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Rewilding The New Forest?

Sir Charles Burrell, Diana Westerhoff, Debbie Tann and Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre

The growl of a large grizzly bear filled the hall at Lyndhurst Community Centre and the audience of two hundred people gasped. As curtains drew back and they were confronted with a huge picture of the bear, they listened attentively to Sir Charles Burrell’s description of his pioneering rewilding project at his family estate, Knepp, in West Sussex. At the event organised by the Friends of the New Forest, Sir Charles explained that rewilding is not currently about bringing back such major predators as we don’t have the right eco-systems. He showed how Britain has only tiny pockets of true ‘nature’, and we need to care for these but also need more, bigger, better and more joined-up areas if we are to have a real impact on nature conservation.

Sir Charles went on to describe how over a period of six years, the Knepp estate moved away from traditional arable and pastoral farming on what he said was very poor quality Wealden Clay land, whose production capacity was falling short of national averages. He divided the estate into three main areas, which were treated differently. In the southern block, formerly mainly arable land, field hedges were removed, and the land was stocked with Tamworth pigs, Old English Longhorn cattle and Exmoor ponies, while three species of deer soon made themselves at home.  Scrub developed quickly, though each former field responded differently.

The middle block where the old Knepp Castle had been was believed to be a cultural landscape, a park with a large hammer pond designed by Repton. It was re-seeded with grass and wildflowers, which deterred an exuberant explosion of scrub. The resulting grassland is stocked with ponies, cattle and deer but no pigs.

The northern block had been farmed for dairy cattle, and was re-seeded with grasses but no wildflowers, and is now stocked just with cattle. The resulting open farmscape is slowly developing a little scrub. Sir Charles explained how he had been criticised for creating scrubland, and pointed out that pollen data from 6,000 years ago reveals that only one third of Britain was covered by woodland, contrary to the popular myth that a squirrel could once pass from tree to tree without touching the ground from Lands End to John O’Groats.

The Knepp project is steered by an advisory board of international experts from many relevant fields,. In order to have a more convenient term for a ‘long-term, minimum intervention, natural process-led area’, which although accurate would hardly inspire anyone,  ‘rewilding’ was adopted. This team looked at the UK’s extinct animals and selected proxies which would be appropriate, for example, cattle to replace aurochs. Sir Charles enthusiastically described how the animals seem to complement each other, and the new habitats have drawn in huge numbers and varieties of insects, birds and animals as well as plants, many more than when the estate was farmed traditionally. The estate employs a full-time ecologist to survey, monitor and record these. They have also found that their soil biodiversity and function have improved significantly.

Perhaps surprisingly Sir Charles then demonstrated how the changes have also benefitted the estate financially. Even excluding the tourism, camping and glamping activities which he has developed, the income from the farming side of the estate now well exceeds the national average by some 30%.

Sir Charles was then joined on the platform by Debbie Tann, Chief Executive of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and Diana Westerhoff, a Verderer, to answer questions from the floor. Debbie Tann said that she has visited Knepp and been most impressed by what the estate is doing. She said that wildlife in Britain is disappearing at an alarming rate and we need imagination and new bold thinking to put nature into recovery. She reported that the Trust is looking for opportunities in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to create larger scale reserves and one or two ‘Knepps’.

Diana Westerhoff commented that while the New Forest is very different to Knepp, there have been some efforts at rewilding. The Forest Design Plan is resulting in restoration to traditional land use in some areas, while the wetland restoration programme is returning lost habitats to a favourable condition.

Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre, President of the Friends of the New Forest, noted that one of the six reasons for rewilding listed on the Knepp website was the revitalisation of communities, and wondered how this could be achieved where farms are smaller. To this question, Sir Charles responded with news of an upland farmer he had met at the Oxford farming conference. By changing his pattern of sheep farming including actually reducing stock numbers, and diversifying into holiday lets, he had managed to make his business much more sustainable.

In reply to a question about the impact of global warming on wildlife habitats, Debbie Tann agreed that there is some impact on habitats but possibly more on the food needed by wildlife. She gave the examples of a crash in insect numbers and changes in timing of bird migration having severe effects. Diana Westerhoff added an example of the falcon species, the hobby, declining in the Forest because of a decline in the numbers of house martins, a favoured food of their young. And Sir Charles gave his own example of cuckoos, which have returned to Knepp in good numbers. However they feed with swifts in sub-Saharan Africa, and if it doesn’t rain there for five weeks and there are no insects, they never arrive in Britain.

Another audience member proposed that people are increasingly intolerant of wild landscapes and incapable of being sensible round large herbivores, and wondered if rewilding as a concept would help. Maybe because visitors to Knepp understand they are visiting a ‘rewilded’ landscape, they are more respectful of the large grazing herbivores than visitors to the New Forest are with the free-roaming livestock. Sir Charles recalled a neighbouring farmer who runs educational visits finding that even young farmers could not name common trees, and he suggested that we need more nature education as part of the curriculum. Debbie Tann suggested that we need to rewild people and regretted that many children have never known the fun of running around in long grass.

