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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.

Presentment: Latchmore Brook: Part 2: Wildlife, Materials and Beauty

In a feat of both irony, and good timing thematically, the presenter met the five minute limit for Presentments, and was cut short. The first part was an apology from the New Forest Association for not displaying our support for the Latchmore project “often enough, publicly enough, or possibly well enough.” allowing snide comments and poor treatment of the Verderers, Forestry Commission and National Park Authority to stand.

The second part shifts emphasis to addressing areas that concern all of us about the project, Wildlife, Material Delivery Routes and Beauty.

…I won’t make up for lost time now.  I have a critique of more than ten errors on just one of their webpages which I’ve sent separately to the Verderers (on our news page).  But I beg the courts indulgence to address a few points.  Amongst the more emotive subjects, the potential disturbance to and loss of wildlife in the implementation itself.  Of course this is of concern, but there’s a reason why we view the end-of-days prognostication of those opposed as baseless conjecture.

2119.  Two thousand One Hundred and Nineteen.  This is the non-exclusive number of completed River Restoration projects in the UK since 1994 listed in the database of the River Restoration Centre.   Some smaller, some larger: the Cumbria River Restoration Strategy (CRRS) a partnership project between Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Rivers Trusts of Eden, West Cumbria and South Cumbria won the 2016 UK River Prize. They restored 14 km of river across the three catchments to a more natural form.  Not all restore meanders, only 1593 had Habitat objectives, some were done for Flood Risk, Fisheries, etc. 120 are listed as a result of Community Demand.  But all would have had the issue of disturbance to wildlife.  Projects including hundreds of Rivers Trusts, Catchment Partnerships, private estates, the Royal Parks, the National Trust, amongst others.  When the RSPB, and the Wildlife Trusts, and their ecologists support the Latchmore Brook project and other Forest wetland restorations, they do so with their experience, including many projects on the land they manage.  If the consequences, in 22 years and 2119 projects, were as dire as the leaders of the opposition contend, I should think we’d have heard about it by now, or certainly their researches would have brought this to our attention.

We do all share concerns about the project.  The New Forest History and Archaeology Group have raised issues with the survey, we believe they are surmountable and encourage all interested parties to work towards a solution.

Movement of materials to the site may cause disturbance and inconvenience to those along the delivery routes.  I’ve seen and heard alarming figures, 70HGV movements a day or 44000 HGVs, which I’ve discovered to be ridiculously overblown.  Not that I blame anyone for getting this wrong as the planning documents do not lay out the information in a helpful way.  I’ve already had a private go at the FC and LUC over their need to provide concise and useful figures for the public to properly convey the size of the issue.  The route through Ogdens, for example, we’ve been told this will be used in three years of the project, which is worrying, but hazard a guess at how many days would be necessary for deliveries through Ogdens in 2017 – 6, 2018 – 1, that’s right in 2018 they only need to make approx 7 deliveries on that route that year, 2020 – 28, of course that will bear more discussion, but it brings perspective. For the entire project all routes all years combined there will be fewer than 10k HGV movements, fewer than 11k in the worst case scenario we’ve run.  I’ll be putting up our numbers on our newspage later today, available to all, even if you want to scare people with numbers at least you can use realistic figures.

Finally, many are rightfully concerned about the future beauty of the Latchmore Brook.  Walking along Latchmore Shade, you will clearly see the original meanders.  In some cases you will see this as gently undulating curves written as a gentle scar in the landscape, it is easy to imagine a pleasant stream flowing along this course.  Elsewhere the meanders have been eroded into unattractive ruts, and in other places the area between the current water course and the meanders become a quagmire when the drains rush water into the area, the flood in the now dysfunctional flood plain is partially contained by the meander, not allowing much onto the adjacent grazing.  Fixing this will not make the area any less beautiful.  I spoke of the prizewinning project in Cumbria, which we may begrudgingly agree is also an iconic landscape.  That project was twice the size of Latchmore.

Look at Warwickslade Cutting and Fletchers Thorns amongst many of the completed restorations which have bedded in, they look absolutely lovely now.  There are many to choose from, but don’t impatiently show up moments after the diggers left and expect an instantaneous transformation.  Give nature time to do its magic.  After all nature took its time creating those meanders before they were ruined.

— Brian Tarnoff, Chair, Habitat and Landscape Committee
New Forest Asssociation

While this second part was not read in the open court, the full presentment was distributed in written form to the Verderers, as well as the Annotated Fact Check of the Latchmore Crowdfunding Page.

