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Peter Roberts rebuts Anthony Pasmore’s Article Concerning Our Submission to the Independent Panel on Forestry

In the his 5th August 2011 “New Forest Notes” column in the Lymington Times, Anthony Pasmore took exception to the New Forest Association’s submission to the Independent Panel on Forestry. His interpretation patently ignores our defence of the New Forest Acts, our praise for the good side of the Forestry Commission, and insinuates a non-existent “bias in favour of replacing state control” (both a repurposed state control and suitably endowed charity options are discussed). He does seem to concur with, and illustrates our criticism of the bad commercial forestry driven management of the Forestry Commission. To read the full Article click here (the NFA are not responsible for content on other sites).

Our Chairman Peter Roberts has written a letter to the Lymington Times in rebuttal. The full text of which is included below:

9th August 2011

Dear Sir

It is good to see that Anthony Pasmore has taken up the challenge to open a debate on the New Forest Association’s views to the Forestry Panel (NF Notes 6th August). Whilst the headline of our Press Release captured the attention of the media it is the detail of what we are actually looking for that is important.

The aims of the Association are simple:- to protect, conserve and enhance the unique mix of flora, fauna and heritage that make up the New Forest, for present and future generations to enjoy. Clearly over a long history (we are more than fifty years older than the Forestry Commission) we have had many dealings with management policy. Our response to the Independent Panel on Forestry recognises the good work done by excellent staff of the Forestry Commission. Our aim is to obtain the best possible management for this unique area, we are far more interested in how the Forest is managed than who manages it.

Five years ago we published The New Forest Design Plan – Recovering Lost Landscapes to influence management thinking and correct some of the damage done by inappropriate planting. Inappropriate because softwood species are not native and can be grown more successfully elsewhere and inappropriate because of the loss of part of the largest lowland heathland in Europe – an internationally recognised and protected area. Few people now remember the damage done by conversion of many of the old inclosures from broad-leaved trees to conifer from the instigation of the Forestry Commission in 1924 until the outcry of 1970. Your columnist should remember, for he, alongside David Stagg and John Lavender, produced an excellent survey of the hardwoods at that time on behalf of the New Forest Association.

We have linked our response to the work of Sir John Lawton, whose committee produced a report Making Space for Nature last autumn. This fundamental rethink on how we can best use land for nature conservation (not for its own sake alone but because our own future is closely linked with wildlife) is an opportunity to seize.

As for Anthony’s concerns for the New Forest Acts none know their value better than the New Forest Association for our founding fathers’ decade of work led to the 1877 Act. We explicitly quote the New Forest Acts in our response stating that they and the Verderers activities should continue ‘regardless of who in future is responsible for managing the New Forest.’

Anthony’s comments on current ownership explain why we used the phrasing we did. Our submission talks of the Crown Estate of the New Forest to remind the Forestry Panel that it consists not just of the lands open to the public but also vital back-up grazing as well as considerable housing stock. The latter has provided a core of commoners housing for a considerable time to the benefit of the New Forest. We believe it is essential that all this should remain as a unit and not be sold off.

Our views to the Forestry Panel stated that the New Forest should be treated as a special case. We also believe in a balance between conservation, recreation and a working environment and that this view is shared by other bodies including the Commoners Defence Association and the National Park Authority. Removing national forestry policy from the Forestry Commission in the New Forest may provide the best possible way forward for management of this unique area. Whatever system of management is put in place it will need to take account of nature designations and public access as well as commoners usage for the benefit of the nation. It seems likely that this balance will only be achieved at a considerable cost to the public purse.

Our full submission may be found at newforestassociation.org



Yours sincerely

Peter Roberts

Chairman, New Forest Association

Note: the version published in the Lymington Times, may have been edited for space or content.

Join NFA in Summer Fun

Want to find out more about the New Forest? If so then you’re invited to some free events organised by conservation and campaign body the New Forest Association this summer and autumn. All are welcome, including non-members.

  • On Wednesday August 17 Ann Biffin will lead a walk and talk on Eric Ashby’s Bench and Sumner’s finds. This walk will take in the wooden memorial bench dedicated to New Forest film maker and conservationist Eric Ashby and will also cover some of the topography, history, traditions and scenery narrated in Heywood Sumner’s famous Guide to the New Forest, published by Charles Brown and son of Ringwood over 80 years ago. The guide, published in 1923, is considered by some to be the best guide to the woods of the New Forest.