Questioned about the complexities of environmental stewardship schemes, Sir Charles noted that the Rural Payments Agency uses Google satellite images to categorise landscape, resulting in confused and contradictory definitions which need to be sorted out soon. Diana Westerhoff reported that the Higher Level Stewardship scheme includes more or less all grazed land but the Rural Payments Agency excludes gorse as non-grazing land even though ponies happily eat it in winter.

Comparing the New Forest to Knepp, the next questioner noted that while Knepp has withdrawn from management, in the New Forest we manage both land and stock much more. Diana Westerhoff pointed out that the Forest starts from a very different position, resulting from biodiversity developed over thousands of years. It would be good to have other Knepps around the Forest but we could lose from emulating it in the Forest itself. Debbie Tann added that only 55% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the Forest are classified as in a ‘favourable’ condition, little better than  compared with 45% across the whole of Hampshire, and some extra wilding activity might be helpful to improve this. Sir Charles picked up the point of rewilding people and felt that this arises from inspirational things in the landscape – think beyond the box. What about bison?

Focusing on the Forest, it was suggested that the grazed areas of the forest do not enjoy the abundance of wildlife described at Knepp and the questioner asked what impact animal density has on this. Sir Charles felt that it was not necessary to worry about it. This is just a moment in time, and livestock numbers wax and wane over long periods. Diana Westerhoff endorsed this and added that even short-grazed turf may be home to species missing from other habitats. The woodlands are rich in insects like moths and in bats but we just don’t often see them.

Sir Charles was asked to explain the term ‘pop-up Knepps’ mentioned in his talk. He pointed out that farms and estates pass down the generations and landowners may not wish to tie the land forever to specific conservation designations like SSSIs. So a commitment to plan for 10 or 20 years would enable people to choose to return to conventional farming in the future. The Knepp estate has footpaths crossing it and Sir Charles was asked how he manages the public. He stated that longhorn cattle were useful in deterring people from straying from paths, but that dog-walkers were a problem for ground-nesting birds.  He suggested that good paths, routes, maps and signs were all needed.

Thinking again of the Forest, two questions raised the effect of grazing levels on the possible decline in wildlife and growth of new trees, issues welcomed by the audience with applause. Diana Westerhoff noted that studies on the impact of grazing on ground-nesting birds showed that it was hard to separate it from other factors like deer numbers, dog-walking, predators and climate change. But she commented that it was hard to control over-grazing. Tree regeneration is a long-term business and the Forest includes pasture woodland rather than dense canopy woodland.

At this point John Ward, Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest, said that he did not feel comfortable at being told we don’t have enough information so cannot take action, and asked the panel whether, nonetheless, it might be possible to divide the Forest into areas and exclude recreational access to part of it in order to test rewilding. Sir Charles responded positively, saying that the Forest is large enough to do this. Joking, he even suggested bringing back wolves to control the deer! But he felt that it was possible to amend stock intensity and deer density. He also pointed out the value of thorn bushes which protect young trees, quoting an ancient forestry saying: ‘the thorn is the mother of the oak’. An audience member added that a 400-year old oak only needs one seedling produced during its lifetime to replace itself.

The next question raised the issue of recreational pressure. Debbie Tann agreed that for the New Forest this is the greatest current problem. The words ‘National Park’ mislead the public, and some rewilding might make the nature and purpose of the Forest clearer. We need to be braver, for example in challenging plans for housing development, and local authorities should be providing alternative green space for recreation outside the Forest.

Finally Peter Roberts, previous Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest, enquired what would be the smallest area which could engage in rewilding, with the large estates around the Forest and the Forestry Commission in mind. Sir Charles gave examples of the area which a pig needs per week, because scale matters. The smaller the area, the more management you have to do. The bigger you get, the more you can sit back and leave it alone.

At the end of a stimulating and wide-ranging discussion, Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre thanked Sir Charles for his talk and admired his courage in rewilding Knepp, also thanking Debbie Tann and Diana Westerhoff for their contribution and finally urging the audience to join the Friends of the New Forest to support its fight for the Forest’s sustainable future.

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Verderers response to BBC Inside Out South

This is the Verderers of the New Forest Press Release in response to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

It is a great shame that Mr Packham declines to talk to the organisations which manage the New Forest. Some of his statements are, unfortunately, quite wrong. For example, he assumes that every animal for which the Verderers receive marking fees is actually turned out on the Forest for the entire year. We know that is not correct. Commoners generally turn their cattle out in summer but take them home for the winter. Some cattle are never turned out onto the forest.

Some ponies spend most of their lives on the Forest but others are also taken home for the winter. The animal population varies throughout the year.

An excellent indicator of the grazing pressure is the condition of stock. There has been no deterioration in the condition of the stock overall. The Verderers, through the Agisters, monitor the welfare of the stock closely. The Agisters report regularly to the Verderers on the condition of the stock out in the Forest. Any report to the Verderers’ Office of an animal in poor condition is promptly investigated by an Agister. Any animal found to be in poor condition is removed from the Forest.

The Verderers host two Welfare Tours every year which are attended by a number of organisations including the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, the Donkey Sanctuary, British Horse Society, Blue Cross, Defra and Animal Health/Trading Standards in order that the condition of the stock can be independently monitored and assessed.