Much of this half of the Presentment was repurposed in the Public Questions section of the subsequent National Park Authority meeting, with an emphasis on addressing the PR problem now faced by Wetland Restorations in the wake of the leaders of the opposition to Latchmore’s concerted campaign of misinformation, misrepresentation, hyperbole and pseudoscience.

Presentment: Latchmore Brook: Part 1: An Apology

As the Latchmore Brook planning application may be decided before the next month’s Verderers Court.  The NFA find that we owe everyone an apology.

We’ve never made a secret of our support for the Forestry Commission’s wetland restorations.  But clearly, in some areas, we haven’t made our case often enough, publicly enough, or possibly well enough.  For that we must apologize to the whole of the Forest.

We apologize to the Verderers, I know you don’t need anyone to leap to your defence, but you have been impugned, under the snide accusation that everyone involved in, or indeed supporting the project, would knowingly harm the Forest.  The Verderers who many of us regard as the conservative line in the sand, that we are so fortunate have powers granted by the New Forest Acts.  You have supported this project in the various forms its taken when it has come before you.

This is one of the Leaders of the opposition’s most poisonous assertions, that the process itself, is somehow tainted by a cosy “partnership”.  The National Park Authority, Verderers and Forestry Commission are only “partners” in the project inasmuch as they are the statutory bodies obviously required to be on the project board.  It only benefits the FC as they fulfil their legal obligation to respond to the Natural England condition assessment of the SSSI, and only benefits the Park as it successfully fulfils their statutory purposes “to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area”.  The NPA is represented on the board by their Chief Exec Alison Barnes.

The NPA’s Planning Committee is made up of 14 of the 22 members of the Park Authority.  The Committee is mostly (12) local Parish, Town, District and County Councillors and 2 Secretary of State Appointees [through DEFRA].  As with any Planning Authority they have strict criteria they must adhere to, and whilst they may seek advice from the civil servant staff of the Authority including their own ecologists and the Chief Exec, the decisions are theirs.  No previous scheme has been refused because, like the present one, they are worthwhile restorations to improve the habitat, and have met the criteria for planning approval.  There is NO conflict of interest as the Chief Exec on the board of the project serves the members of the Authority, not the other way around.

We apologize to the Forestry Commission,  and other public servants that have had to bear the brunt of what many would call a hostile work environment.   I’ve heard hissing at Parish Council meetings.  I’ve seen ecologists aggressively berated at consultations and site visits, where they are merely doing their job and explaining, calmly, what the values of these projects are.  The NFA haven’t been able to be present at all occasions and have not intervened enough.  Not that I lay all bad behaviour at the feet of the Leaders of the opposition, but neither do they repudiate such behaviour.

We also apologize to the FC because while the NFA have campaigned for more monitoring built in to all these projects –  We didn’t insist enough to give everyone a larger more convincing body of evidence.

We apologize to the Friends of Latchmore.  Yes, we do. On one level we welcomed them, we disagreed with their conclusions, but a localized voice giving the Forestry Commission a hard time, could have been useful.  The NFA, covering more issues over the whole Forest, can’t be everywhere all the time.  But they are never sceptical enough with their own arguments, they don’t sort the wheat from the chaff, as a result we’ve heard a few valid points hidden amidst a white noise of hyperbole and pseudoscience.

But here’s where the NFA have done the leaders of the Friends of Latchmore and as a result many of their followers a true disservice.  We didn’t challenge them publicly often enough.  We thought there was no point in popping up doing tit for tat when the planning process would make the decision.  We limited speaking here at the Verderers Court mostly to key moments when the Verderers were to decide their views.  In some cases they may even have taken our silence for validation.

We’ve let them steal a march on us in the public perception, but in doing so they have spread an entrenched dogmatic view which stifles debate, because you can’t have a discussion where one side never concedes any of the many valid points that suggest that either this project is worthwhile, or that its challenges are proportionate.

I won’t make up for lost time now.  I have a critique of more than ten errors on just one of their webpages which I’ve sent separately to the Verderers (on our news page).  But I beg the courts indulgence to address a few points…..

— Brian Tarnoff, Chair, Habitat and Landscape Committee
New Forest Asssociation

In a feat of both irony, and good timing thematically, the presenter met the five minute limit for Presentments, and was cut short. The second part shifts emphasis to addressing areas that concern all of us about the project, Wildlife, Material Delivery Routes and Beauty.  The full presentment was distributed in written form to the Verderers, as well as the Annotated Fact Check of the Latchmore Crowdfunding Page.