Anyone wishing to take part should meet at Fritham car park at 6pm.

  • On Tuesday September 6 you can join NFA Chairman Peter Roberts and his colleague Phil Marshall, Countryside Manager for the National Trust, for a walk and talk on Pylons and Plantations. This event explores the impact of plantations and pylons in the north of the Forest and the management of Forest heathland.

Meet at Turf Hill car park at 6pm.

The NFA will also be attending several Forest events this year for anyone who wants to find out more about Forest issues or the work of the association. These include the Frogham Fair on August 27, the Romsey Show on September 10, and the New Forest Festival on September 25.

“We’ve been around for 144 years but we’re not a bunch of old fuddy duddies,” said Peter Roberts, who took over as Chairman in May.

“We are very keen to reach out to people of all ages and to tell them more about our work and about the New Forest’s important ecology, biodiversity and heritage. There are some fascinating stories to tell. We want to help generate people’s excitement about the Forest and their enthusiasm for the special environment around them.

“We attracted a lot of interest from local people at the New Forest Show and it was our best Show yet. We hope as many people as possible will join us on some of these events both to enjoy the New Forest and to find out more about it.”

Further details about all these events, including locations, duration and what to wear can be found on the NFA website at http://www.newforestassociation.org/events.html.

Presentment to The Verderers: NFA Response to the Independent Panel on Forestry

Presentment to The Court of Verderers.

Wednesday 20th July 2011
Peter Roberts. Chairman. New Forest Association.

The New Forest Association asks that the Verderers consider supporting the response of this Association when they respond to the Independent Panel on Forestry. Our submission is detailed so I will just highlight six points.

1 The New Forest Crown Estate should be kept intact because the back-up land and cottages are vital to commoning.

2 Remove intensive commercial forestry because the plantations sterilise bio-diversity. A return to broad leaved woodlands in some areas would reverse this. It would probably take 50-60 years to harvest existing plantations thereby allowing the timber extraction industry to adapt to the changes.

3 Replace Forestry Commission with landscape managers. It is difficult for the Commission to adhere to national policy whilst attempting to manage a unique area in an appropriate manner.

4 Retention of local expertise in any new body is vital because many Commission staff have great local knowledge.

5 The New Forest could be the basis of an Ecological Restoration Zone thereby fulfilling needs recognised in the Lawton report ‘Making Space for Nature’ and the recent Government White Paper.

6 Last but not least the retention of the New Forest Acts is of fundamental importance.

How the Forest is cared for matters more than who cares for it.

The full submission may be found on our website.

http://www.newforestassociation.org/NFA%20Response_to_the_Independent_Panel_on_Forestry.pdf.

NFA Chairman on BBC Radio Solent (link available until 27th July 2011)

Peter Roberts, the Chairman of the New Forest Association, was interviewed by Julian Clegg on BBC Radio Solent on his Wednesday 20th July 2011 show, explaining the NFA’s call for the Forestry Commission in the New Forest to be replaced with new landscape managers.

You can listen to (link available until 27th July 2011)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00hwbbj/

The link is to the full Julian Clegg show of Wednesday 20th July 2011. Peter Roberts may be heard in two clips from the 3 hour programme:

a) 0:46:00 to 0:51:38 Peter Roberts discusses call for removal of Forestry Commission from New Forest
b) 1:41:39 to 1:48:36 Peter Roberts rebuts points made by Sue Bailey of One Voice

Replace the Forestry Commission and remove conifer plantations in the New Forest, says NFA

PRESS RELEASE:
The New Forest Association has called for the Forestry Commission to be replaced in the New Forest and for the Forest’s conifer plantations to be phased out in favour of traditional broadleaved forest.

The 144-year-old Association, which aims to champion, protect and conserve the unique heritage and ecology of the New Forest, has made the radical suggestions in its written submission to the Independent Panel on Forestry this month (July 2011).

Over the last 200 years, says the NFA, large conifer plantations used for intensive commercial forestry have reduced the beauty and biodiversity of much of the New Forest, rendering it “sterile”. In order to repair this damage, the historic broadleaved woodlands of the Forest should be allowed to develop naturally, providing sustainable products for the local economy.