In 2016, a small number of ponies were found to be stripping trees of their bark in Mark Ash Wood. Other ponies in the area were not touching the trees. All the ponies in the area were in excellent condition. Ponies do sometimes eat woody material but it is not an indication of hunger. Because it can be a learnt behaviour, the animals responsible were identified and removed from the Forest. We and the Forestry Commission are continuing to monitor the situation.

Over the last eight years, the Verderers of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (a partnership between the Forestry Commission, the New Forest National Park Authority and the Verderers working with Natural England) has restored over 10 miles of drainage channels, which were artificially straightened by the Victorians The work has resulted in more natural wetland systems which help to support the unique biodiversity of the New Forest.

In 2017 the Wootton stream restoration was shortlisted for the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence award – the Natural Environment category. It’s a credit to the team and Mott MacDonald who were involved in the planning to restore Wootton Riverine back to its natural meandering route. It’s a truly collaborative project between many partner organisations, who are working towards conserving the New Forest’s unique natural environment.

The Forestry Commission burns about 250 hectares – which is only 2% of the total heathland area across the Crown lands. Even though this is a relatively small proportion of the heath, it ensures we have a healthy and vigorous range of heather heights and ages, which as well as providing diversity also provides us with effective firebreaks to protect large areas of heathland, woodland and private property from wildfire.

There are a number of very rare species in the New Forest whose very existence is due entirely to the hard grazing and the poaching by animals that occurs in some parts of the Forest.

The present high number of animals for which marking fees have been received is, we believe, due wholly to the present farming subsidy scheme. We hope the Basic Payment Scheme, which we do agree with Mr Packham, is not appropriate to the Forest, will change after BREXIT, and we are calling for a bespoke subsidy scheme for the New Forest run by the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the National Park Authority with the invaluable input from Natural England. These are the organisations which, together with the commoners, have managed and protected the Forest and will continue to do so for many years to come.

The Forest is facing ever more pressures, especially from increasing recreational use. The best way to ensure its survival is for the organisations responsible for its management to continue to work in partnership. Those who disagree with their management should engage constructively with them.

30th January 2019

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Forestry Commission response to BBC Inside Out South

This is the Forestry Commission Press Release in response to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

Deputy Surveyor for the New Forest, Bruce Rothnie, at the Forestry Commission, said:

“Those who work every day within the New Forest and observe its cycles of management know that its condition is best judged over decades of time and not year by year. Its diversity of plants and animals comes from traditional practices that have been continuing for hundreds of years including the grazing by animals and burning of heathland. Without the New Forest’s unique grazing system and land management we could not sustain the quality and nature of the landscape we all enjoy today.

The fluctuating density of grazing season by season and year by year is exactly what creates the special nature of the Forest. The habitats created are a haven for some of the rarest plants and animals and the New Forest is the only stronghold for many. The condition of the grazed habitats and the commoner’s stock is assessed regularly by experts. It is the longer term trends that are important for the future of the Forest. Snapshot critiques often lack the understanding of those trends and nature’s pace of change. The commoners are rightly proud of the standard of welfare of their animals and they would be quick to address any concern if their stock were deteriorating due to shortage of vegetation.

The partnership of organisations including the Forestry Commission, National Park Authority, Verderers and the Commoners Defence Association, is focussed on finding the best solution to support commoning and land management post-Brexit. We are working hard to influence how any new subsidy system could be shaped to deliver the best outcomes for the New Forest and its long-term future. The Forest is poised to demonstrate the immense value for money it provides for society.

The regeneration of the grazed woodlands is another feature which responds at nature’s pace and will occur over time periods that extend well beyond the memories of a single lifetime. History tells us that regeneration has occurred in pulses over many decades and these woodlands will naturally go through periods of more open character and more closed tree cover – that is the natural cycle of woodland regeneration where grazing animals roam.”

Shared with kind permission of the Forestry Commission. Our Chair’s Response to the BBC program is available here.
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Our Chair Responds to BBC Inside Out Allegations

Friends of the New Forest Chair, John Ward, responds to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

In a short programme it would be too much to expect explanation and discussion, but Chris Packham’s assertions, “the Forest has been drained, burnt, overgrazed and suffers a catastrophic decline in species” certainly had the tabloid newspaper headline effect he no doubt wanted.

Perhaps stream and valley mire restoration, the fact that a decade or so ago there was a great worry that commoning was declining so fast there would not be enough animals, and recognition that species decline is often rooted in causes much wider that the New Forest, might also have been mentioned.

Drawing conclusions from a snapshot view of the New Forest is often risky for a place that evolves and fluctuates over long periods of time. Grazing within the cultural landscape of the Forest has always varied. For example, the dairy herds of the 1960s are no longer present and agri-environment grants come and go.  But, setting aside the passionate performance of Chris Packham, there is a very  important point coming out of this programme. The New Forest is still an astonishingly rich place for wildlife and for people, those riches depend on the continuity of commoning and commoning needs our support. One of the many challenges that the Forest faces for those of us seeking its long-term protection is to find the right way to make that support.

