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New Forest Association warns that the danger is not over

The New Forest Association has welcomed moves by the Government to cancel its consultation on the privatisation of forests but warns that the danger to the New Forest, one of the nation’s much loved ‘heritage’ forests, is not over.

Following on from its presentment to the Verderers’ Court in Lyndhurst yesterday (February 16th), the New Forest Association warns that the proposed Public Bodies Bill is still a serious threat to the New Forest.

“The Public Bodies Bill is an enabling bill which gives power to Ministers to – amongst other things – sell off the New Forest,” said New Forest Association Vice Chairman Peter Roberts. “There is currently no provision for ensuring that the New Forest Acts and therefore the powers of the Verderers remain in place. We have alerted our Members of Parliament to this danger and have asked Lord Judd to propose an amendment in the House of Lords.”

Mr Roberts said that the current outcry against the Government’s proposals has demonstrated just how much the nation values its forests.

“The process has enabled us all to think about the huge benefits that we are all able to enjoy in the woods, heaths and mires that make up the New Forest and other forest areas. It also reminds us that we should always be vigilant, for it is easy to take these areas of publicly-owned heritage for granted,” he said.

“We ask that those who love the New Forest join us so that we, the New Forest Association, can continue to be the one organisation that will act as watchdog and campaign for the Forest as it has done since 1867.”

Note to Editors:
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has confirmed today that the consultation has been cancelled and that an independent panel of experts will examine forestry policy in England and report back to her in the autumn. http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/02/17/futureforestry/

The New Forest Acts of 1877, 1949, 1964 and 1970 govern what is permissible in the New Forest and seek to protect and manage the New Forest area. They protect the areas of ancient and ornamental woods and include provisions relating to recreation, access and conservation, with both the Forestry Commission and the Court of Verderers awarded specific responsibilities.

The Public Bodies Bill, expected to reach committee stage in the House of Lords on Monday 28 February, makes provision for conferring powers on Ministers of the Crown in relation to certain public bodies and offices, to confer powers on Welsh Ministers in relation to environmental public bodies, to make provision in relation to forestry, to make provision about amendment of Schedule 1 to the Superannuation Act 1972; and for connected purposes.

Lord Judd is an enthusiast for the environment and was formerly MP for Portsmouth.

The New Forest Association, established in 1867, is one of the oldest conservation organisations in the world. It is an independent charity with over 900 members. Campaign for National Parks recognises NFA as the New Forest National Park society.

Contact:
William Ziegler, Chairman, 01794 390344, chairman@newforestassociation.org

Peter Roberts, Vice Chairman, 01725 514480, peter.robertsnf@tiscali.co.uk

Official Verderer Announcement: Forestry Commission Public Forest Estate – Public Consultation

VERDERERS COURT 16th FEBRUARY 2011
ANNOUNCEMENTS AND DECISIONS
Forestry Commission Public Forest Estate – Public Consultation

The paper proposes that the New Forest will be classed as what it calls a “Heritage Wood” which can then be passed to a new or existing charity in the form of a trust or a lease. There is mention of funding being given to the charity initially, but the document specifically states that the charity would be expected to become less reliant on Government grants over time, and in some cases move towards financial self reliance. The charity could pursue income generating activities in the forest, consistent with the delivery of public benefits. So ultimately the charity may be expected to meet the full running costs from its own resources and/or by generating income from the Heritage Wood.

We have considered the document and its ideas with care, however it must be said that the consultation paper is very scant on detail and raises many more questions than it answers. Our initial response is therefore as generalised as the consultation paper is itself.

We have to say that we do not believe the proposals, if applied to the New Forest, will work.

Unless a charity can prove beyond any doubt that it has the necessary funds from day one and in perpetuity, it would be negligent for its trustees to take on the responsibility for this huge and precious national treasure. That position should only change if guaranteed funding from the Government is offered instead. It would be an act of unforgivable recklessness to allow any new owner to take on the £5 million annual running cost of the New Forest without certainty that it was financially able to do so.

To use an analogy, it would be like giving a very large, beautiful and old historic house to someone who had insufficient money to do the necessary ongoing repairs and maintenance. Within a generation it would be in a very sorry state, and possibly even uninhabitable and derelict.

Whilst we recognise that the Forestry Commission is suffering cuts, as are we, in line with all Government departments, we still believe that the funding it obtains for the Forest, as a publicly owned asset, is the most secure way of ensuring its future.