The Presentment was preceded by a very short thank you to the Forestry Commission for their new Look, Don’t Pick Fungi policy.  We released a fuller response to the policy here.

Deputy Surveyor: Stream Restoration and Fish

At September’s Verderers Court, the Deputy Surveyor, Bruce Rothnie used his optional Presentment slot to discuss Stream Restoration’s potential benefits and impacts on fish.
FMIB 43029 Brown Trout (Salmo fario) This is the common brook trout of Europe, and it has been named Von Behr Trout by the United States

There have been some presentments made in this Court raising concerns about the impacts of the stream restoration work on fish.

Fish are a vital part of the ecology of the Forest and we all want to know that their surroundings are in a condition where they can thrive.  In many places across the Forest the streams have the natural diversity of conditions that are good for fish – gravel riffles, pools, and vegetation in the water and along the bank.  The stream life is in harmony with the natural processes of the site and robust to weather variations.

Unfortunately in some places man’s intervention by straightening and deepening the streams has upset these natural processes and reduced the natural diversity upon which fish and other stream life depend.  The straighter channels increase water flow which strips them of gravels, vegetation and the natural variation of water depth that is so vital for all stages of fish development.

We all know that ponies grazing on the Forest need the freedom to roam in order to thrive.  They can find shelter from hot or stormy weather; they can find water in ponds and streams; and they can exploit the range of vegetation at different places and at different times of year.  Imagine if they were to be constrained to areas without this variation – their condition would quickly deteriorate.

The same is true for fish and we have an opportunity through our stream restorations to re-establish the diversity.  By restoring meandering streams we provide the physical conditions from which the natural processes can take over and the stream life can return at nature’s pace. These changes do not occur overnight and we have seen at sites restored in the past that benefits can show quickly but may take years to establish fully.

Of course we are concerned about disturbing the existing fish populations during work.  That is why we undertake fish surveys before work and then capture and relocate them downstream just prior to work starting – these techniques are widely used across the country and allow us to minimise the impacts on the existing population during work.  After the work we are carrying out further surveys of fish and invertebrates at sample locations to see how quickly the stream life returns. I was talking with one of the people doing this monitoring work the other day and I was struck by his enthusiasm about the increasing numbers of fish and invertebrates he had been observing over successive visits – it’s early days but very encouraging.

Concern has also been raised about higher water temperatures if scrub adjacent to the streams is removed and their shading effects lost.  Often this scrub has established on the drier spoil banks created when streams were dredged. Removing this scrub allows us to flatten the spoil banks and permit the stream to flood out naturally during high flows onto the adjacent floodplain – a key part of restoring natural processes. This is important “surgery” before healing can take place. 
Water temperatures will vary and it is this variation in different parts of the stream and at different times of the year that is important for the survival of fish at all of their stages of development.  The vital factor is that fish have opportunity to utilise the natural temperature variation created by pools and riffles and the vegetation in the stream.  So by restoring this physical diversity we also restore the natural temperature variations that we also seek.

All restoration schemes are planned and executed to minimise the impacts on wildlife.  The measure of success of these schemes will come with evidence of their condition over time once nature has responded to the physical changes.  Anyone left in doubt that these transformations are beneficial should visit some of the earliest sites on the Forest restored in the early 2000s – their condition is impressive and certainly more in character with the Forest we all know and love.

Bruce Rothnie
Deputy Surveyor
21st September 2016

–used with permission with our thanks.

This is part of the NFA’s initiative to publicise good works on the Forest.  Presentments by the Deputy Surveyor ordinarily do not enter the public record until the minutes of the whole Court, including the in camera sessions, are approved at the subsequent month’s sitting, unless directly reported by the local papers.

Those opposed to some of the wetland/river restorations have floated some theories suggesting detrimental impacts for fish.  The Brown Trout observed spawning in a restored section of Harvestslade Bottom, three months after the works were completed, clearly didn’t get their memo.

Verderers View: Leaving The EU: The Implication For Higher Level Stewardship Funding

At September’s Verderers Court, in his Announcements and Decisions, the Official Verderer, Dominic May, updated the Court on the fate of funding for High Level Stewardship, post Brexit, along with an appreciation of the achievements of the scheme.

I am pleased to inform the Court that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 13th August that agri-environment schemes will be fully funded, even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU. Our Higher Level Stewardship, the largest in the country, runs until February 2020, and we can continue doing so much good work improving the New Forest with this very important financial backing.