Our habitat blog will shortly feature more detailed consideration of the issues at hand as well as statements from other organizations including the Forestry Commission. The Press Release version of our Chair’s Statement is available here.
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Verderer’s Announcements and Decisions September 2018

This month’s announcements include warnings about dumping apples and garden waste on the Forest as a hazard to the livestock, the upcoming Verderers Election, positive changes to the HLS Verderers Grazing Scheme subsidy, and the continuing appointment of the NFNPA Verderer.

19th September 2018

APPLES & OTHER WINDFALL FRUITS

The Verderers regularly draw attention to the problems that result from the public feeding ponies on the Forest.  At this time of year, there is often a glut of apples.  I would like to draw people’s attention to the particular dangers associated with dumping apples on the Forest. Apples in quantity, such as a bag of windfalls, can cause colic in horses. A whole apple can cause choking.  Leaving apples close to the roadside attracts animals onto the public highway and into danger from passing vehicles.

GARDEN WASTE

Dumping garden waste on the Open Forest also presents a hazard to stock as many garden plants are toxic.  In addition, it constitutes fly tipping.  We ask residents and those undertaking gardening and landscaping to please dispose of their waste responsibly – at the local tip please, not the Forest.

VERDERERS’ ELECTION

The Election of two Verderers, will be held on Friday, 30th November, when the terms of office of Dionis Macnair and David Readhead come to an end.

The deadline for registering to vote at our election was Monday, the day before yesterday.  However, as we want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to vote, registration forms will continue to be accepted until this Friday 21st September.  The Draft Electoral Register has to be finalised in time for it to be sent out to the public offices for public viewing from Monday 1st October.  The fact that you may have been registered for previous elections does not count, and therefore, to be able to vote this year, you must register now.  There are some spare registration forms on the table at the front of the Court.

I hope we will see a strong turnout at the election and I ask all those present to help spread the word so that as many people as possible are able to vote.  I very much hope the press will also help by giving publicity to this important event.

For anyone wishing to stand for election, the deadline for the delivery of nomination papers is Noon on Tuesday 6th November and I will issue a reminder at the October Court.  Anyone requiring further information, should contact the Verderers’ Office, or the Office of the Returning Officer, Mrs Rachel Brooks at the Under Sheriff’s Office in Romsey.

CHANGES TO CURRENT VGS RATES 2019

The VGS Committee & the Court of Verderers have agreed to amend the Verderers Grazing Scheme Livestock Unit rates payable in December 2019.  As the 2018 application forms have already been returned for payments due this December, these changes cannot be implemented until 2019.  Application forms will be sent out next February.  The Court felt it is important to let VGS members know of these changes before the coming winter as it may impact on their stocking level decisions.

The change to Livestock Unit (LU) rates allows the VGS to increase the incentive for Registered New Forest Mares and reduce the incentive for large numbers of cattle and non-registered equines.  The overall pot of money remains the same and the result will be that more members will gain than lose.

The following changes are to apply;

Registered New Forest Mare or Stallion from 0.8 to 1 LU (livestock unit)

No Marking Fee return for any other female equines (including donkeys).  Geldings are already excluded.

Cattle to remain at 1 LU but a payment limit introduced of 40 head of cattle per individual commoner

Copies of the amended VGS terms and conditions are available on the table at the front of the Court.

EDWARD HERON

We are pleased to announce that Cllr Edward Heron’s term of office as the New Forest National Park’s Appointed Verderer, has been extended for a further year.

We particularly welcome renewed statements on perennial issues such as mostly well meaning but entirely misguided dumping of green waste on the Forest in the mistaken notion that it helps feed the Forest livestock.  There is no positive in this, rotting greenwaste can poison livestock, and drawing livestock to roadside and other amenity locations endangers them and disrupts natural feeding patterns.  Regulated supplementary feeding is agreed at locations away from public interaction, and even this practice is questionably and may soon be phased out or reduced. The livestock are there to graze the Forest, and the habitat produced by their grazing and trampling patterns is a key part of the biodiversity of the Forest.

Along side this we also welcome changes to Commoners subsidy which should reward the stewardship provided by their livestock, but not be entirely based on headcount. capping the cattle subsidy may go some way to address areas which have possibly been over poached.

We thank the Verderers for their kind permission to occasionally include their announcements as guest posts here, as we hope we can help highlight the vital role they play on the Forest.

 

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A Year In The New Forest — telly doc review

It may be difficult to quantify why Channel 4’s new documentary series A Year In The Forest is such a uniquely rich and well observed celebration of what makes our Forest so special.  Sure, there’s abundant beautiful photography, but we should expect this in a 7 pm Saturday flagship documentary slot.  The filmmakers took their time with this, literally a year and change, and have produced an episode per season of that year for a set of four.

The filmmakers have avoided pitfalls of previous efforts, no celebrity CNP figureheads up in hot air balloons, no gross oversimplifications, no — as certain BBC magazine programmes past have done — touting of inappropriate recreation activities (there was some regrettable habitat disturbance intentionally running through bogs for some mucky version of orienteering).

