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Presentment: Our Objections to Local Plans

New Forest District Council’s Local Plan aims to build 10,500 homes over ten years. In their own summary they admit this is 3 to 4 times their current development rate.  13 of 20 of their proposed strategic development sites are on Green Belt.

This will increase the population in the district and park by roughly 7 times that of Lyndhurst.  One of these “Lyndhurst”s will be an entire new village at Fawley, which will increase the population of the park by 10 %, at the wrong end of the already stressed A326 transport corridor.  This would have a severe recreational impact on the Forest with disturbance to habitat and livestock, and would further urbanize the already saturated Waterside Area, requiring upgrades to the roads that due to that saturation would necessarily encroach onto the highly protected Crown Lands within the National Park, and would increase traffic westward across the Park on roads already animal accident blackspots.

The New Forest National Park Authority and NFDC share a viability study that accepts the developer’s contention that in order to develop 1500 homes at Fawley, they must build 120 as premium homes on a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation in the National Park.  Adjacent to the Power Station site, Tom Tiddler’s Ground is a young coastal grazing marsh that could easily qualify for SSSI status if it were grazed by commoners livestock[1].  [see addendum below for alternatives offered]

The National Park is failing its statutory purposes to conserve and enhance by adopting the poor logic and questionable feasibility behind the NFDC support for the Waterside development, and lack of objection to the scale of NFDC’s 10,500 home plan.  The Park Authority and District Council should be working together to fulfil their legal obligation to protect the Forest, not to undermine that protection for the sake of NFDC’s political objectives.

The Friends of the New Forest / NFA are objecting to the NFNPA Local Plan under examination in November, before your next court, because if accepted as it is, it lays the groundwork for NFDC’s Local Plan which presumes the need and scale of the NFDC objectives, including the destruction of Tom Tiddler’s Ground.

The Government 25 Year Environment Plan promises greater protection for National Parks and both designated and undesignated habitats, and a review for possible expansion of the boundaries of National Parks.  The Park’s own policy should only allow major development under exceptional circumstances.  10,500 homes in the ostensible buffer around the Park, the intentional destruction of Important habitat, and the decimation of Green Belt flies in the face of any presumption that the National Park provides the Forest with any protection.

We ask the Verderers, in their role as a statutory consultee to support our objections, particularly when the NFDC Local Plan is considered.  This is a generational threat to the Forest, and hope that all present in both official and private capacities will join us in this fight.


[1] Indeed previous attempts to do just that failed only due to unreasonable demands from the Power Station management.

ADDENDUM:
The current proposals range from 1500 homes on both the site and onto the SP25 land, or 4000 homes on the site alone (that profitability in the viability study equates 120 homes on the Park’s area with 2500 homes difference, is an example of the nonsense that the viability study purports, and a veiled threat to make an even more unacceptable development).  Even within the Power Station site, the proposals are not limited as they should be to just the former industrial area.  There is also an entirely cracked logic that if these homes must be built to fund the Power Station site development, that they must be built there, and not anywhere else in the country, and they must be built first, but with no guarantee that the industrial site would be developed subsequently.

The current proposals for the Power Station site, which do not demonstrate exceptional circumstances required for major development within the Park, should either be abandoned, scaled down to minor settlement, or mixed use for recreation or perhaps most fittingly for its industrial heritage sustainable power generation in the form of a solar array, all of which should be confined wholly to the industrial area alone, and outside the 400m zone of any future and very likely SPA designation.

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Rewilding The New Forest?

Sir Charles Burrell, Diana Westerhoff, Debbie Tann and Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre

The growl of a large grizzly bear filled the hall at Lyndhurst Community Centre and the audience of two hundred people gasped. As curtains drew back and they were confronted with a huge picture of the bear, they listened attentively to Sir Charles Burrell’s description of his pioneering rewilding project at his family estate, Knepp, in West Sussex. At the event organised by the Friends of the New Forest, Sir Charles explained that rewilding is not currently about bringing back such major predators as we don’t have the right eco-systems. He showed how Britain has only tiny pockets of true ‘nature’, and we need to care for these but also need more, bigger, better and more joined-up areas if we are to have a real impact on nature conservation.

Sir Charles went on to describe how over a period of six years, the Knepp estate moved away from traditional arable and pastoral farming on what he said was very poor quality Wealden Clay land, whose production capacity was falling short of national averages. He divided the estate into three main areas, which were treated differently. In the southern block, formerly mainly arable land, field hedges were removed, and the land was stocked with Tamworth pigs, Old English Longhorn cattle and Exmoor ponies, while three species of deer soon made themselves at home.  Scrub developed quickly, though each former field responded differently.

The middle block where the old Knepp Castle had been was believed to be a cultural landscape, a park with a large hammer pond designed by Repton. It was re-seeded with grass and wildflowers, which deterred an exuberant explosion of scrub. The resulting grassland is stocked with ponies, cattle and deer but no pigs.

