This is a great day for the New Forest and I am exceedingly proud of what has been achieved by collaborative working.”

The RSPB is now working with partners on an ambitious 25 year vision for Franchises Lodge. To realise the site’s full potential for people and wildlife the RSPB will be launching a major public appeal in May.

Although there are public rights of way through the site, there is no car parking or facilities on the reserve and these are limited nearby. The RSPB is therefore not encouraging visitors at this time.

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Presentment: England Coast Path Consultation

ECP with Exclusions, SSSI, SACWe are now one week into the consultation on the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch of the England Coast Path. This well meaning but unnecessary project will create non-historic rights of way with new access rights to the seaward side of the route. This will bring disturbance to the most remote areas of the National Park, will exacerbate the verge parking problem, and potentially threatens to convert over 3500 acres of protected habitats into coastal access.

Natural England has the power to exclude sensitive habitat from automatic inclusion in coastal margin access, but their proposed exclusions are incomplete. There are gaps such as one through National Nature Reserve at Simm’s Wood and Steerley’s Copse where walkers emerging suddenly onto the Beaulieu estuary from the woodland screen would cause a widespread startle response, serious disturbance to the wintering birds on the eastern shore, where surveys have shown nearly double the population of the west side, likely due to less disturbance. Salt Marshes and Flats are excluded under Section 25 Public Safety where Section 26 Nature Conservation exclusions should have priority and permanence. Elsewhere, vulnerable wader roosts on vegetated shingle beaches, including one of the most provably undisturbed, have not been excluded. In the context of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan which promises stronger conservation of both designated and undesignated habitats, not enough has been excluded to fully protect these fragile areas.

Worse, any exclusions are made a nonsense by the Ordnance Survey decision to show all potential spreading room in coastal margin as access land [under a purple “wash”]. Estimate of the current proposal excludes at least 75% of this area. As many online and smartphone apps license the OS data, this grotesque misrepresentation will mislead visitors into those areas we most need to protect. It is vitally important that all interested parties deter the Ordnance Survey from inaccurately depicting our coastal protected habitats as access land on the allegedly definitive map.

Whilst many of its problems do not directly fall under the Verderer’s remit, So far, one commoner has noted the Path route cuts through fields used both for back up grazing and seasonal running of stallions with mares. This finds the route and seaward coastal margin access unwelcome and unsafe. We hope the Verderers, not just through their direct responsibilities on the Crown Lands, but as supporters of commoning and as a member of the National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy Steering Group, will call for resolution of these problems before the route is approved and implemented.

The Natural England consultation on this stretch runs until 9 May 2018, more information, criticism and analysis may be found on our website newforestassociation.org.

On the above map the approximate ECP consultation route is shown in orange (part of Chapter 3, and all of Chapters 4 and 5 of the proposal, the Orange diamonds showing the chapter divisions).  The North Solent Site of Special Scientific Interest is outlined in magenta pink with diagonal hatch, and the Solent & Southampton Water SPA is shown in orange with vertical pinstripe.  Areas wholly excluded from Coastal Margin year round under Section 26 Nature Conservation are depicted with a grey overlay.  Section 25a Exclusions under Public Safety  are not depicted, but apply only to the Salt Marsh and Flats portion of the SSSI along the Beaulieu estuary (but not its terra firma), and the similar area from the mouth of the Lymington river and including Keyhaven (not on this map).

This presentment was given unusual consideration by the Verderers, as the Court had opened with no announcements, the brief report on animal accidents, and no other presentments, and was closed in record time, just as our presenter appeared.  It was suggested that perhaps the Court had started early (before the 10 am chimes from the  Church of St Michael and All Angels, Lyndhurst), so the Official Verderer allowed the late entry.

We thank the Court once again for that kind indulgence, and wish to convey our suitable mortification to all those present in the court who bore with the ensuing delay as one of the Elected Verderers was then recalled from his hasty exit to the Queen’s House Library.  A similar, but less dramatically sited, statement about the England Coast Path was given the following day at the New Forest National Park’s Authority Meeting under its Public Questions agenda item.

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Recreation Management Strategy and Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership Strategy

Our representation to Public Questions from the January meeting of the New Forest National Park Authority. We point out flaws in the draft interpretation of last years Recreation Management Strategy Survey (which goes too far in over egging the results), and the undercooked Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership Strategy (which doesn’t go nearly far enough).

Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership Strategy

… is an important initiative, however it currently falls short by only considering SPA planning designations and not the full range of important coastal and international designations. As with much mitigation work, little has been done to scale the mitigation to the level of protected features (Thames Basin Heaths is a decent baseline, but has much fewer protected features than our coastline).[*] The Government’s new 25 Year Environment Plan seeks to boost conservation of both designated and undesignated habitats. With these shortcomings, and the new considerations of the recently minted 25 year plan, it would be premature to adopt. We hope you will seek a review and have the strategy amended accordingly.

Recreation Management Strategy

I have previously noted problems with the survey. It made far too much reference to the previous RMS, including out-of-context headings (not even explained as “Summary of 2010 actions”), which constrained much debate to those topics, and were seen as manipulative leading statements. The responses are from an unscientific self-selecting sample, and although the Findings Report admits this[†], it then characterizes some results as authoritative, an unwarranted exaggeration. I’ll give one example:

“Implement and promote the England Coast Path and associated access rights” was the survey summary for Coastal Access. This provided no explanation that the “Associated rights” included coastal margin / spreading room which would potentially turn 3500 acres of our most sensitive breeding and wintering bird habitats (with up to five overlapping layers of national and international designations including an Area of Special Protection) into access land. 23 respondents thought ”the route will attract people away from more sensitive inland areas” (a polar opposite of the truth). It is more than likely that few had heard of the ECP outside of the survey, or would have nominated it, if it hadn’t been mentioned. Yet the concluding report states “The consultation responses suggest that there is wide public support for the England Coast Path,”[‡] which is a very strong extrapolation of 22% of 1500 respondents[§]. If less than a quarter support a proposal, is that wide? If mooted, absent its implications, is that even valid?