They’ve selected a cast of knowledgeable local characters, who they seemingly allow to speak for themselves, variously representing commoning and conservation.  A decent proportion of those “followed” are members of the Friends of the New Forest / NFA, including two members of our council; this is less a declaration of interest from this reviewer, more an appreciation that they’ve chosen people who know what they’re on about.  (We should probably mention much of the glorious wildlife is captured on film by our friend Dr. Manuel Hinge.)

Its success may lie partially in what they leave out.  Last names, for starters, all the “leads” in focus are only referred to by their first names, this has the effect of making the discussions more intimate and personal.  A last name is dropped in a description of a family heritage going back to 1680, you may spot a familiar commoning name on an erstwhile bucket, and a side character local mycologist is anonymised when joining “Richard” for a fungi ID hunt (her name passed in conversation).  In focusing on individuals they’ve also skirted or left out larger group activities, hard to imagine a doc on Autumn in the Forest without a chunk about the Drift or Beaulieu Rd Pony Sales (will Winter include the Point-to-Point?).

There’s also a lack of official talking heads from the statutory organizations, the National Park Authority, the Forestry Commission (The Forester featured is not even from the FC, but from the excellent Pondhead Conservation Trust which manages their inclosure sympathetically under lease from the FC), or even the Verderers.  We’re not being lectured at, we’re being spoken to.

This works well in conveying the love and care for the Forest from all those involved, but excludes any prescriptive suggestions on how to protect it.  An incident of a dog chasing deer, resulting in a drastic change to mating patterns, amongst other things, passes without any comment on the behaviour of the dog owner.  The foray for autumn fungi is not concluded with any message to not pick (which I’m certain will have irked at least one participant).  As a campaigning organization, we know it’s often difficult to express precautionary principles without falling the wrong side of hectoring, but these few moments begged a slight nudge at least, although this may have not fit with the welcoming tone the narrative affects.

At the same time they don’t utterly shy away from hard realities, TB tests are endured and acclimatizing young stock to coming Winter requires a firm stance that may not sit well with those ready to misunderstand animal welfare.

Based only on the first quarter, a sterling effort.  Although the slight niggle of missed opportunities to guide viewers from respect towards protection of the Forest; perhaps a “if you’ve been effected by issues in tonight’s programme” proviso, with hints on how to help, which might include supporting local conservation landowners (Wildlife Trust, National Trust and recently in place RSPB), volunteering for on the ground conservation, or even joining the Friends of the New Forest, at a stretch…

A Year In The New Forest is produced by Blast! Films for Channel 4 and airs on Channel 4 on Saturdays starting 28th July at 7pm, and available on All 4 Catch-up Apps for 30 days each.

 

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England Coast Path: What you need to know

The consultation on the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch of the England Coast Path closes on Wednesday 9th May.  We’ve been discussing the possible negative impacts of the proposed route since 2016 when it was mooted that this Consultation would happen in March 2017.  We’ve shared some aspects here through presentments to the Verderers, statements to the National Park Authority, and our letter to the Access Forum.  However, it’s worth putting the project into perspective, what it is and why we’re concerned.  We’ll start with this overview of the bare basics.

Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 mandated the The England Coast Path (ECP).  The Act’s other aims created a new Marine Management Organisation, made alterations to marine licensing and fisheries management, and provided the set up for marine conservation zones.  In addition to the establishment of an English coastal walking route, it also included rights of access to land near the English coast.

So far, so benign.  There are existing Coastal Routes, the South West Coast Path, Norfolk Coast Path, Wales, etc. and here the Solent Way.  To a certain extent it hardly seems necessary.  The key problem comes from the creation of requirement known as “Coastal Access Duty”,  including not just providing the route, but also the creation of new access land called “Coastal Margin”.  Coastal Margin was left undefined in the 2009 legislation, but since has come to be broadly defined as the entire seaward side of the route (with certain exceptions, and possible discretionary landward additions).  That definition encourages land owners to allow the path placed as close to the coast as is practical.

This becomes problematic as our coast includes a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected habitats of international importance alongside which the route will necessarily skew inland.  Sending the route inland to avoid habitat, has the simultaneous effect of designating that habitat, seaward of the route, as access land, which defeats the purpose of avoidance.  Some land, such as arable, private buildings and their curtilage, are considered “Excepted Land”, and Natural England have the discretion of creating “directions to Exclude” on the basis of habitat or public safety, together these are the slim protections from Coastal Margin access.

Increased use and disturbance

Creation new non-historically based Rights of Way and joining up of existing routes, increasing their use will impact on tranquility and habitat disturbance.  There is funding for path upgrades, signs and rudimentary barriers, but no funding for parking, other infrastructure, or any other mitigation measures (as a developer creating the same access would be required to provide).  Some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast would exacerbate the verge parking problem.

Signs explaining exclusions will not make up for the Ordnance Survey’s decision (with the alleged fiat of a “stakeholder group”) to show all potential Coastal Margin as Access Land, disregarding whatever Excepted Land, or Exclusions may be in place.  A conservative estimate of the current proposal would have 75% of our Coastal Margin fall under these prohibitions, but the Ordnance Survey will show them as access anyway, despite their standing as providers of a definitive map.