The NFA also suggests retaining state ownership of the New Forest under new landscape managers, bound by the requirement to protect its unique status.

“Management of the New Forest by the Forestry Commission is merely an accident of history,” says the submission. “The Forest owes its unique character and survival to the commoners grazing their stock which has brought about the open heaths, lawns, pasture woodlands and wetlands we see today. The conflicts with timber growers are legion and go back centuries. There is a case for easing the burden on the Forestry Commission by removing them from the area totally.”

The NFA argues that the New Forest is of exceptional importance for biodiversity and should be designated as one of the proposed Ecological Restoration Zones outlined in the Lawton report last year. This report, commissioned by DEFRA, concluded that England’s wildlife sites were too small and too isolated, leading to a decline in traditional species which would only get worse through the effects of climate change.

With its 20 sites of Special Scientific Interest, six Natura 2000 sites, two Ramsar Convention sites, many rare species and unusual mix of habitats and wildlife, the New Forest National Park area should be considered as a special case for conservation and should be protected from further mismanagement or decline, says the NFA.

The NFA also calls for the whole of the Crown Estate land to be protected, including the back up land and cottages which are so vital to commoning, and for the expertise of local Forestry Commission specialists to be retained in any new structure. The New Forest Acts of 1877 to 1970, which give the Verderers responsibility for the management of the Open Forest and the commoners’ grazing system, should also be retained, it says.

Peter Roberts, NFA Chairman, said that continuing management of the New Forest for softwoods is inappropriate, given the outstanding value of the area both for wildlife and for people.

“The New Forest has enormous potential for increasing its biodiversity and landscape beauty, as well as its value for recreation,” he said. “At present, many of its habitats are in poor condition as a result of mismanagement in previous decades. There is an urgent need for habitat restoration, to address this problem.

“Although the Forestry Commission’s management of the Open Forest heathland has been carried out well in recent years, restoration is held back by the subsidised forestry culture and by the large swathes of conifer planting, which fragment internationally rare habitats, introduce diseases and damage the archaeology of the New Forest.

“No further establishment of non-native trees should occur in the New Forest and non-native plantations should be returned to native woodlands. There are enough soft woods to supply the local timber industry for the next fifty or sixty years already, without the need for further plantings. A return to more broad-leaved plantations would increase the beauty of the New Forest, would help species to diversify and would also help local businesses,” he said.

For the full text (pdf) of the response sent by the NFA to the Independent Panel on Forestry click here.

NFA Issues Its Response to the Independent Panel on Forestry

After the government climbdown on the proposed sale of public woodlands on February 17th 2011, the Independent Panel on Forestry was established on 17 March 2011 to advise government on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England. The Panel’s terms of reference state:

1. To advise the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England.
2. To advise on the role of the Forestry Commission in implementing policy on forestry and woodland in relation to England.
3. In formulating this advice, the Panel should consider:

a) how woodland cover can be increased, given competing pressures on land use for food production, energy and development;
b) options for enhancing public benefits from all woodland and forests, in the light of the Lawton Report and the Natural Environment White Paper, including;

* public access for recreation and leisure;
* biodiversity, wildlife protection and ecological resilience, including through restoration of open habitats and plantations on ancient woodland sites;
* climate change mitigation and adaptation;
* economic development, particularly to support a sustainable timber industry and a wide range of small and medium sized enterprises, including social enterprises; and
* engagement and participation of civil society.

c) constraints and competing demands on public expenditure for this Spending Review period and beyond;
d) the role of Forest Enterprise England as the manager of productive forestry resources;
e) the value for money and cost-effectiveness of the public forest estate in England and options for its future ownership and management.

4. In formulating its advice to the Secretary of State, the Panel will be expected to engage and take evidence from the widest range of views and interest.
5. The Panel will report to the Secretary of State in the autumn of 2011.

Today the NFA have issued its response to the Panel. The response calls for the New Forest to remain in public hands, a hands off approach to the existing New Forest Acts and the cessation of commercial forestry in the New Forest. For the full text (pdf) of the response sent by the NFA to the Independent Panel on Forestry, including the answers to the above questions, and addenda click here.

