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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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Saving the Future of the Forest: a Verderers Court Presentment

Here we welcome a guest post from one of our Members, Ian Thew of Burley, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

Official Verderer, members of the Verderers Court, good morning and thank you for this opportunity to speak to you..My name is Ian Thew and I live deep within a New Forest Inclosure and for many years I have been an active New Forest Sporting Licencee; in consequence of which, I’m probably more aware of what is happening on the Forest than most people.

I am here today to express my fears for the future of this unique place that we call the New Forest. The New Forest National park is the smallest and in many ways the most fragile of all the National parks but contains more special designations protecting fauna and flora than any other. During the past few months, I have witnessed enumerable off-road and night-time cyclists; many, so called, wild campers; overnight camper vans in Forest car parks; several incidents of fly-tipping and on two occasions my wife and I have been subjected to, all night long, heavy base music bouncing across the Forest and, on another occasion, we had to deal with a party of rowdy scouts at 1.30 in the morning. I could go on but I do not wish to waste the time of this court; I am merely trying to demonstrate the enormity and the variety of the abuse that this Forest is being subjected to.

It is obvious, from the overflowing car parks and the masses of gazebos and tents that sprout-up like small villages across the Forest during the summer, that there are just too many visitors for this fragile environment to cope with. At the moment, recreation is taking precedence over conservation and protection of the environment which is in direct contradiction of the Sandford Principle.

There is no doubt that visitors are here to stay and, as one who makes part of his living from tourism, their business is welcome. But, for the sake of the future of the New Forest, their numbers must be limited to a sustainable level and their activities must be restricted to those that do not inflict harm on this very special environment. The ground rules should be clearly apparent to all who come here so that ignorance cannot be used as an excuse by those who offend and, similarly, it should be policed and there should be provision to enable those who are protecting the interests of the Forest to penalize or prosecute those who choose to ignore these rules.

Enforcement of the by-laws on the New Forest Crown Lands is the responsibility of the Forestry Commission who seem to be reluctant to prosecute offenders. Furthermore, we have been told that budgetary restrictions have reduced the numbers of front-line people on the ground. But this cannot be used as an excuse for the ruination of the New Forest and the necessary funds must be made available to enable sufficient policing and prosecution when necessary.

This budgetary shortfall is now common knowledge and I am often rendered speechless and helpless when informed by offending, anarchistic visitors that there is nothing I, or anyone else, can do about them. Surely it’s time that something is done, before it is too late, to stop these people, who are hell bent on destroying that which we all love and cherish and that which the majority of people come here to enjoy.

That his Forest is under threat is obvious to all; so what are we going to tell our grandchildren or our great grandchildren when they ask us why we didn’t do something to save it before it was too late?

I request that the Verderers use the authority of this court to urge the Forestry Commission to police the New Forest and enforce its by-laws and, similarly, to urge the New Forest National Park Authority to exercise their duties in accordance with the Sandford Principle.

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