The northern block had been farmed for dairy cattle, and was re-seeded with grasses but no wildflowers, and is now stocked just with cattle. The resulting open farmscape is slowly developing a little scrub. Sir Charles explained how he had been criticised for creating scrubland, and pointed out that pollen data from 6,000 years ago reveals that only one third of Britain was covered by woodland, contrary to the popular myth that a squirrel could once pass from tree to tree without touching the ground from Lands End to John O’Groats.

The Knepp project is steered by an advisory board of international experts from many relevant fields,. In order to have a more convenient term for a ‘long-term, minimum intervention, natural process-led area’, which although accurate would hardly inspire anyone,  ‘rewilding’ was adopted. This team looked at the UK’s extinct animals and selected proxies which would be appropriate, for example, cattle to replace aurochs. Sir Charles enthusiastically described how the animals seem to complement each other, and the new habitats have drawn in huge numbers and varieties of insects, birds and animals as well as plants, many more than when the estate was farmed traditionally. The estate employs a full-time ecologist to survey, monitor and record these. They have also found that their soil biodiversity and function have improved significantly.

Perhaps surprisingly Sir Charles then demonstrated how the changes have also benefitted the estate financially. Even excluding the tourism, camping and glamping activities which he has developed, the income from the farming side of the estate now well exceeds the national average by some 30%.

Sir Charles was then joined on the platform by Debbie Tann, Chief Executive of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and Diana Westerhoff, a Verderer, to answer questions from the floor. Debbie Tann said that she has visited Knepp and been most impressed by what the estate is doing. She said that wildlife in Britain is disappearing at an alarming rate and we need imagination and new bold thinking to put nature into recovery. She reported that the Trust is looking for opportunities in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to create larger scale reserves and one or two ‘Knepps’.

Diana Westerhoff commented that while the New Forest is very different to Knepp, there have been some efforts at rewilding. The Forest Design Plan is resulting in restoration to traditional land use in some areas, while the wetland restoration programme is returning lost habitats to a favourable condition.

Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre, President of the Friends of the New Forest, noted that one of the six reasons for rewilding listed on the Knepp website was the revitalisation of communities, and wondered how this could be achieved where farms are smaller. To this question, Sir Charles responded with news of an upland farmer he had met at the Oxford farming conference. By changing his pattern of sheep farming including actually reducing stock numbers, and diversifying into holiday lets, he had managed to make his business much more sustainable.

In reply to a question about the impact of global warming on wildlife habitats, Debbie Tann agreed that there is some impact on habitats but possibly more on the food needed by wildlife. She gave the examples of a crash in insect numbers and changes in timing of bird migration having severe effects. Diana Westerhoff added an example of the falcon species, the hobby, declining in the Forest because of a decline in the numbers of house martins, a favoured food of their young. And Sir Charles gave his own example of cuckoos, which have returned to Knepp in good numbers. However they feed with swifts in sub-Saharan Africa, and if it doesn’t rain there for five weeks and there are no insects, they never arrive in Britain.

Another audience member proposed that people are increasingly intolerant of wild landscapes and incapable of being sensible round large herbivores, and wondered if rewilding as a concept would help. Maybe because visitors to Knepp understand they are visiting a ‘rewilded’ landscape, they are more respectful of the large grazing herbivores than visitors to the New Forest are with the free-roaming livestock. Sir Charles recalled a neighbouring farmer who runs educational visits finding that even young farmers could not name common trees, and he suggested that we need more nature education as part of the curriculum. Debbie Tann suggested that we need to rewild people and regretted that many children have never known the fun of running around in long grass.

Questioned about the complexities of environmental stewardship schemes, Sir Charles noted that the Rural Payments Agency uses Google satellite images to categorise landscape, resulting in confused and contradictory definitions which need to be sorted out soon. Diana Westerhoff reported that the Higher Level Stewardship scheme includes more or less all grazed land but the Rural Payments Agency excludes gorse as non-grazing land even though ponies happily eat it in winter.

Comparing the New Forest to Knepp, the next questioner noted that while Knepp has withdrawn from management, in the New Forest we manage both land and stock much more. Diana Westerhoff pointed out that the Forest starts from a very different position, resulting from biodiversity developed over thousands of years. It would be good to have other Knepps around the Forest but we could lose from emulating it in the Forest itself. Debbie Tann added that only 55% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the Forest are classified as in a ‘favourable’ condition, little better than  compared with 45% across the whole of Hampshire, and some extra wilding activity might be helpful to improve this. Sir Charles picked up the point of rewilding people and felt that this arises from inspirational things in the landscape – think beyond the box. What about bison?

Focusing on the Forest, it was suggested that the grazed areas of the forest do not enjoy the abundance of wildlife described at Knepp and the questioner asked what impact animal density has on this. Sir Charles felt that it was not necessary to worry about it. This is just a moment in time, and livestock numbers wax and wane over long periods. Diana Westerhoff endorsed this and added that even short-grazed turf may be home to species missing from other habitats. The woodlands are rich in insects like moths and in bats but we just don’t often see them.