Sensitive Features

In the current proposal Natural England have not sufficient excluded our designated habitats and have created new Rights of Way adjacent and through SSSI designated land.  They have not made directions for dogs on lead aside or through habitats, or land used for livestock including back-up land vital to commoning.  They have not provided maps that show the vital spatial relationships of the route to protected, vulnerable or excepted land.

The Sensitive Features Assessment for our coast is the largest of the 31 stretches published to date.  At 222 pages it is twice the size of the next largest, and five times larger than the average (excluding itself).  The report is fraught with inaccuracies and errors, including misquotes from some of our ecologists.  Natural England have not performed a full Habitats Regulation Assessment to judge the impacts, they use a get out from their own guidance which allows them to conclude that their own mitigation proposals (signage, willow screens) are sufficient. That self determining logic was just slammed in the European Court in April (the judgement required that full HRA be performed).

The guidance creates a principle, not based in the legislation of “least restrictive option” for conflicts between Coastal Access Duty and other interests, including habitat, favouring recreation, where in a National Park, the Sandford Principle, enshrined in the legislation would indicate the opposite.  The over interpretation of Coastal Access Duty, particularly the Margin, by Natural England shows no regard for the National Park Purposes or Special Qualities.  It also fall far short of subsequent policies, including the Government’s flagship 25 Year Environment Plan.

Conclusion

The particularly large size and sensitivity of the New Forest Coast was clearly not foreseen by those framing the legislation, which is ill suited to application of its subsequent all encompassing Coastal Margin definition.  Natural England have not provided adequate proposal for consultation, including poor mapping, inaccurate and incomplete Assessments. The poor decision by the Ordnance Survey to serve up protected areas as accessible is a gross misrepresentation.  Taken together, and in some cases separately, this will lead to unacceptable damage to habitats.  All the worse, as it should be avoidable, not intentionally planned.

Coming Soon:

We will be fleshing out many of the points made above, for those who may doubt any of our claims, or if you just want to dig deeper to see what should have been a harmless, if unnecessary project, put through the legislative and government grinder to become a fiasco, warning, some of this will illicit anger.  (Links will go live as each article is posted, watch this space and/or our facebook page)

England Coast Path:
What’s At Stake : Our Coastal Habitat, how precious it is, how you might not have known that.
Consultation and Complexity : How is our stretch more difficult?
MisGuidance : Natural England’s Playbook for Coastal Access has problems.  LIVE
Out of Order : One of the worst features of this was not consulted on publicly.  Ever.  LIVE
Margin of Error : When is something inland somehow part of the Coast?
Not A Whitewash (Magenta, Actually) : The Ordnance Survey’s Rubberstamping of a Bad Idea  LIVE
Up An Estuary, Without a Paddle : No one really knows what to do about an Estuary.
Sense and Insensitivity : What happens when Sensitive Features Appraisal doesn’t live up to its title?
Do we need it? : In which we might have to argue with a Rambler (no one wants to do that).
What can I do about it? : We suggest some representations you might wish to make. LIVE

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CDA Letter to Members Relating to Localised Excessive Poaching

This letter was written by New Forest Commoners Defence Association Chair Tony Hockley to CDA members, following concerns during the wet winter of 2017-2018.

Dear Member

You should by now have received letters from the Official Verderer and Deputy Surveyor relating to localised excessive poaching. The CDA welcomes these interventions. Commoning rests on the principle that we share a responsibility to exercise our rights in ways that are mutually beneficial.

The CDA is working hard to ensure that we have a system of financial support after Brexit that It is locally designed and locally led, unlike the BPS. For the next few years, however, we must work within the existing system. We must demonstrate that the New Forest is up to the task of leading a future bespoke scheme and to take full responsibility for its implementation.

It is clear that the vast majority of commoners take these responsibilities to each other and to the Forest very seriously indeed. We cannot, therefore, allow the actions of a very small number to destroy what we are achieving and what we hope to achieve in the future (In the short term we also face the risk of removal of approval for cattle feeding areas on the Open Forest). The letters from the Official Verderer and the Deputy Surveyor set out some of the powers that can be used by them to ensure good grazing practice. Our own CDA Rule 33 states that: “The committee may suspend or terminate the membership of any member who is deemed to have acted in a way which is prejudicial to the interests of the commoners or the Association”. Wilful and unnecessary damage to the grazing would be prejudicial to all of our interests.

The CDA will be calling on the Verderers to use their powers to support good grazing practice and compliance with existing regulations. We will also be asking for the Verderers Grazing Scheme Advisory Group to be convened to discuss the general topic of grazing levels and policies.

Our partnership work on a future support scheme for the New Forest is generating significant goodwill for commoning. i am very confident that if we continue to demonstrate the best of commoning over the next two or three years, based on our genuine concern for the Forest, we will be able to achieve a sustainable and lasting solution.

Yours faithfully

Tony Hockley

Chairman

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Presentment April: England Coast Path

England Coast Path proposal shows new Rights of Way on one map (middle right), Habitat Exclusions on another in a different document (top), and both maps do not show the relevant Site of Special Scientific Interest (bottom), a small fraction of which is in the Exclusion.

I’d hoped that my previous presentment on the England Coast Path would be the last, and thank the court yet again for its inclusion in unusual circumstances.