With inadequate Government support, any new owner would have no option but to take up the advice of the consultation document and raise extra funds from its asset. The New Forest currently runs at an annual deficit of £2.9 million, and that is the hole that the income will have to fill each and every year. The charity would be forced to take a ruthlessly commercial approach, and almost inevitably the first port of call will be to see how those who visit and enjoy the area and indeed those who live here, could be charged.

Commercial exploitation will be bad for the Forest, it is too fragile and precious an environment to withstand the pressures of such an existence, and ultimately the change of ownership will end up damaging the very thing it was meant to protect and preserve.

The ancient privilege that allows the public to enjoy the New Forest for free as of right, which has prevailed for generations, will be under threat.

The Consultation also speaks of the Big Society. We believe that the way the Forest has been managed over the last hundred years is already a good example of how Big Society should work. The historic system of checks and balances that we already have, which allows the long term national interest to be protected by the Forestry commission as landowner, and the local public interest to be represented and protected by the Verderers is a winning formula proven over decades.

In addition we now have the National Park Authority playing a key role, and like us, they have members who are directly elected by the local community who are unpaid volunteers, sitting around the table making decisions and having hands-on involvement on behalf of the local constituencies that they represent. All three organisations are based here in the New Forest, and taken together they are well proven to be local, accessible and with a strong element of democratic accountability.

Therefore we say that the Big Society requirements of direct stakeholder involvement and control are already well established here in the New Forest. Rather than dismantle this system we would invite the Secretary of State ( The Rt.Hon. Mrs Caroline Spelman MP) to instead use it as an existing example of what Big Society can achieve in the custodianship of a huge tract of publicly owned land.

We feel we must do all that we can to persuade the Government that these proposals will not work, and are akin to dumping the New Forest on the side of the road with a few pennies in its pocket, and leaving it there as a “charity case”.

We would urge the public, and the Forest’s voluntary organisations, to respond individually to the consultation and say what you think. The Forestry Commission is running a number of events locally at which information on the consultation can be obtained, two of which will be ‘drop-in’ events here in the Verderers’ Hall on the 7th and 12th March, all afternoon and early evening.

We would also encourage members of the public to contact their MPs directly in writing if they are as worried about these proposals as we are.

The New Forest Association, which is the Forest’s oldest local charity, recently described this as the biggest crisis it has faced since 1877. We tend to agree.

Public Bodies Bill

This is the legislation that will allow the Forestry Acts to be altered by the Minister, and to enable these changes. It is currently going through the House of Lords.

The Constitution Committee of the House of Lords has already concluded that there are aspects of the draft legislation that are unsafe and amount to what it has called “Henry VIII clauses” which give Ministers wide ranging powers to amend primary legislation without parliamentary scrutiny. Having examined the Bill we need to be assured that there are no powers contained in it that may allow the existing New Forest Acts to be bypassed. We shall thus be considering this morning whether or not to seek specialist legal advice on the matter from parliamentary agents in London.

(This is the Text of the Statement made by the Official Verderer at the February 2011 Verderers Court http://www.verderers.org.uk/index.html).

New Forest Association is appalled at Forestry Commission sell off plans

PRESS RELEASE:
The New Forest Association has hit out at Government plans to sell off the ‘crown jewels’ of the New Forest, labelling the plans “appalling”. The charity has also warned that the plans, published today (January 27), could lead to people being charged to use the New Forest.

“Plans to find a charity to run the New Forest show a complete lack of understanding of how the forest works,” said New Forest Association Chairman William Ziegler. “In the 64 page Government consultation document1 there is no reference to the commoning system, which has created and maintained the forest for all to appreciate.

“This new threat is the most serious attack on the New Forest for 160 years. Any charity that takes on owning and managing the New Forest will be required to find its own funding after initial government help to offset the £2.9m annual deficit. This could mean charging the public for access to the New Forest and will almost certainly involve selling off parts of the estate which currently provide the cornerstone of commoning.”

Mr Ziegler said the existing system of management, involving the various but interlocking interests of commoning, conservation, timber production and recreation, would be lost alongside the expertise that the Forestry Commission has gained over many decades.

“The Forestry Commission’s staff, and in particular the keepers, have huge local and specialist knowledge of the wildlife which should not be swept away at the stroke of a Whitehall pen,” he said.