Sir Charles was asked to explain the term ‘pop-up Knepps’ mentioned in his talk. He pointed out that farms and estates pass down the generations and landowners may not wish to tie the land forever to specific conservation designations like SSSIs. So a commitment to plan for 10 or 20 years would enable people to choose to return to conventional farming in the future. The Knepp estate has footpaths crossing it and Sir Charles was asked how he manages the public. He stated that longhorn cattle were useful in deterring people from straying from paths, but that dog-walkers were a problem for ground-nesting birds.  He suggested that good paths, routes, maps and signs were all needed.

Thinking again of the Forest, two questions raised the effect of grazing levels on the possible decline in wildlife and growth of new trees, issues welcomed by the audience with applause. Diana Westerhoff noted that studies on the impact of grazing on ground-nesting birds showed that it was hard to separate it from other factors like deer numbers, dog-walking, predators and climate change. But she commented that it was hard to control over-grazing. Tree regeneration is a long-term business and the Forest includes pasture woodland rather than dense canopy woodland.

At this point John Ward, Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest, said that he did not feel comfortable at being told we don’t have enough information so cannot take action, and asked the panel whether, nonetheless, it might be possible to divide the Forest into areas and exclude recreational access to part of it in order to test rewilding. Sir Charles responded positively, saying that the Forest is large enough to do this. Joking, he even suggested bringing back wolves to control the deer! But he felt that it was possible to amend stock intensity and deer density. He also pointed out the value of thorn bushes which protect young trees, quoting an ancient forestry saying: ‘the thorn is the mother of the oak’. An audience member added that a 400-year old oak only needs one seedling produced during its lifetime to replace itself.

The next question raised the issue of recreational pressure. Debbie Tann agreed that for the New Forest this is the greatest current problem. The words ‘National Park’ mislead the public, and some rewilding might make the nature and purpose of the Forest clearer. We need to be braver, for example in challenging plans for housing development, and local authorities should be providing alternative green space for recreation outside the Forest.

Finally Peter Roberts, previous Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest, enquired what would be the smallest area which could engage in rewilding, with the large estates around the Forest and the Forestry Commission in mind. Sir Charles gave examples of the area which a pig needs per week, because scale matters. The smaller the area, the more management you have to do. The bigger you get, the more you can sit back and leave it alone.

At the end of a stimulating and wide-ranging discussion, Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre thanked Sir Charles for his talk and admired his courage in rewilding Knepp, also thanking Debbie Tann and Diana Westerhoff for their contribution and finally urging the audience to join the Friends of the New Forest to support its fight for the Forest’s sustainable future.

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Verderers response to BBC Inside Out South

This is the Verderers of the New Forest Press Release in response to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

It is a great shame that Mr Packham declines to talk to the organisations which manage the New Forest. Some of his statements are, unfortunately, quite wrong. For example, he assumes that every animal for which the Verderers receive marking fees is actually turned out on the Forest for the entire year. We know that is not correct. Commoners generally turn their cattle out in summer but take them home for the winter. Some cattle are never turned out onto the forest.

Some ponies spend most of their lives on the Forest but others are also taken home for the winter. The animal population varies throughout the year.

An excellent indicator of the grazing pressure is the condition of stock. There has been no deterioration in the condition of the stock overall. The Verderers, through the Agisters, monitor the welfare of the stock closely. The Agisters report regularly to the Verderers on the condition of the stock out in the Forest. Any report to the Verderers’ Office of an animal in poor condition is promptly investigated by an Agister. Any animal found to be in poor condition is removed from the Forest.

The Verderers host two Welfare Tours every year which are attended by a number of organisations including the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, the Donkey Sanctuary, British Horse Society, Blue Cross, Defra and Animal Health/Trading Standards in order that the condition of the stock can be independently monitored and assessed.

In 2016, a small number of ponies were found to be stripping trees of their bark in Mark Ash Wood. Other ponies in the area were not touching the trees. All the ponies in the area were in excellent condition. Ponies do sometimes eat woody material but it is not an indication of hunger. Because it can be a learnt behaviour, the animals responsible were identified and removed from the Forest. We and the Forestry Commission are continuing to monitor the situation.

Over the last eight years, the Verderers of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (a partnership between the Forestry Commission, the New Forest National Park Authority and the Verderers working with Natural England) has restored over 10 miles of drainage channels, which were artificially straightened by the Victorians The work has resulted in more natural wetland systems which help to support the unique biodiversity of the New Forest.

In 2017 the Wootton stream restoration was shortlisted for the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence award – the Natural Environment category. It’s a credit to the team and Mott MacDonald who were involved in the planning to restore Wootton Riverine back to its natural meandering route. It’s a truly collaborative project between many partner organisations, who are working towards conserving the New Forest’s unique natural environment.

The Forestry Commission burns about 250 hectares – which is only 2% of the total heathland area across the Crown lands. Even though this is a relatively small proportion of the heath, it ensures we have a healthy and vigorous range of heather heights and ages, which as well as providing diversity also provides us with effective firebreaks to protect large areas of heathland, woodland and private property from wildfire.

