|Our response to the Future Forest RMS Survey launched by the New Forest National Park Authority. We call for priority projects to address outdated infrastructure, boost regard for protecting the Forest with neighbouring authorities, and education focusing on the Forest status as a National Nature Reserve and working commoning landscape. We sidestepped the unintentionally restrictive and misleading elements of the survey (including categories and canned language from the previous Strategy document) to focus on demand for plans for action with clear goals and realistic time frames.|
Recreation Management Strategy Survey Response
The New Forest Association welcomes this opportunity to feed into ongoing Recreation Management on the New Forest and this survey meant to guide the Strategy’s next incarnation. We hope this process will deliver a more focussed strategy that yields high priority projects to reform our outdated recreation infrastructure, and elevates the discussion of the National Park as a protected natural landscape requiring a duty of care from ourselves and our neighbours.
Reference to Park Purposes and Special Qualities
Both the New Forest National Park and its younger sibling, the South Downs, are the two most densely populated national parks in the UK, and have significant populations in environs for regular use and day visitors. Unlike the less populated, more remote parks, the recreation management goals should firmly be based on the purpose to Protect.
This is summed up in English National Parks and the Broads UK Government Vision and Circular 2010:
However, in light of research published in 2005 (20), the Government recognises that not all forms of outdoor recreation are appropriate in each Park and that activities which would have an adverse impact on the Parks’ special qualities and other people’s enjoyment of them may need to be excluded (in order to meet the requirements of section 11A(2) of the 1949 Act).
All of the “Special qualities”: outstanding natural beauty, habitat, heritage, commoning / working forest, free roaming livestock, tranquillity, quiet recreation, low levels of urbanisation are under threat from increased recreation pressure which disturbs and destroys habitat, creates wear and tear on the fabric of the Forest and interrupts tranquillity. The aim is not to invite more recreation than the Forest may sustain, but to protect the Forest by managing the recreation that takes place here, and honour the Sandford Principle as enshrined by the 1995 Act.
An Actual Management Strategy
We need more focus on practical, achievable goals, along with a plan that can achieve them within defined timeframes to which the Park and its stakeholders may commit. It’s all very well and good to list our many aspirations as the current strategy does, but few of the “within 5 years” goals have been achieved in its first seven years.
The main way we can control where recreation happens within the Forest is where people park and camp. Outside of the Park we can call for greater alternative recreation provision, and less development that swells the population and moves a hard urban edge toward the park boundaries. Priority projects must be chosen and developed from our aspirations, to achieve significant gains to Protect the Forest, particularly the open access areas of the Crown Lands and their adjacent Commons.
Infrastructure Within the Park
(Sustainable services and facilities / Camping and caravanning / Joined Up Routes / England Coast Path)
We’ve inherited an outdated infrastructure imposed in the 1960’s that replaced the previous free for all with over 130 Forestry Commission car parks and 10 camp sites. While these disperse activity throughout the Forest, and have come to be relied on by their users, no one can say that they are in the best places to protect our more sensitive habitats and species from disturbance. We do know that the campsites in the A&O Woodlands of Holland’s Wood and Denny were slated for removal under the SAC Management Plan 2001 (their management for camping has degraded their habitat, our campsite survey showed these have less than half the canopy they ought).
Practical steps to make this provision fit for purpose must be taken. A straightforward assessment of the current provision could easily be carried out ASAP. A well designed assessment of the habitat to create the evidence base against which to model future proposals for recreation infrastructure placement would be the next highest priority. Discussions may include charging for car parks to cover maintenance and on the ground resources, models for camping provision both elsewhere on FC land and/or on private land. Delivery of “joined up routes” and The England Coast Path would be subject to the results of any relevant habitat assessments and should not go forward in their absence.
Infrastructure Outside the Park
(Influencing recreational provision beyond the boundaries of the National Park)
A huge wave of development is proposed on our borders, given little strategic consideration for the Park, unreasonable housing targets from Central Government for all local authorities, token mitigation which does not adequately reflect the value of the Forest, we’ve little hope for avoiding a substantial increase of recreational activity that will be dumped on the Forest. The Forest is under a palpable threat, and needs influence on both development and recreation provision outside the Park.
Our adjacent and concurrent authorities have shown little respect to their Environment Act 1995 Section 62 duty to have regard to National Park purposes. Sometimes the opposite, Test Valley Borough Council once proposed using National Trust Foxbury (adjacent to Common and an SSSI candidate) within the park as SANG mitigation for one of their housing schemes. Section 62 must be considered by our neighbours, not merely for mitigation purposes but for all development.
The mitigation regime is limited, flawed, and does not proportionally value the New Forest. SANG mitigation schemes are based on figures developed by Natural England regarding the Thames Basin Heaths SPA which has a fraction of the notified features that the New Forest possesses, if these were properly scaled up to reflect the Forest’s relative habitat value, many SANG’s on offer would need to be nearly the size of the Forest itself. SANG sites themselves may have their own designated habitats that are sacrificed, and many are proposed with no long term plan or funding for their maintenance.