The New Forest suffers over time by a ratchet affect. No one activity will by itself ruin it, and each disturbance taken in isolation may on the face of it appear negligible. But add up every human intervention, such as artificial drainage, car parks, gravel tracks, utility structures such as telegraph poles or pumping stations, and incrementally over time we experience the significant loss of grazing, loss of landscape amenity, loss of habitat, and loss of good environmental condition.

Our HLS funds projects to conserve or improve the ecology and environment of the New Forest Crown Lands. We find ourselves in an impoverished financial climate within the public sector, so the £2,000,000 per year which we are spending from the HLS is absolutely fundamental to the future good condition of the New Forest.

Tylers Copse, New Forest. - geograph.org.uk - 661931This money enables us to turn the clock back to remove previous man-made interventions. We are improving the landscape amenity of the forest. We are improving grazing for the benefit of the forest stock, which are the architects of our beautiful New Forest landscape.

Our wetland restorations remove man-made drainage, so damaging to the ecology encourage the re-establishment of the flood plain, depositing beneficial organic matter on the forest rather than it being washed out to sea. And a positive by-product is to reduce flood risk downstream.

We are experiencing some concerted opposition to our wetland work: happily we live in a democracy with its foundation on freedom of speech, so this opposition is entirely proper. It is therefore up to us to win the debate, and provide justification for our plans. Some opposition is based on scientific principles; some on the use of public money; and some is based on what people are used to seeing in “their” area. However, the time horizon of us humans is very short, compared to the 937 years since the legal governance of the New Forest was formalised in 1079.

The HLS-funded terrestrial work on the New Forest has increased in importance and is providing ecological benefits as well as improved grazing. In the last year the HLS has paid to remove 136 acres of rhododendron. It has paid to restore 56 acres of lost lawns. It has paid to remove self-seeded non-native conifers over 316 acres of open forest. It has paid heather removal over 32 acres. And the HLS has paid for 355 acres of bracken control.

Ponies in the pound at a driftWe are keen that the HLS leaves a legacy for the future. This year the HLS has funded new stock pounds at Woodgreen, Holmsley, Appleslade and Woodfidley; these are built in hardwood for longevity.

With the inexorable increase in the number of cars, we are seeing a huge loss of grazing and thus habitat interest: areas of grass on the edge of roads or outside houses are being lost to bare gravel. You have all seen it. The causes are widespread: over-running the verge at junctions; dog walkers not using car parks; car parking in villages; ignorance from visitors. We are therefore funding a programme of works which will protect eroded verges, and in the longer term allow re-growth of natural vegetation. This verge restoration programme has been slow to get going, but this year the HLS has funded work in Woodgreen and Fritham, with plans in and around East Boldre in the near future.

Himalayan Balsam - geograph.org.uk - 963201
Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera)
in middle distance along the riverbank
at Newbridge in the New Forest.

The HLS funds the New Forest Non-Native Plants Removal Project, removing parrots feather, bog arum, skunk cabbage, Montbretia, Japanese Knotweed, Japanese Iris, buddleia, Himalayan honeysuckle, Himalayan balsam and  pitcher plant.

This summary of our Higher Level Stewardship achievements enables everyone to understand how important it is to the New Forest, and the Chancellor’s confirmation of continued funding to 2020 will enable us to keep up our very important work.

Dominic May
Official Verderer
21st September 2016

–used with permission with our thanks.

This is part of the NFA’s initiative to publicise good works on the Forest.  Announcements and Decisions by the Verderers ordinarily do not enter the public record until the minutes of the whole Court, including the in camera sessions, are approved at the subsequent month’s sitting, unless directly reported by the local papers.

The High Level Stewardship scheme is an Environmental subsidy, as evidenced by the word “Stewardship”.  The New Forest HLS scheme is England’s largest.  Whilst this statement from the Official Verderer confirms funding for the current scheme to 2020, there will still be post Brexit implications to subsequent schemes, other habitat funding, agricultural funding and environmental and habitat protections safeguarded under EU legislation, which may need to be back-stopped or re-invented before the formal exit process begins.

The NFA spoke at the July 2016 Verderers Court about some related issues in their Presentment Brexit and The Forest.

Rumour, Wishful Thinking, or Fiction?

On August 30th, The Friends of Latchmore issued a press release.  It spoke of an independent review which would cause the Forestry Commission to immediately withdraw the planning application for the Latchmore Brook wetland restoration. It was all their Christmases come at once.  It was a complete fabrication.