There are a number of very rare species in the New Forest whose very existence is due entirely to the hard grazing and the poaching by animals that occurs in some parts of the Forest.

The present high number of animals for which marking fees have been received is, we believe, due wholly to the present farming subsidy scheme. We hope the Basic Payment Scheme, which we do agree with Mr Packham, is not appropriate to the Forest, will change after BREXIT, and we are calling for a bespoke subsidy scheme for the New Forest run by the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the National Park Authority with the invaluable input from Natural England. These are the organisations which, together with the commoners, have managed and protected the Forest and will continue to do so for many years to come.

The Forest is facing ever more pressures, especially from increasing recreational use. The best way to ensure its survival is for the organisations responsible for its management to continue to work in partnership. Those who disagree with their management should engage constructively with them.

30th January 2019

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Forestry Commission response to BBC Inside Out South

This is the Forestry Commission Press Release in response to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

Deputy Surveyor for the New Forest, Bruce Rothnie, at the Forestry Commission, said:

“Those who work every day within the New Forest and observe its cycles of management know that its condition is best judged over decades of time and not year by year. Its diversity of plants and animals comes from traditional practices that have been continuing for hundreds of years including the grazing by animals and burning of heathland. Without the New Forest’s unique grazing system and land management we could not sustain the quality and nature of the landscape we all enjoy today.

The fluctuating density of grazing season by season and year by year is exactly what creates the special nature of the Forest. The habitats created are a haven for some of the rarest plants and animals and the New Forest is the only stronghold for many. The condition of the grazed habitats and the commoner’s stock is assessed regularly by experts. It is the longer term trends that are important for the future of the Forest. Snapshot critiques often lack the understanding of those trends and nature’s pace of change. The commoners are rightly proud of the standard of welfare of their animals and they would be quick to address any concern if their stock were deteriorating due to shortage of vegetation.

The partnership of organisations including the Forestry Commission, National Park Authority, Verderers and the Commoners Defence Association, is focussed on finding the best solution to support commoning and land management post-Brexit. We are working hard to influence how any new subsidy system could be shaped to deliver the best outcomes for the New Forest and its long-term future. The Forest is poised to demonstrate the immense value for money it provides for society.

The regeneration of the grazed woodlands is another feature which responds at nature’s pace and will occur over time periods that extend well beyond the memories of a single lifetime. History tells us that regeneration has occurred in pulses over many decades and these woodlands will naturally go through periods of more open character and more closed tree cover – that is the natural cycle of woodland regeneration where grazing animals roam.”

Shared with kind permission of the Forestry Commission. Our Chair’s Response to the BBC program is available here.
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Our Chair Responds to BBC Inside Out Allegations

Friends of the New Forest Chair, John Ward, responds to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

In a short programme it would be too much to expect explanation and discussion, but Chris Packham’s assertions, “the Forest has been drained, burnt, overgrazed and suffers a catastrophic decline in species” certainly had the tabloid newspaper headline effect he no doubt wanted.

Perhaps stream and valley mire restoration, the fact that a decade or so ago there was a great worry that commoning was declining so fast there would not be enough animals, and recognition that species decline is often rooted in causes much wider that the New Forest, might also have been mentioned.

Drawing conclusions from a snapshot view of the New Forest is often risky for a place that evolves and fluctuates over long periods of time. Grazing within the cultural landscape of the Forest has always varied. For example, the dairy herds of the 1960s are no longer present and agri-environment grants come and go.  But, setting aside the passionate performance of Chris Packham, there is a very  important point coming out of this programme. The New Forest is still an astonishingly rich place for wildlife and for people, those riches depend on the continuity of commoning and commoning needs our support. One of the many challenges that the Forest faces for those of us seeking its long-term protection is to find the right way to make that support.

Our habitat blog will shortly feature more detailed consideration of the issues at hand as well as statements from other organizations including the Forestry Commission. The Press Release version of our Chair’s Statement is available here.
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Presentment: Dragons Teething Pains

  Presenting a guest blog from Wednesday’s Verderers Court, a Presentment from Lyndsey Stride on some of the unintended consequences of Dragons Teeth.  

Good morning OV, V and MOP.

Thank you to the Verderers and Forestry Commission for their efforts to protect the verges of the New Forest Crown Lands. I know that dragons teeth have been a very positive management tool over many years around car parks in the New Forest.

Can you reassure us that plans and funds are in place for the long term management of the new roadside dragons teeth and the verges? And that where you displace parked cars you have considered and mitigated for the impact on the flow of traffic and identified alternative parking particularly when it is linked to housing or pubs? And that you are in consultation with the Highways Authorities and Emergency Services before you implement your plans?

Our experience in Emery Down shows that dragons teeth are both a benefit and a curse.

The dragons teeth put in on the Bolderwood road in 2018 have pushed parked cars on to the opposite soft verge causing significant damage.