We must make the debate about these allocations more visible, more public. The New Forest is the last stand for many of its habitats throughout the UK, it is of national and international importance, our neighbours and central government need to be constantly reminded of this.
(Raising awareness and understanding)
Whilst this is already the National Park’s strongest suit, there are certain nuances missing. The National Park has made great inroads in areas such as social media. However, even at our own 150th Anniversary keynote event in January 2017, the audience of very engaged locals clearly included many who still did not understand the Park’s purposes, functions or capabilities. This perhaps suggests that the Park still has work to do piercing the bubble beyond their current success.
One of the key problems the National Park has to overcome, is the word “Park” in its name, which too often is taken for “a large public garden or area of land used for recreation” . Explaining the legislation that gives the “National” prefix its protective connotation, and the slew of habitat designations and their acronyms does not thoroughly dispel that erroneous notion. The message up front should be simplified, the Crown Lands have the status of a National Nature Reserve, a Working Farm and Forest. With that in mind we can then ask “what activities are appropriate there”, “in order to protect such a place, what are you willing to do differently or do without?” “We have the privilege of open access to this place, what responsibilities must we take on?”
The next RMS should include the following priority projects:
- National Park Infrastructure –
- Parking and Camping Provision Assessment
- Habitat Assessment / Evidence Base
- Actions to lead to provision design Fit For Purpose
- Adjacent Authorities and Communities –
- Raise the profile of development on our borders that will affect the Forest
- Brief Decision makers on impacts on the Forest and Section 62 Duties
- Make nearby communities aware of their representatives responsibilities
- Promote adequate, proportional mitigation
- Petition Central Government for more strategic targets to take pressure off the Forest
- Education –
- Develop clearer more straightforward messages
- Look to reach other audiences
- Easily highlight the Forest’s need for protection
- National Nature Reserve
- Working Farm
- Working Forest
- In context of the ongoing Habitat Loss in the UK
Whilst other aspirations remain, solid plans and policies addressing these areas will have the most impact. Consultation over future versions of the RMS should include messages consistent with the National Park’s purposes and priorities, and not be shy in making a case for resources and changes necessary for implementation. The NFA hope to be able to support this Authority in its efforts to Manage Recreation in The New Forest, and willing to lend our time, knowledge and resources towards achieving these priority tasks in provision redesign, influence on strategic planning and mitigation, and education.
4. Priority Outcomes for 2010 – 2015 and suggested actions
4.1 A Renewed Focus on Achieving the Park Purposes page 10
- The Parks contain a variety of landscapes, capable of accommodating many different types of leisure activity. Authorities should continue to identify and promote new access and recreational opportunities and ways of delivering them, working proactively with a range of statutory and non-statutory interests such as local access forums (see section 5.6), Natural England, English Heritage, voluntary sectors and, particularly, farmers, commoners and landowners. However, in light of research published in 2005 (20), the Government recognises that not all forms of outdoor recreation are appropriate in each Park and that activities which would have an adverse impact on the Parks’ special qualities and other people’s enjoyment of them may need to be excluded (in order to meet the requirements of section 11A(2) of the 1949 Act).
(20 Demand for Outdoor Recreation in the English National Parks – Countryside Agency October 2004 (updated March 2005 and published alongside a Guide to Good Practice in managing and promoting outdoor recreation in the Parks) )
NFNPA/RPC 51/08 Page 1
The National Park’s special qualities
The New Forest National Park’s landscape is unique; it is a ‘living’ and working remnant of medieval England with an overwhelming sense of continuity, tradition, and history. It is the survival of not just one special quality but a whole range of features that brings a sense of completeness and integrity.
These features include:
- the New Forest’s outstanding natural beauty: the sights, sounds and smells of ancient woodland with veteran trees, heathland, bog, autumn colour and an unspoilt coastline with views of the Solent and Isle of Wight
- an extraordinary diversity of plants and animals of international importance
- a unique historic, cultural and archaeological heritage from royal hunting ground to ship-building, salt making and 500 years of military coastal defence
- an historic commoning system that maintains so much of what people know and love as ‘the New Forest’ forming the heart of a working landscape based on farming and forestry
- the iconic New Forest Pony together with donkeys, pigs and cattle roaming free
- tranquillity in the midst of the busy, built up south of England
- wonderful opportunities for quiet recreation, learning and discovery in one of the last extensive, gentle landscapes in the south including unmatched open access on foot and horseback
- a healthy environment: fresh air, clean water, local produce and a sense of ‘wildness’, low levels of urbanisation
- strong and distinctive local communities with real pride in and sense of identity with their local area
- SUMMARY: outstanding natural beauty, habitat, heritage, commoning / working forest, free roaming livestock, tranquillity, quiet recreation, low levels of urbanisation, local communities