“We are shocked by the proposals – the Government must be left in doubt as to the real value of the New Forest and we commend everyone that cares about the area to let their thoughts be known to DEFRA.”

The New Forest Association, formed in 1867, is a charitable organisation which has over 140 years of experience in working to preserve, conserve and protect the New Forest. It was formed at a time when Government measures threatened to sell off the New Forest in the middle of the 19th century.

The Association is dedicated to the preservation, conservation and protection of the New Forest and is a membership based organization. Further information can be found at www.newforestassociation.org.

(DEFRA’s press release: http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/01/27/englands-forests/)

The New Forest could be overgrown within two years

PRESS RELEASE:
The New Forest Association (NFA) believes that the Crown Lands of the New Forest deserves the best management expertise the Government can offer. The delicate balance between commoning, conservation, recreation and commercial forestry is easily disturbed.

We do not believe that a private operator managing these state owned lands would be able to offer sufficient safeguards for the future sustainability of the New Forest. We are not only facing economic recession but also coming to terms with the impact of climate change upon the unique habitats. It is vital that whatever management expertise has been gained over the years and decades is retained for the benefit of the New Forest and the nation.

Loss of the commoners housing stock retained by the Forest Commission could result in major parts of the Forest becoming overgrown and inaccessible to the millions of visitors who come from all over the world.

There are many precedents for the New Forest being made a special case and we believe that this should happen now by allowing the status quo to continue thereby ensure the future viability and health of these internationally important lands.

To this end we would ask those wielding the axe to not take precipitive action, but to take advice and think long and hard before making any decision which could have appalling long term effects on this special place which is so close to the hearts of millions of their constituents

William Ziegler

Chairman

New Forest Association

Notes

The New Forest Association was formed in 1867 to ensure that the Forest was not enclosed and lost to the nation. The resulting New Forest Act of 1877 was the first of a number of occasions when the New Forest had to receive special treatment to survive – Further information about the Association may be found at www.newforestassociation.org

In the light of recent press speculation about a sell off of 50% of Forestry Commission managed lands there needs to be good reason for retaining areas of national and international importance such as the New Forest. This Forest is the last major link with the Royal Forests of William the Conqueror, who introduced special laws to enable its survival as a hunting forest. Changing administrations in the 16th and 19th centuries caused huge unrest because of the upset to the balance between the various forces acting upon the lands. The key to the diversity and unique habits that form the New Forest is the grazing regime and mixture of bogs, woodlands and lowland heath that has evolved for the ponies and cattle to roam over. These animals are owned by commoners whose rights have been jealously protected since before the Norman invasion.

Virtually all commoners are part time small-holders who need to live in close proximity to the Forest with access to a small amount of back-up land. The Forestry Commission has a housing stock in the New Forest some of which is let to commoners and some used by their own officials, a number of whom graze stock themselves.

The New Forest Association (NFA)

The NFA, established in 1867, is one of the oldest conservation organisations in the world. It is an independent charity with over 900 members. Council for National Parks recognises NFA as the New Forest National Park society.

New Chief Executive for the National Park.

At today’s New Forest National Park Authority meeting, the new Chief Executive, Alison Barnes, was announced to the authority members by the current interim Chief Executive, Barrie Foley. “We have finally found someone who I believe is good for the Forest, she is very outward looking and is keen to engage with all parties.”

Clive Chatters, Chair of the NFNPA, said: “I am delighted to welcome Alison as our new Chief Executive. She brings an ideal combination of professional and personal qualities to take us forward.”

Alison is currently a Natural England Regional Director for London as the organisational lead on Landscape, Green Infrastructure, the Olympics and Thames Gateway. She is Chair of Greening the Gateway Partnership and a Commissioner for the Mayor’s London Sustainable Development Commission. Her career has also included roles with English Nature, Dumfries and Galloway Council and the RSPB in Scotland. She was born and bred near Wimborne, and still has family in Wimborne, Christchurch and Hangersley.

Barrie Foley, describing her qualifications for the role focussed on her ability to engage businesses and stakeholders on green infrastructure issues in complex situations:

“Coming from Natural England, of course she’s got the Green credentials, but when she went through the interview process a lot of it was focussed on “is she right for the business going forward, is she right for the community”, …. I thought she was right, as far as I’m concerned, engaging with the people, engaging with the communities, that’s what’s the key thing. Alison has not come from an easy environment, working in the area she works in London.