  • The displaced traffic park alongside the new dragons teeth preventing large vehicles such as fire engines and tractors with trailers from accessing the road at all, and forcing traffic to drive on the opposite side of the road towards a blind bend.
  • Other vehicles park between the brow of the the hill at Northerwood Gatehouse, past the church to the New Forest Inn. This makes it very dangerous to pass with a car let alone a truck and horse box or on a bicycle. I recently witnessed a family group attempting to cycle up the hill while a Tesco delivery van drove straight towards them, having committed to the manoeuvre whilst unable to see around the bend. At times 20 or more cars are tightly parked with no passing places.

Along Mill Lane dragons teeth and passing places initially protected the verge and for perhaps five years it seemed as though it was working. However recent years have shown that dragons teeth are not the answer. Either for traffic management or verge protection.

  • The bramble has taken over resulting in a loss of grazing and the
    traditional verge flora and fauna.
  • Animals and pedestrians are pushed on to the single track road as the scrub has encroached.
  • Many dragons teeth have been driven in to and are now gone, resulting in alternative passing places being created and the verge destroyed. The hedges have been pushed back and destroyed to allow cars to pass one another on the single track road.
  • It is very difficult to manage hedges beyond the dragons teeth and as a result they are in places encroaching on the verge itself.
  • In summer we are unable to access the farm during peak hours and have to move animals and hay and silage early in the morning or late at night.
  • Satellite navigation systems are pushing drivers on to our quieter Forest roads. Dragons teeth do not stop them coming.

These are my own views. I ask again. Have you considered and mitigated for the long term impact of the very significant number of roadside dragons teeth which you are installing as part of the HLS scheme?

Lyndsey Stride

 

Lyndsey Stride is a practicing Commoner, and also leader on the recent Commoning Voices Project / Exhibition, part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Fund.

For more on other local uses of Dragons Teeth, here’s the Better Boundaries Our Past Our Future HLF Project.

EDITORS NOTE: With Apologies … The atrocious title pun is mine, not Lyndsey’s.

 
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Development threats to New Forest

New Forest National Park Authority and New Forest District Council Local Plans

The Friends of the New Forest are concerned with the New Forest District Council’s (NFDC) Local Plan, which aims to build 10,500 homes over ten years. In their own summary NFDC admit this is three to four times their current development rate and that 13 of 20 of their proposed strategic development sites are on Green Belt.

The Friends of the New Forest believe this will increase the population in the District and National Park by roughly seven times that of Lyndhurst. One of these ‘Lyndhursts’ will be an entire new village at Fawley, which will increase the population of the park by 10 %, at the wrong end of the already stressed A326 transport corridor.

This would have a severe recreational impact on the New Forest with disturbance to habitat and livestock, and would further urbanise the already saturated Waterside Area, requiring upgrades to the roads that due to that saturation would necessarily encroach onto the highly protected Crown Lands within the National Park. This would increase traffic westward across the New Forest on roads already animal accident blackspots.

The New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) and NFDC share a viability study that accepts the developer’s contention that in order to develop 1,500 homes at Fawley, they must also build 120 as premium homes on a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation within the National Park.

The Friends of the New Forest are concerned that the National Park is failing in its statutory purposes to conserve and enhance the New Forest, by adopting the poor logic and questionable feasibility behind the NFDC support for the Waterside development and by a lack of objection to the scale of NFDC’s 10,500 home plan.

The Government 25 Year Environment Plan promises greater protection for National Parks and both designated and undesignated habitats, and a review for possible expansion of the boundaries of National Parks. The Friends of the New Forest feel that the NFNPA and NFDC should be working together to fulfil their legal obligation to protect the New Forest.

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Fungi and the Law (a summary)

We thought it was time to review where fungi law is currently. With Autumn fully upon us, and a plethora of various understandings being put about, I’ve attempted to summarize (with extensive notes below).

The Theft Act 1968 makes it illegal to take fungi or plants from the wild for commercial purposes[*].  But the fines are low enough(£100-300) to be a wrist slap cost-of-doing-business for commercial foragers.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to pick any rare (schedule 8 red data list) wild plant including fungi[†].  The CPS Guidance lists much stronger penalties, including up to £5k fine per item, six months jailtime, and forfeiture of vehicles used in the act or to transport goods[‡].  The same act makes it illegal to “uproot” any wild plant without authorisation, but there seems to be neither guidance nor history of prosecution for this.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – both of the previous examples apply anywhere in the wild, the Wildlife and Countryside Act also provides extra protection for land designated as SSSI.  This makes it an offence on SSSI land to “intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which land is of special interest”[§].  The New Forest has one of the few SSSI designations that lists its fungi population as one of its special interest features.  The downside of this is that very few prosecutions have been brought under this part of the act, although the fines up to £20k would make a very useful deterrent.

So technically, picking fungi on the New Forest SSSI without authorisation, is completely illegal, but under two less enforced portions of legislation.  BUT Picking fungi for any commercial purpose, OR picking rare species for any purpose anywhere are both illegal and realistically arrestable, prosecutable offences.