The complexity of the proposal demands a bit more, the longest of the 31 (of 66) published to date, including a Sensitive Features Appraisal running 222 pages, nearly 5 times larger than the average (excluding itself), and twice the size of the next largest (Burnham-on-Crouch to Maldon). The maps Natural England provide are misleading as they do not adequately reflect the key spatial relationships between the path, protected habitats and coastal margin. At a minimum Natural England should provide useable maps for comment, and extend the consultation proportionately to reflect the scale of the proposal. They should also be at pains to perform a complete Habitat Regulation Assessment and resolve the rife inaccuracies in the features appraisal.

As for issues under the Verderer’s remit: fields that may come into or out of management as backup grazing are not excepted land (as it is not arable), but Natural England have not required dogs on leads on the route adjacent or through potential backup land. They have not followed their own guidance from the Coastal Access Scheme [*]:

Guidance 2.4.6 As on other land with access rights under Part 1 of CROW, a person with a dog must keep it on a short lead in the vicinity of livestock. The purpose of this provision is to prevent dogs from approaching livestock.

We hope the Verderers, in their statutory role on behalf of commoning, will request that this is applied in all possible instances. The NFA, for our part, will go further asking that dogs be kept on leads for any portion of the route that is adjacent to protected habitat, grazing which may be used by livestock, or spreading room leading to either habitat or grazing.


[*] The Coastal Access Scheme 2013, page 14 – this guidance document was mandated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 Section 298 The coastal access scheme. The first version of the Scheme (NE268) was approved on 23rd March 2010, under section 298(2) of the 2009 Act. Section 299(2) of the Act required Natural England to complete an initial review of the Scheme within three years, which they did, publishing that result 11th July 2013. However, by that time they had only had three stretches published, and one of those approved.


ADDENDUM:

We have secured an agreement with one of the statutory consultees that we will request that the Ordnance Survey not depict “coastal margin” the spreading room associated with the route at all for our stretch of the coast. As noted previously, the OS policy would be to show the entirety of the area seaward of the route, which is potentially coastal margin, under a “magenta wash”.

A conservative estimate of the proposal shows that at least 75% of the potential margin will fall either under excepted land (arable, buildings and their curtilage, etc) or excluded land designated by Natural England for either Public Safety reasons (S25) or Habitat Protection (S26). This would make the OS default depiction grossly inaccurate.

Consultation Map Issues

The maps provided do not adequately reflect the key spatial relationships between the path, protected habitats and coastal margin, and make it exceedingly difficult to make judgements. There is only one map that depicts the entire route (index map), within each chapter separate maps show sections numbered for comment, no map showing the route for each entire chapter is provided, and only landward spreading room is depicted, no excepted or excluded areas are shown. Maps of exclusions appear in the separate Overview document and don’t show path or even other exclusions that overlap the map area depicted. None of the maps of paths or exclusions show the relevant areas of habitat designation (SSSI, Nature Reserves, SAC, SPA, Areas of Special Protection and Ramsar Wetlands).

ECP with Exclusions, SSSI, SAC
As an example of what would be useful, you’ll find attached my approximate overlay map of the route shown in orange (part of Chapter 3, and all of Chapters 4 and 5 of the proposal, the Orange diamonds showing the chapter divisions). The North Solent Site of Special Scientific Interest is outlined in magenta pink with diagonal hatch, and the Solent & Southampton Water SPA is shown in orange with vertical pinstripe. Areas wholly excluded from Coastal Margin year round under Section 26 Nature Conservation are depicted with a grey overlay. Section 25a Exclusions under Public Safety are not depicted, but to the Salt Marsh and Flats portion of the SSSI along the Beaulieu estuary (but not its terra firma), and similar areas from the mouth of the Lymington river and including Keyhaven (not on the map) and Solent shore. It would also be useful to have maps in each chapter clearly delineating which sections are “new” as opposed to those that are part of existing Rights of Way, Highways etc.

Coastal Margin

Throughout the documentation and guidance Natural England refers to coastal margin including the entire seaward side of the route, however this definition does not exist in the primary legislation, but is created by a subsequent statutory instrument. This means the definition of coastal margin was never consulted upon leading to the legislation. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 Section 3(3) defines “coastal land” as “the foreshore, and land adjacent to the foreshore (including in particular any cliff, bank, barrier, dune, beach or flat which is adjacent to the foreshore).” Section 3A(1) (inserted by the 2009 Act) specifies “The Secretary of State may by order specify the descriptions of land in England which are coastal margin for the purposes of this Part.”

That order “The Access to the Countryside (Coastal Margin) (England) Order 2010 No. 558” was discussed by the Delegated Legislation Committee by 17 MPs on 23 February 2010 for twenty minutes, and was discussed at unspecified length by the Lords Grand Committee on 9 February 2010 during a 3 hour meeting which included five other items of legislation. Here’s the definition from the Order:

Descriptions of coastal margin
3.—(1) Land in England is coastal margin for the purposes of Part 1 of the CROW Act (access to the countryside) if it falls within one or more of the following descriptions.
(2) The first description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of an approved section of the English coastal route passes,
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line, and
(c) land which is seaward of the line of an approved section of the English coastal route and lies between land within sub-paragraph (b) in relation to that approved section and the seaward extremity of the foreshore, if the land within sub-paragraphs (a) to (c), taken as a whole, is coastal land.