Fielding a Press question about whether her approach would be right for local business, Alison remarked:

“I absolutely believe that conservation and nature cannot be successful, in this day and age, at all, without bringing everything together with socio-economic issues. To some extent, that’s why those issues come forward, because we haven’t been successful in the past. And for me, it is only going to be successful, if those things can come together, because this isn’t a museum, this is a living working place.

Alison will assume her role from June 1st. Barrie Foley will be on hand to assist her during a month long hand over period.

NFA Nestboxes available

Fix sturdy Nestboxes now for winter roosting. Various types for £5 ea. All proceeds to NFA funds to fight major proposed developments in or around the New Forest.

Phone Graham Baker on 01590 623935 or email brookleyfarmhouse@btinternet.com.

Personalised NFA Christmas Cards

The Christmas Cards shown are available personalised with your address. Cards come in packs of 10 with envelopes at £3.00 delivered; the minimum quantity for personalized cards is 40. The cards measure six inches by four. The photographs are by the late Terry Heathcote and depict the following New Forest Scenes – Binken Wood near Lyndhurst, Foulford Bottom in the north of the Forest and Commoner’s Cattle probably near Brockenhurst.

The detail inside of the card is as follows –

Best Wishes for
Christmas & the New Year

If you would like to order please Email details, including your address as you wish it shown, to brookleyfarmhouse@btinternet.com. Or phone Graham Baker on 01590 623935. Samples are available and all proceeds go to NFA funds.

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National Park Management Plan Revised Draft

The National Park Management Plan Revised Draft is available for public feedback from 22 October to 12 November 2009. A downloadable version of the Plan as well as details on how to respond are available via this link:

National Park Management Plan Revised Draft

The current draft will be considered by the members of the New Forest National Park Authority at the authority meeting on the 29th of October 2009, at South Efford House. The members will be asked to approve the revised version of the draft at the subsequent authority meeting on the 10th of December 2009.

The revised Core Strategy will be available on the National Park website from 3 December 2009 and public representations will be invited in January 2010.

New Forest Association Takes Forestry Commission to Task

In today’s September Verderers Court, the NFA took the Forestry Commission to task for ongoing damage to the fabric of the forest and dangerously unsafe debris resulting from timber extraction operations at Islands Thorns enclosure. The NFA called for more sensitive management of the operations, particularly as a very nice job has been done by a different team nearby in the stream restoration at Howen Bottom (more info on stream restoration : Lengthening River Beds) Timber operations in character woodlands on the open forest on the SSSI should be managed to the same standards as other environmental works.

The NFA also asked for further scrutiny of the Forestry Commission’s trial of a new basalt grit based hoggin material as a car park surface at Longslade Bottom, Pig Bush, Turf Hill amongst others. This is part of an ongoing search for more sustainable materials for car park maintenance. Difficulties arise in the current gravel based hoggin which is easily disrupted, but any new material needs to pass muster with Natural England as it can leech into the sensitive soil of the forest and may also impact the wetlands. The NFA are concerned that the basalt may not be as inert as suggested by the Forestry Commission, also the basalt is a darker colour closer to that of tarmac and may negatively impact on the landscape. (see Gritty solution to potholes)

The NFA also commented on the Forestry Commission’s somewhat cynical “consultation” on its plans for the future of the Public Forest Estate in England. The plans include a National plan for fast conifer timber production which would be wholly inappropriate for the New Forest. The Forestry Commission are clearly looking for a mandate nationally, such policies would not work for the New Forest, and would create further unwelcome pressure to our local forestry. The NFA urged the Verderers and all members of the public to respond to the survey with this in mind.

Finally, the NFA joined the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, amongst others, in commenting on the proposed extension to Burley Cricket Club’s pavilion. The NFA asked the Verderers to ensure that any extension to existing facilities should be the minimum size needed to maintain the viability of the cricket club and no larger.

(For the full text of this month’s Presentment look at the first comment below, or click here).

Charity Event to Benefit NFA, Sunday 13th September

The New Forest Association is pleased to learn that Sally Bennetts has organised Live Music Charity Event at The Elm Tree Public House on Sunday 13th September from midday to 10pm in aid of three charities: Macmillan Nurses, Delta and the New Forest Association.

Tickets are £7.00 – kids go free, contact Sally Bennetts.