Byelaws

The Forestry Commission byelaws make it an offence to do anything to a plant, and also lists as prohibited for removal “soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals”[**], strangely this seems to omit fungi, but this is because fungi were originally within the definition of “plant”.  The loophole was created when taxonomists reclassified fungi to a separate Kingdom.  The Wildlife and Countryside Act and other primary legislation solve this with a codicil that defines their use of “plant” as inclusive of “fungi and algae”.  The loophole should be closed in the Byelaws.

But for taxonomists and pedantry, it ought to be illegal in the FC Byelaws.  It is due to the loophole that the FC last year publicly suggested that fungi foraging wasn’t strictly illegal, ignoring illegality under the W&C Act. Oddly enough, The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW), is widely perceived to have banned all foraging on the access land it created (not applicable to the Crown Lands); yet, it too has the same loophole, in that it prohibits taking of plants, but never explicitly includes fungi within that definition, and virtually all guidance you will find says that it does!

The National Trust Byelaws explicitly prohibit fungi foraging[††], the Wildlife Trusts prohibit on their Nature Reserves, and Epping Forest (whose model of enforcement we hoped to emulate) prohibits “Taking anything”, usefully all inclusive.

Natural England, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, as modified by the NERC Act 2006, has powers to make Byelaws for SSSI land.  However, these have yet to be exercised (saving for existing byelaws on certain National Nature Reserves), and only just this year have DEFRA and NE begun a consultation on how they might formulate such Byelaws.  This could be used in future to protect the notified features of the New Forest SSSI, which would include fungi, and effectively cover their accidental exclusion from the FC Byelaws.

Personal use limit. 1.5kg – This was an amount suggest in FC publicity for many years.  It has no legal basis, and came from a misreading of guidance, The Wild Mushroom Picker’s Code of Conduct.  The Code suggested that amount for culinary forage as a per foray group total per visit, and should only be done with permission of the land owner/manager.  The Code deemed culinary forage as inappropriate on SSSI and/or National Nature Reserves.  The New Forest is both.

The supposed personal limit is moot and was never applicable, neither legally nor in guidance, on the Crown Lands, the New Forest SSSI.  The appropriate limit is 0.

I would prefer a complete ban on the New Forest SSSI in recognition of the precious, delicate and under pressure habitat, that should be protected, not just by on paper designations.  Foragers can go elsewhere, but our flora and fauna can’t.  Those pretending they care for the environment, but arguing their entitlement to its harvest, regardless of its protections, are raiding the larder of a burning house.

That said, in one stakeholder meeting I suggested a practical measure for enforcement that would let those genuinely taking a small amount for personal use off the hook, whatever you could comfortably hold within your two cupped hands, surely enough for an omelette without waste.

The Friends of the New Forest support the Forestry Commission’s “Look, Don’t Pick” policy for the New Forest SSSI under their stewardship. We would like to see the FC take a prosecution for picking of Red Data List species, which carries strong penalties capable of putting off commercial foragers.

 


ADDENDUM and FOOTNOTES (for those with more will power)

Also worth noting the Forestry Commission’s powers and designations on Crown Lands:

NCC Consent 25 January 1988

The Nature Conservancy Council issued the following consent to the FC regarding the above operation:-  “The collection of fungi as authorised by the Forestry Commission, subject to periodic review by the FC and the NCC.”

FC/Verderers/English Nature Declaration of Intent 25 July 1995

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

FOOTNOTES

[*]

The Theft Act 1968 Section 4 “Property”.
(3) A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose. For purposes of this subsection “mushroom” includes any fungus, and “plant” includes any shrub or tree.

This allows foraging activities for purely personal not any commercial use. Commercial use would include resale, but could be applied to those who run commercial foraging forays without permission of the landowner.

[†]

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 13 Protection of wild plants
(1)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a)intentionally picks, uproots or destroys any wild plant included in Schedule 8; or
(b)not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant not included in that Schedule,

he shall be guilty of an offence.

(2)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a)sells, offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild plant included in Schedule 8, or any part of, or anything derived from, such a plant; or
(b)publishes or causes to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that he buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell, any of those things,
COPY

he shall be guilty of an offence.
(3)Notwithstanding anything in subsection (1), a person shall not be guilty of an offence by reason of any act made unlawful by that subsection if he shows that the act was an incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided.
(4)In any proceedings for an offence under subsection (2)(a), the plant in question shall be presumed to have been a wild plant unless the contrary is shown

Unfortunately, fungi are not terribly well served here.  In fact, their inclusion in the act is a bit of an afterthought.  This is in part due to the reclassification of fungi into their own kingdom in 1969.  A codicil, section 71 subsection 2 “it is hereby declared that in this Act “plants” include fungi and algae.” was added to the bill in subsequent legislation, Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.  (The NERC Act 2006 also established Natural England, and Section 41 species)

[‡] The Crown Prosecution Service does not seem interested in the SSSI related offences, their  guidance on Wildlife Offences focusses on more straightforward criminality, mostly pertaining to offences in Sections 9 & 13.

