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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).

Presentment to The Verderers: Proposed Forestry Commission sell off consultation.

Presentment to The Court of Verderers.

Wednesday 16th February 2011
William Ziegler. Chairman. New Forest Association.

In common with many hundreds of thousands of others the New Forest Association is deeply concerned by the proposals outlined in the Government’s consultation document relating to the disposal of the Public Forest Estate which is presently owned and managed by the Forestry Commission and in particular to those proposals relating to the New Forest.

We are concerned not just by what is in the consultation document but, just as importantly, what is not as it fails to address a number of vital points pertaining to the New Forest:-

  1. No reference is made as to the New Forest being treated as a Cultural as well as a Natural Heritage Forest.
  2. No information is given as to whether the full infrastructure of the New Forest would remain intact e.g. the housing, timber, staff etc nor any recognition of the fact that it vital that the whole Forest estate is kept together as a single unit.
  3. No reference is made as to whether the existing New Forest Acts would remain unaltered as the cornerstone of the existing protective legislation the New Forest presently enjoys nor that the Verderers’ powers would continue unaffected.
  4. No reference is made as to how or by whom any new management body would be deemed to be experienced and competent enough to run the New Forest.
  5. Apart from suggesting that any new management body might “pursue income generating activities in the Forest” no detail is given as to how adequate funding might be made available to run the New Forest in the long term.
  6. No definite information is given as to how the current levels of public access would be maintained.

We are also deeply concerned by the power that would be granted to the Government by the proposed Public Bodies Act as it appears that it could be used to override the existing New Forest Acts and we are making moves to include an amendment to the bill stating “Nothing in this Act shall prejudice or derogate from the provisions of the New Forest Acts 1877 to 1970 or any byelaw made thereunder, or s.4 of the Agriculture & Forestry (Financial Provisions) Act 1991.”

We would therefore ask the Verderers to reject the consultation as it stands now and support our efforts to ensure that the Public Bodies Bill is not allowed to threaten the existing New Forest Acts which are the legal basis of their powers.

Note: The NFA, 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.

Current Links to Other Organizations Comments on the Forestry Commission sell-off

CPRE Ministers not out of the woods yet

RSPB We’re not out of the woods yet, RSPB warns

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust: The Wildlife Trusts’ response to the Government’s proposals on the ownership and management of England’s public forest estate

Sussex Wildlife Trust: Wild Comment: Forestry Commission Sell-Off

The Woodland Trust: Forestry Commission consultation response – The Woodland Trust

Our Chairman, William Zeigler has got quotes into some papers:

Guardian Forest sell-off plans met with huge opposition

Daily Echo “Selling off the New Forest could stop it being free to use”

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/)