Submissions to the panel must be in by 31st July 2011. The Panel’s findings and advice will be presented in a final report in April 2012. More on the Independent Panel on Forestry may be found on its home page: http://www.defra.gov.uk/forestrypanel/.

A New Chairman for the New Forest Association

The 144 year old New Forest Association is delighted to announce the election of Peter Roberts as its new Chairman.

A former Amenity Verderer, Peter has been involved with the Association for more than twenty years. He has taken lead roles in the New Forest CPRE as well as being a past President of the Hampshire Field Club. He represents the NFA at both local level on the Consultative Panel, and also nationally for the Campaign for National Parks as a council member.

An orienteer, cyclist and runner (he recently completed a 26 mile charity walk for Wiltshire Wildlife – the Sarsen Trail), Peter is committed to developing the NFA’s strength as a major force for conservation and protection. He believes that his task is to help create the conditions for the organisation to bring the message of the importance and fragility of the New Forest to a new generation. ‘We must embrace modern technology in ensuring that our successors understand that the pressures on the New Forest are greater than ever and cannot continue without unacceptable further erosion.’

No stranger to campaigning, Peter, alongside outgoing Chairman, William Ziegler, most recently played a major part in the NFA’s successful campaign to thwart the coalition government’s unworkable Forest Estate sell-off plans.

A keen local historian he has written a number of specialist books and articles on the Forest and was responsible, with Richard Reeves, for the publication of five volumes in the New Forest Record Series published by the New Forest Centre.

Peter’s wide life experience includes owning and managing an electrical retail business in Hythe before turning to recycling – running a second-hand bookshop at Ashurst for ten years with his partner Georgina Babey. An enthusiastic user of the Forest he is also a keen photographer, often combining history, wildlife and the Forest into a day’s walk.


A note on the outgoing Chairman, William Ziegler
by Peter Roberts:

William Ziegler’s infectious enthusiasm has carried many a project in the last ten years. He steered a middle course, when it was needed, in negotiations that led to the implementation of a National Park. His pragmatism then ensured that the NFA worked with the emerging Authority to achieve the best from it. He worked hard with other stalwarts to set up a ‘show team’ that continues to tour in the summer carrying our message. He also led the team and was involved in a huge amount of work that made the National Park Societies Conference in 2008 such a success at Foxlease. He has maintained good communications with many other Forest organisations, in particular the Verderers offering support and ideas for the benefit of the Forest.

New vice-chairman

John Ward has been elected vice-chairman.

New Forest Association opposes proposed Thorns Beach development

The New Forest Association has voiced strong opposition to a proposed coastal development at Thorns Beach near Beaulieu in a formal letter to the National Park Authority.

The Association, which has been championing the interests of the New Forest since 1867, says it has serious concerns about the threat to protected coastal land at Thorns Beach and surrounding areas and is also worried about the precedent that could be set if the development goes ahead.

The planning application, from Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe, includes the proposed development of a new dwelling, boathouse, ancillary accommodation and sun house at Thorns Beach, replacing a summer house.

“We have a very good working relationship with Ineos and have welcomed the business opportunities and benefits that the company has brought to the New Forest,” said New Forest Association Planning Committee Chair Peter Roberts.

“However, this proposal for a private dwelling is an intrusion in an unspoilt and protected area of coastal development. Most of the north Solent shoreline is designated as a Special Protection Area and/or Special Area of Conservation under European Directives, and is subject to the Habitats Regulations 1994.

“Our role in the NFA is to protect and preserve all that is good and unique in the New Forest, securing it for future generations. We feel very strongly that this development is a serious threat to the New Forest coastal area and sets a dangerous precedent which could lead to more development in this precious area in the future.

“The New Forest National Park has an undervalued but very important unspoilt coastline between Calshot and Keyhaven. It offers rewarding vistas of the Solent and the Isle of Wight and is home to a variety of wildlife that changes with the seasons. It offers tranquillity and is largely free of modern industry although home to important historical salt workings.

“Quiet lanes alongside hedged field add to a rare feeling of an unchanged landscape set in a modern world. This is an area that requires protection from man’s intrusive development plans. The largely unchanged view of the coastline from the Solent is an important aspect of this and should be maintained.”

The NFA has set out its objections to the development in detail in its letter to the National Park Authority, dated March 11, 2011.

[A copy of the letter with its detailed objections can be seen here.]

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).