Now, to be fair, it is possible, as we will see, that they were led up a garden path, rather than, as has often been the case, the leaders.

The August 30th Press Release Begins:

Representatives of the Friends of Latchmore are pleased to learn that the Chief Executives of the Forestry Commission and Natural England have agreed that there will be a full and independent review of the wetland ‘restoration’ proposals in the New Forest National Park, including Latchmore Brook. The review is expected to begin towards the end of this year as soon as suitable experts can be appointed.

We now know that, apart from the first nine words, this is untrue.  It then decends into a series of flights of fancy “Forestry Commission and Natural England officials are relieved at the decision, due to the range of complaints…” and “the Forestry Commission is expected to withdraw the Latchmore planning application”.  Then crows a “Spokesperson for Friends of Latchmore said “We are absolutely delighted with the announcement” “.

The alarm bells already ringing became a klaxon.  Much of what had already been said was out of character, to say the least, with what we knew about the resolute intentions of the Forestry Commission to see the planning application through.  But a reaction to an “announcement”?  What announcement?  There had been no announcement.  It appeared that FoL had published their “Press Release” with absolutely no corroboration.

Cue, half a day of tail chasing, FC and NE internally, and many of us on the outside trying to determine a) if there was a shred of truth to this b) where these notions originated.  We confirmed that it wasn’t true, there had been no announcement, and that the rumour would be addressed by the Deputy Surveyor at the Consultative Panel.

At the 1st September, New Forest Consultative Panel, Steve Avery, Executive Director Strategy and Planning for the National Park when asked about the alleged withdrawal of the planning application by the FC, “That hasn’t reached me, or my authority.  We have a live planning application that we will proceed to determine until told otherwise.”  The Deputy Surveyor, Bruce Rothnie categorically denied any intention of withdrawing the planning application or knowledge of an independent review.

[partial transcript of the Consultative Panel]
BR: There’s been a degree of misunderstanding, misinformation that has put out in the last few days and I want to clarify the position.  We remain fully committed to Latchmore Brook Restoration Project and believe the current planning process is the appropriate way to deliver that.  Some of you will remember that some time ago, and certainly before I returned to the Forest, it was agreed that this should be handled through the planning process because of the democratic process it brings.  And that we volunteered to produce an Environmental Impact Assessment which was not required but we felt responded to the concerns of communities around us.  Now we’ve completed that and it is our intention to see that process through.

[referring to the rumour of the independent review]
I have no information to me that there have been any discussions of chief executives coming down to me.  I’m intrigued as to where you got that information.  I have certainly not been able to find any other information provided, down to this level, about that, so perhaps you could explain wherever that’s come from.

[a Burley Parish Councillor, then pressed a leader of Friends of Latchmore, in attendance representing another organization, to make a statement ]

FoL: The information came from the top of Natural England. The press release was “passed”. It was understood that there was to be a joint statement today from the Forestry Commission and Natural England, that there would be a review. There’s obviously some confusion somewhere. I’ve no idea quite how why what’s occurred there, but that’s where the information has come from.

BR: Through what channels …?

FoL: Board of Natural England.

BR: And how was that released to you, your knowledge?

FoL: Through somebody that is in touch with them, and released through the environmentalist that’s been advising them, which I gather Steve’s had a letter from telling him all about it. So I was a little bit surprised that Steve said he didn’t know anything about it so there’s obviously confusion. Let’s say that. I can say no more, that’s the information I’ve had.

[shortly afterwards, Steve Avery was asked for a final comment]
SA:  In the last week, out of 283 representations we received, one of them was from a gentleman called Tom Langton who referred to an imminent review of the scheme and withdrawal of the application, but it’s not grounded or sourced at all as to where that information has come from. The document is on our website, for everyone to see. But, like Bruce, I’d be interested to know where that information has come from, whether from the Forestry Commission or Natural England as alleged.

Tom Langton is the Consulting Ecologist that the Friends of Latchmore hired for their “rapid review” (as we know, rapid is how all the best science is done). After the Consultative Panel closed, panel members speculated that it was possible that either Langton or the Friends of Latchmore had become confused about the review of the New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016.

The New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016 published in April 2006, is (and was already at the time of these events) undergoing its end of term review.  The big clue is in the “-2016”.  The review is being done internally within Natural England with the participation of the Forestry Commission.  The Management Plan is available on the New Forest HLS website. It’s difficult to conceive that the leaders of Friends of Latchmore would not be aware of this important document.