Powers of Arrest, Search and Seizure

Under section 24(2) Police and Criminal Evidence Act, as amended by Schedule 12, paragraph 13 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 (the CROW Act,) the following are arrestable offences:

[INCLUDING] …

  • Any offence under sections 9, 13(1)(a) or (2) WCA 1981 (taking, possessing, selling etc of Schedule 5 wild animals or Schedule 8 plants). …

All offences under Part I WCA 1981 are summary only, except for offences under sections 14, 19ZA(7) and (8) which are either way. ….

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. See Section 21(5) WCA 1981.

Offences under section 14, 14A and 19 XB(4) are punishable on conviction on indictment to a term not exceeding two years imprisonment and/or a fine or both.

Powers of Forfeiture under WCA 1981 and generally

Wherever appropriate, courts should be reminded of their power to make such orders.

Under section 21(6)(a) WCA 1981 a court shall, following conviction for such an offence, order the forfeiture of any bird, egg, animal, plant etc in respect of which the offence was committed. 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 Forfeiture guidelines are intriguing, adding a nice deterrent that in addition to the heavy fines for taking or selling Schedule 8 species, the vehicles used may be forfeited.

[§]Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Section 28 Establishment of SSSI’s Provision P Offences

(6)A person (other than a section 28G authority acting in the exercise of its functions) who without reasonable excuse—

(a)intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which land is of special interest, or intentionally or recklessly disturbs any of those fauna, and

(b)knew that what he destroyed, damaged or disturbed was within a site of special scientific interest,

is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or on conviction on indictment to a fine.

Natural England is the statutory body which determines which features, flora and fauna are key to any given SSSI, these are called notified features as NE, when they designate a SSSI, are required to notify landowners of their obligations to the SSSI.  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).  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.

[**]

The Forestry Commission Byelaws 1982

  1. Acts Prohibited on the Lands of the Commissioners

No person shall in or on the lands of the Commissioners:

(vii) 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;

The Forestry Commission byelaws list prohibited substances for removal which includes “plants” which may ambiguously refer to fungi (if we take into account inclusive definitions in Primary Legislation).  It may be worth removing this ambiguity by either seeking an inclusive interpretation of the existing byelaw – after all, it is likely that the original byelaws were drafted before fungi were reclassified, and it seems stingy when your list includes soil, turf, leafmold, moss and peat, to insist that plant does not include fungi.  Otherwise we could petition the FC to amend the byelaw, this is a long game move, though, and would take as much as five to ten years.

[††]National Trust Byelaws 1965

Soil and Vegetation
2. (a) No unauthorised person shall dig, cut or take turf, sods, gravel, sand, clay or any other substance on or from Trust Property.
(b) No unauthorised person shall dig up or remove, cut, fell, pluck or injure any flowers, plants, fungi, moss, ferns, shrubs, trees or other vegetation growing on Trust Property or remove any seeds thereof or injure any grass or climb any tree.

The National Trust Byelaws are quite clear, and here in the New Forest they have had to be vocal as they’ve had incidents, such as when their own organized educational fungi walk on one of the Northern Commons under their managagement could find none as the area had been stripped by commercial foragers.

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Presentments to Verderers — September

Here we welcome guest posts on night cycling and signs to educate the public.  These presentments were made by individuals to the Verderers, not on behalf of the Friends of the New Forest, and which they have kindly given us permission to share here.  The first is from Alison Tilbury, Vice chairman of Denny Lodge Parish Council, who spoke as a representative of the Parish.

We wish to ask whether the Verderers can initiate some control over the increasing numbers of nightime cyclists that are riding over the open forest in groups.  Most of these cyclists wear a very bright headlight which although may be effective for their riding causes disturbance to forest stock.

With the clocks going back in October we feel that now is the time that education is put in place to put a stop to this nightime activity.   This would ensure  that the forest has a time to rest and recover from the increasing pressures of all the daytime activities that take place.

Last November we made a presentment stating our concerns and objections to a medium sized night time cycling recreation event which was sponsored by a head lamp manufacturer.  We were concerned about the effect on wildlife and livestock, and want the Forest to have, as Alison Tilbury has said, “a time to rest and recover.”

Our second guest post today is from local resident Susan Johnson, speaking on the subject of Visitors and Ponies and Signs

I am fully aware of the reluctance to put more signs on the Forest and the reasons given.  However, this year has convinced me, more than ever, that there is an urgent need for new signs at entrances to the Forest stating:

PLEASE DO NOT FEED, TOUCH OR COAX PONIES TO THE ROADSIDE

The information notices in the car parks and leaflets at various venues are not sufficiently effective. Many people do not bother to read them. They are not seen by the large number of visitors passing through, who stop on the verges and in lay-bys to look at the ponies and encourage them over to their cars to photograph, touch and feed them. I frequently encounter this behaviour as I drive across the Forest – in particular on the B3055 Sway to Brockenhurst road on which I drive twice a day, every day.  It is getting worse every year as visitor numbers increase. This year has been particularly bad.

On advising them, politely, that what they are doing is not a good idea and why, I receive mixed responses but invariably I am told that “they did not know that it was wrong” and asked “where are the signs to tell them this”? With – appropriate, instructional signs at Forest entrances they would have no excuse for their ignorance and could not justifiably claim that they “did not know” .

