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Presentment: Recreation Events at Night

Last month the Commoners Defence Association noted problems with the planned 2nd December, Hampshire Maverick Silva Dark Series trail running event.  It is in early evening, but in hours of full darkness (starts an hour after sundown, and a quarter hour after end of twilight). It is sponsored by a headlamp manufacturer promoting a range of LED headlamps that emit 250 lumens over 65 metres [1] (The top of their current range outputs 1500-2000 lumens over 175 metres! [2]).

The nocturnal disturbance of both livestock (as noted by the CDA) and wildlife by a mass event on the Forest, alone, is of concern, but use of high powered LEDs will greatly compound that disturbance. The NFA object to the event as an inappropriate precedent for both reasons. This is, as well, a fundamental conflict with all aspirations to maintain tranquility within the Forest and night-time dark skies above it.

Research on light disturbance has shown bats, amphibians and plants affected by relatively low levels of light. The route comes as close to the A337 as 1500 metres, which could prove fatal to motorists if easily spooked deer bolt towards the road.

This event, if held in daytime, or more appropriately off the SSSI, would be relatively benign [3]. The Forestry Commission have clearly worked hard to mitigate a bad situation created by the event’s organizers, and their permission [4] explicitly states that this is a one-off and that “any future night time events would need to be run at other venues off the New Forest” suggesting Moors Valley as an alternative. Head torches are restricted to Max 250 lumens, max beam length 50m, and must be angled downwards.

A FC spokesperson informed me that the permission would not have been granted if the event were a later time in the evening, or if it was outside the short window of hibernation for many local species. Unfortunately, nature isn’t that simple. At least 11 bat species have been recorded in the route area, including some of the most light-averse. All these bats move in and out of hibernation November to March, rousing to feed when the weather is mild, with early evening as their peak time in winter [5].

The media have lost all the nuances: the route restricted to the gravel tracks in Inclosures (from original plan on open forest), limitations on lighting, and that the FC regard this as a one-off.  The reporting has oversimplified the FC assessment to suggest it “poses no negative impact on the SSSI”. A hard to support statement, which without the context of the prescribed restrictions, sends an erroneous, dangerous message.

This official FC permission will beget the expectation for more large scale after dark events, from the public unaware of even minimal limitations which should be observed, and encourage greater after dark usage both organized and unorganized, at even more damaging times of the year. Creating new unprecedented levels of disturbance on protected habitat at a time where there would be little or none is simply unacceptable.

The NFA hope the Verderers will join us in asking the Forestry Commission, and those who would sensibly enjoy the Forest, to let it, in the name of tranquillity, the livestock, and the wildlife, have a well deserved rest.

Annotations below refer to the bracketed numbers in bold above [n]….

[1] The event offers participants free test use of their previous slightly weaker range (170 lumens over 50 metres), which they no longer produce. The route starts and ends at Foxlease, goes through Clayhill and deep into Denny Wood, Parkhill and Standing Hat inclosures.
[2] That’s roughly the same as a single standard H1 Car head lamp on main beam. 12 Runners with the highest permitted beams will emit approximately as much light as a single car.
[3] …presuming it is well run, safe and considerate to other Forest users, and tidies up after itself.
[4] The Permission includes the following non-boiler plate requirements:

  • “Competitors will be restricted to using head torches with Led bulbs, Max lumens 250, max beam length 50m. All torches must be angled down. Marshals must keep lighting to a minimum as well as per runners.”
  •  “The permit is for this event only please note any future night time events would need to be run at other venues off the New Forest – we will look to offer Moors Valley as an alternative.”
  • “The route as agreed…. It is vital to keep to the tracks and paths as details on the maps provided.”
  • “All gates must be manned to prevent ponies and cattle going through and to ensure that there is no access by vehicles. Gate must be closed after use.”
  • “All litter must be cleared up and signs removed by the following day at the latest.”

[5] from nearby Busketts Lawn there have been records of at least 5 species in late December.

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