Although I do not doubt the hard work, enthusiasm, and sincerity of those conducting this opinion poll. Please do not take as a referendum what has been a success of public engagement, but falls very short of providing anything more than the vaguest bellwether. The Recreation Management Strategy should be driven primarily by the need to fulfill the purposes and protect the special qualities of the National Park. It should focus on specific and practical steps for Management of Recreation not another list of aspirations promising delivery of recreation.

Unfortunately the format of Public Questions at NFNPA meetings limits each speaker to 3 minutes, even when speaking on multiple subjects. This requires a terse approach and presumption of knowledge of underlying reports (which NPA members ought to, but are not guaranteed to have read or digested). Further reading for the curious is noted below:

[*] NFNPA 538/18 – Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership Strategy Adoption Annex 1 page 19 6.15 “The methodology used to calculate the figures is based on that developed by LPA’s within the Thames Basin Heaths mitigation scheme.”

[†] NFNPA 539/18 Recreation Management Strategy Annex 1 Findings Report “No attempt was made to limit participation in the consultation to a balanced and representative sample survey approach of the local (or wider) population.” page 3 para 8

[‡] NFNPA 539/18 – Recreation Management Strategy Annex 2 page 8, 3.7

[§] 528 (34%) responded to the “Coastal Access” heading, 343 (22%) supported the summary of the topic actions.

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Presentment: Recreation Events at Night


Last month the Commoners Defence Association noted problems with the planned 2nd December, Hampshire Maverick Silva Dark Series trail running event.  It is in early evening, but in hours of full darkness (starts an hour after sundown, and a quarter hour after end of twilight). It is sponsored by a headlamp manufacturer promoting a range of LED headlamps that emit 250 lumens over 65 metres [1] (The top of their current range outputs 1500-2000 lumens over 175 metres! [2]).

The nocturnal disturbance of both livestock (as noted by the CDA) and wildlife by a mass event on the Forest, alone, is of concern, but use of high powered LEDs will greatly compound that disturbance. The NFA object to the event as an inappropriate precedent for both reasons. This is, as well, a fundamental conflict with all aspirations to maintain tranquility within the Forest and night-time dark skies above it.

Research on light disturbance has shown bats, amphibians and plants affected by relatively low levels of light. The route comes as close to the A337 as 1500 metres, which could prove fatal to motorists if easily spooked deer bolt towards the road.

This event, if held in daytime, or more appropriately off the SSSI, would be relatively benign [3]. The Forestry Commission have clearly worked hard to mitigate a bad situation created by the event’s organizers, and their permission [4] explicitly states that this is a one-off and that “any future night time events would need to be run at other venues off the New Forest” suggesting Moors Valley as an alternative. Head torches are restricted to Max 250 lumens, max beam length 50m, and must be angled downwards.

A FC spokesperson informed me that the permission would not have been granted if the event were a later time in the evening, or if it was outside the short window of hibernation for many local species. Unfortunately, nature isn’t that simple. At least 11 bat species have been recorded in the route area, including some of the most light-averse. All these bats move in and out of hibernation November to March, rousing to feed when the weather is mild, with early evening as their peak time in winter [5].

The media have lost all the nuances: the route restricted to the gravel tracks in Inclosures (from original plan on open forest), limitations on lighting, and that the FC regard this as a one-off.  The reporting has oversimplified the FC assessment to suggest it “poses no negative impact on the SSSI”. A hard to support statement, which without the context of the prescribed restrictions, sends an erroneous, dangerous message.

This official FC permission will beget the expectation for more large scale after dark events, from the public unaware of even minimal limitations which should be observed, and encourage greater after dark usage both organized and unorganized, at even more damaging times of the year. Creating new unprecedented levels of disturbance on protected habitat at a time where there would be little or none is simply unacceptable.

The NFA hope the Verderers will join us in asking the Forestry Commission, and those who would sensibly enjoy the Forest, to let it, in the name of tranquillity, the livestock, and the wildlife, have a well deserved rest.

Annotations below refer to the bracketed numbers in bold above [n]….

[1] The event offers participants free test use of their previous slightly weaker range (170 lumens over 50 metres), which they no longer produce. The route starts and ends at Foxlease, goes through Clayhill and deep into Denny Wood, Parkhill and Standing Hat inclosures.
[2] That’s roughly the same as a single standard H1 Car head lamp on main beam. 12 Runners with the highest permitted beams will emit approximately as much light as a single car.
[3] …presuming it is well run, safe and considerate to other Forest users, and tidies up after itself.
[4] The Permission includes the following non-boiler plate requirements:

  • “Competitors will be restricted to using head torches with Led bulbs, Max lumens 250, max beam length 50m. All torches must be angled down. Marshals must keep lighting to a minimum as well as per runners.”
  •  “The permit is for this event only please note any future night time events would need to be run at other venues off the New Forest – we will look to offer Moors Valley as an alternative.”
  • “The route as agreed…. It is vital to keep to the tracks and paths as details on the maps provided.”
  • “All gates must be manned to prevent ponies and cattle going through and to ensure that there is no access by vehicles. Gate must be closed after use.”
  • “All litter must be cleared up and signs removed by the following day at the latest.”

[5] from nearby Busketts Lawn there have been records of at least 5 species in late December.

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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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