It may be mainly locals who kill the ponies but it is certainly, without doubt, visitors who entice them to the roads.

In conclusion, in my opinion such signs are vital and there is no valid reason for refusal to erect them. Without them livestock is being put at increased risk I which I find inexcusable! Please, let common sense prevail.

I really to not have the time or inclination to have to keep stopping and talking to these people.

We should note that these views do not necessarily reflect the positions taken by the Friends of the New Forest.  We share them here to stimulate debate, and to acknowledge the passion, care and time taken by the presenters, and thank them for their efforts.

Our policies against too much urbanizing of the Forest, often puts us in the position of arguing against too many signs, but certainly the nuances of content, effectiveness, and situation are part of that as an ongoing discussion.  We are not against effective efforts to educate the public about how to care for and respect the Forest.

 

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Verderer’s Announcements and Decisions September 2018

This month’s announcements include warnings about dumping apples and garden waste on the Forest as a hazard to the livestock, the upcoming Verderers Election, positive changes to the HLS Verderers Grazing Scheme subsidy, and the continuing appointment of the NFNPA Verderer.

19th September 2018

APPLES & OTHER WINDFALL FRUITS

The Verderers regularly draw attention to the problems that result from the public feeding ponies on the Forest.  At this time of year, there is often a glut of apples.  I would like to draw people’s attention to the particular dangers associated with dumping apples on the Forest. Apples in quantity, such as a bag of windfalls, can cause colic in horses. A whole apple can cause choking.  Leaving apples close to the roadside attracts animals onto the public highway and into danger from passing vehicles.

GARDEN WASTE

Dumping garden waste on the Open Forest also presents a hazard to stock as many garden plants are toxic.  In addition, it constitutes fly tipping.  We ask residents and those undertaking gardening and landscaping to please dispose of their waste responsibly – at the local tip please, not the Forest.

VERDERERS’ ELECTION

The Election of two Verderers, will be held on Friday, 30th November, when the terms of office of Dionis Macnair and David Readhead come to an end.

The deadline for registering to vote at our election was Monday, the day before yesterday.  However, as we want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to vote, registration forms will continue to be accepted until this Friday 21st September.  The Draft Electoral Register has to be finalised in time for it to be sent out to the public offices for public viewing from Monday 1st October.  The fact that you may have been registered for previous elections does not count, and therefore, to be able to vote this year, you must register now.  There are some spare registration forms on the table at the front of the Court.

I hope we will see a strong turnout at the election and I ask all those present to help spread the word so that as many people as possible are able to vote.  I very much hope the press will also help by giving publicity to this important event.

For anyone wishing to stand for election, the deadline for the delivery of nomination papers is Noon on Tuesday 6th November and I will issue a reminder at the October Court.  Anyone requiring further information, should contact the Verderers’ Office, or the Office of the Returning Officer, Mrs Rachel Brooks at the Under Sheriff’s Office in Romsey.

CHANGES TO CURRENT VGS RATES 2019

The VGS Committee & the Court of Verderers have agreed to amend the Verderers Grazing Scheme Livestock Unit rates payable in December 2019.  As the 2018 application forms have already been returned for payments due this December, these changes cannot be implemented until 2019.  Application forms will be sent out next February.  The Court felt it is important to let VGS members know of these changes before the coming winter as it may impact on their stocking level decisions.

The change to Livestock Unit (LU) rates allows the VGS to increase the incentive for Registered New Forest Mares and reduce the incentive for large numbers of cattle and non-registered equines.  The overall pot of money remains the same and the result will be that more members will gain than lose.

The following changes are to apply;

Registered New Forest Mare or Stallion from 0.8 to 1 LU (livestock unit)

No Marking Fee return for any other female equines (including donkeys).  Geldings are already excluded.

Cattle to remain at 1 LU but a payment limit introduced of 40 head of cattle per individual commoner

Copies of the amended VGS terms and conditions are available on the table at the front of the Court.

EDWARD HERON

We are pleased to announce that Cllr Edward Heron’s term of office as the New Forest National Park’s Appointed Verderer, has been extended for a further year.

We particularly welcome renewed statements on perennial issues such as mostly well meaning but entirely misguided dumping of green waste on the Forest in the mistaken notion that it helps feed the Forest livestock.  There is no positive in this, rotting greenwaste can poison livestock, and drawing livestock to roadside and other amenity locations endangers them and disrupts natural feeding patterns.  Regulated supplementary feeding is agreed at locations away from public interaction, and even this practice is questionably and may soon be phased out or reduced. The livestock are there to graze the Forest, and the habitat produced by their grazing and trampling patterns is a key part of the biodiversity of the Forest.

Along side this we also welcome changes to Commoners subsidy which should reward the stewardship provided by their livestock, but not be entirely based on headcount. capping the cattle subsidy may go some way to address areas which have possibly been over poached.

We thank the Verderers for their kind permission to occasionally include their announcements as guest posts here, as we hope we can help highlight the vital role they play on the Forest.

 

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