In Tom Langton’s letter to the Planners he sites “threats to geological SSSI features and Odonata interests of international importance”, strange when you consider that the British Dragonfly Society (the Odonata in question) support the project. 

It is my understanding that the Chief Executives of the FC and NE have agreed in recent days to undertake an independent inquiry/review of the Latchmore and other restorations and that this will be put in place later this year. …

I think you may agree on reflection that, in any case, the need for a review in effect casts sufficient doubt over the Latchmore plans.

It would be helpful if the application is withdrawn before this Friday 2nd September, the close of the consultation period.

He doesn’t seem to be at any pains to explain how he reached his “understanding”, and at no point does he, in the words of Steve Avery, ground or source his statements.  The actual review is a standard end of plan exercise, not caused by a negating “need”, and as it is a review of the work carried out under the management plan 2006-2016, it won’t include Latchmore as that hasn’t happened yet.  His strangely presumptive sign off continues his baselessly strong suggestion that the application be withdrawn.

On 17th of September, FoL issued a further press release which attempted, poorly, to reconcile statements, allegedly from the statutory bodies.  Strangely it shows that they don’t know the difference between an independent review (denied) and an internal assessment (confirmed).  They seem to be happy that the fact the word “review” was used at all somehow corroborates their original fantasy.  The Lymington Times of 17th September published a story that partially continued to credit the refuted press release, and the Salisbury Journal ran an article which quoted much of it word for word.

On the 19th September a Forestry Commission Communication Manager confirmed several things to us:

  1. The statements about the alleged agreement to an independent review between the Chief Execs of FC and NE, and the withdrawal of the planning application in the Friends of Latchmore 30th August 2016 press release are total fiction.
  2. The Forestry Commission had further denied the statements directly to the reporters from the Lymington Times and the Salisbury Journal before their deadlines for the pieces that ran anyway erroneously continuing to credit those statements.
  3. The New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016, as mentioned, has already been in preparation — but there has been a decision to speed up finalising this document so that it is done in the next two weeks.  It will then get an extra peer review, as described below:

Statement from Natural England:
Over 140 wetland restorations have been undertaken in the New Forest since 1997. Ongoing reviews of evidence, experience and lessons learnt are an integral part of any long term nature conservation project such as this.

During the past 12 months, Natural England has been working on an Assessment of the evidence supporting wetland restoration projects in the New Forest.

The Chief Executives of the Forestry Commission and Natural England recently agreed to prioritise finalising this Assessment.  The next stage for the Assessment is an independent peer review through Natural England’s Science Advisory Committee.  The objective is to ensure that the evidence and justification for wetland restorations reflect the most recent developments and that any gaps in our knowledge are identified. 

The draft Assessment has been authored by Natural England staff, including a Senior Freshwater Ecologist and Senior Wetland Specialist.  Scoping and commission of the peer review is about to commence and we expect it to be completed during October.  Once completed, the Assessment will be published on the Natural England Access to Evidence website.

Unfortunately this leaves us with some speculation as to how they arrived at this, it looks like Tom Langton may have heard about the existing review of the wetland management plan, put two and two together and came up with five. Then either he potted it up as truth which he presented to his one time masters who embraced it as a dream come true, or passed it on as rumour which the leaders of FoL felt no compunction in passing off, uncorroborated as truth.

Even had an independent review been in the offing, would the leaders of FoL have been happy with any result that didn’t go their way?  As far as we can tell, this project has received more scrutiny than any other project of its kind.  The voluntarily done Environmental Impact Assessment shows the planning authority how well the application fits the required criteria.  The leaders of the FoL won’t be happy with anything except stopping the project.

What’s so dangerous about either of the speculative scenarios is that they both point up the leaders of the Friends of Latchmore “special” relationship with the truth.  We’re used to their lack of fact checking, their disproportionate elevating of minor issues into cause célèbre, and general hyperbole that sadly obscures the few valid points they may raise.  We have, and will continue to point these out here and elsewhere.  But this feels like new territory, releasing uncorroborated rumours as Press Releases, with their usual unearned authoritative tone, and even after public denial, getting two local media outlets to swallow this guff.  That’s steering towards the land of fabrication.

That brings us onto a third possibility.  They intentionally cooked this up with their lackey Langton, to press for what didn’t already exist, and perhaps lead everyone on a merry chase.  Are they that calculating, canny?

So you judge, Rumour, Wishful Thinking, or Utter Fiction?

(although noted within the text, speculative passages have been italicised)