(3) The second description of land is land which—

(a) is landward of the line of an approved section of the English coastal route,
(b) is—

(i) foreshore, cliff, bank, barrier, dune, beach or flat, or
(ii) land of any other kind, which is treated by section 15(1) as being accessible to the public apart from the CROW Act, and

(c) when taken together with land within the first description in relation to the approved section, is coastal land.

(4) The third description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of an official alternative route which is for the time being in operation passes, and
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line.

(5) The fourth description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of a temporary route passes, and
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line, to the extent that the land is within section 55I(4)(d) of the 1949 Act(b) (land over which the owner has agreed the temporary route may pass).

We believe that Natural England have been overly inclusive in their interpretation, 1) the order has no scenario to reflect what to do with the coastal margin should the “coastal land” the foreshore etc., be excluded for habitat or safety reasons, it should not follow that the margin leading up to excluded areas should be included 2) this becomes even murkier where the path must travel away from the coast up an estuary to the first foot crossing, particularly one so protected as the Beaulieu – Natural England have the option to terminate the path either side, but avoid this to keep the route contiguous and not create demands for honey pot infrastructure and the terminal points.

The Natural England consultation on this stretch runs until 9 May 2018, more information, criticism and analysis may be found on our website newforestassociation.org.

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Presentment: England Coast Path Consultation

ECP with Exclusions, SSSI, SACWe are now one week into the consultation on the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch of the England Coast Path. This well meaning but unnecessary project will create non-historic rights of way with new access rights to the seaward side of the route. This will bring disturbance to the most remote areas of the National Park, will exacerbate the verge parking problem, and potentially threatens to convert over 3500 acres of protected habitats into coastal access.

Natural England has the power to exclude sensitive habitat from automatic inclusion in coastal margin access, but their proposed exclusions are incomplete. There are gaps such as one through National Nature Reserve at Simm’s Wood and Steerley’s Copse where walkers emerging suddenly onto the Beaulieu estuary from the woodland screen would cause a widespread startle response, serious disturbance to the wintering birds on the eastern shore, where surveys have shown nearly double the population of the west side, likely due to less disturbance. Salt Marshes and Flats are excluded under Section 25 Public Safety where Section 26 Nature Conservation exclusions should have priority and permanence. Elsewhere, vulnerable wader roosts on vegetated shingle beaches, including one of the most provably undisturbed, have not been excluded. In the context of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan which promises stronger conservation of both designated and undesignated habitats, not enough has been excluded to fully protect these fragile areas.

Worse, any exclusions are made a nonsense by the Ordnance Survey decision to show all potential spreading room in coastal margin as access land [under a purple “wash”]. Estimate of the current proposal excludes at least 75% of this area. As many online and smartphone apps license the OS data, this grotesque misrepresentation will mislead visitors into those areas we most need to protect. It is vitally important that all interested parties deter the Ordnance Survey from inaccurately depicting our coastal protected habitats as access land on the allegedly definitive map.

Whilst many of its problems do not directly fall under the Verderer’s remit, So far, one commoner has noted the Path route cuts through fields used both for back up grazing and seasonal running of stallions with mares. This finds the route and seaward coastal margin access unwelcome and unsafe. We hope the Verderers, not just through their direct responsibilities on the Crown Lands, but as supporters of commoning and as a member of the National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy Steering Group, will call for resolution of these problems before the route is approved and implemented.

The Natural England consultation on this stretch runs until 9 May 2018, more information, criticism and analysis may be found on our website newforestassociation.org.

On the above map the approximate ECP consultation route is shown in orange (part of Chapter 3, and all of Chapters 4 and 5 of the proposal, the Orange diamonds showing the chapter divisions).  The North Solent Site of Special Scientific Interest is outlined in magenta pink with diagonal hatch, and the Solent & Southampton Water SPA is shown in orange with vertical pinstripe.  Areas wholly excluded from Coastal Margin year round under Section 26 Nature Conservation are depicted with a grey overlay.  Section 25a Exclusions under Public Safety  are not depicted, but apply only to the Salt Marsh and Flats portion of the SSSI along the Beaulieu estuary (but not its terra firma), and the similar area from the mouth of the Lymington river and including Keyhaven (not on this map).

This presentment was given unusual consideration by the Verderers, as the Court had opened with no announcements, the brief report on animal accidents, and no other presentments, and was closed in record time, just as our presenter appeared.  It was suggested that perhaps the Court had started early (before the 10 am chimes from the  Church of St Michael and All Angels, Lyndhurst), so the Official Verderer allowed the late entry.

We thank the Court once again for that kind indulgence, and wish to convey our suitable mortification to all those present in the court who bore with the ensuing delay as one of the Elected Verderers was then recalled from his hasty exit to the Queen’s House Library.  A similar, but less dramatically sited, statement about the England Coast Path was given the following day at the New Forest National Park’s Authority Meeting under its Public Questions agenda item.

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