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Presentment: New Forest Crown Freehold Properties

Here we welcome a guest post from Dr Tony Hockley, Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

I would like to begin with a quotation from the only person I have yet encountered with 100% confidence in their own knowledge of this landscape:

“It is not the flowers, not the birds or the deer or the badgers or the butterflies that are in most urgent need of conservation here but the people, the real people of this place.” *

Chris Packham’s wise words are deeply relevant to what I have to say.

It is now more than two years after I succeeded Dr Ferris as Chair of the CDA. Since then nothing has caused me greater and more consistent concern than the challenge of ensuring that there will be affordable land and homes available for the next generation of commoners – in Britain’s least affordable National Park ** .

We are fortunate that we have a keen and active young commoners group in the CDA. Young people who are willing to commit their lives to sustaining the grazing of the New Forest – An incredible vocational commitment, amongst all the other pressures of modern life, upon which everything that is so special about this landscape depends.

In 1991, after a thorough review of the challenges and all options to sustain grazing, the Secretary of State determined that the 65 Crown holdings should be prioritised for those who would commit to New Forest grazing, and that they should be kept truly affordable to them. Since the time of the Illingworth Report these holdings have enabled families with a long history of commoning to maintain the practice, from one generation to the next. We all benefit from their love of the New Forest, their deep knowledge of the livestock and the landscape, and their lifelong commitment to commoning. The Crown holdings have been crucial in this.

In 2016 all that changed – on a whim. The Forestry Commission simply decided that market rents would help fill the coffers: To cash in on property values in Britain’s most expensive and least affordable National Park. In 2017 Sir Desmond Swayne prompted ministers to remind the Commission that such a change of policy would require a formal and inclusive review, and a decision by ministers. Since then we have caught the Commission advertising cottages to the highest bidder, with no mention of grazing, and allocating them to its own managers however it sees fit.

Forestry England is now attempting to entrap this Court in its disgraceful strategy of privatisation by stealth. By selecting just one small part of the Government policy, for one cottage at New Park; this is the involvement of Verderers in tenant selection. Clearly, it hopes that the Court will not notice:

  1. Every other holding has been auctioned or allocated to staff. With no consultation with this Court: Powdermill, Kings Hat, Longbeech, Springfield.
  2. The rent for Little New Park has been fixed at more than 100% of many young commoners’ household income. Not the 15% stipulated by Government. With no consultation with this Court.
  3. An arbitrary qualification has been set, that at least 10 ponies will be turned out from Little New Park’s 1.3 acres of back-up land. With no consultation with this Court
  4. It has separated the barn from the property: Again with no consultation with this Court.
  5. For Little New Park it is demanding income statements from anyone interested, to check they can afford £18,000 a year in rent alone and to deter all those commoners who cannot.

Tenant selection is, therefore, just a trap that the Court would be wise to avoid. This is simply a diversion along the route to effective privatisation of the Crown freeholds; removing them from support for commoning.

This open defiance of government policy for Crown property is shameful from a public body. It not only defies policies that have worked well to sustain Forest grazing over a quarter century. It also defies the Ministers Mandate to the Commission; that it should put the Forest first, ahead of its corporate financial interests. And it defies the 2018 Accord with National Parks England. I am very sorry to say that we no longer have confidence in the Deputy Surveyor to put the Forest first in this regard.

This is a matter of the utmost gravity for the future of commoning in the New Forest. We have tried for three years to work with the Forestry Commission – willing to discuss update the Illingworth policies, but their ears are deaf to the voice of the Forest. They will push on regardless of all due process. Standing idly by whilst Forestry England misappropriates these Crown properties, so that tenancy is a matter of income rather than the good of the Forest, will have lasting consequences for the conservation of this precious landscape. We are very grateful to the Friends of the New Forest for their support.

I have written to the Secretary of State to ask him to put a stop to this disgraceful episode. I would urge the Court and the National Park Authority to do likewise.

Dr Tony Hockley is a Practicing Commoner and Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association. This has been shared with his express permission, and represents the view of the CDA.

The Friends of the New Forest fully support this position, and have and will continue to stress the importance of all initiatives to maintain affordable housing stock for practicing commoners which is essential to commoning’s continuing service to the Forest.

The CDA Blog post detailing more of the history including the Illingworth report may be read here.

* Chris Packham, Foreword to Clive Chatters “Flowers of the New Forest” WildGuides (2009), p9
** Average property values within the National Park boundary are now 15.9 times average local income.

 

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Announcements & Decisions Verderers Court 17th April 2019

This month’s announcements include warnings about dumping garden waste on the Forest as a hazard to the livestock, foals on Forest roads, out of control dogs, pleas to not feed livestock, the HLS AGM and Open Evening, and the appointment of the DEFRA Verderer.

Garden Waste

We are approaching the time of year when we will all be cutting our lawns and tidying our gardens after the winter. Please may we remind residents that lawn mowings are very dangerous to ponies and donkeys and they must not be left where the animals can get to them. Tipping your grass cuttings over the fence or emptying a bag on the Open Forest may be a cheap and easy way of disposing of your garden waste, but it can result in a very sick or dead pony.

Mown grass left in a heap heats up and when eaten, the resulting gasses that accumulate in the stomach of a pony or donkey can result in a very painful death for the unfortunate animal. Many garden plants and shrubs are toxic and can also cause illness or the death of any animal which eats them. Please dispose of your garden waste responsibly. Compost it on your property or take it to the tip. Please remember if you live in an area accessible to Forest stock and your garden waste is collected by NFDC always keep the waste sacks inside your boundary for collection.

Foals On The Forest’s Roads

The time is approaching when foals will soon be born on the Forest. Like all young things, foals love to play. However, they have no road sense and will run across the road without warning, so we would like to remind drivers to please take extra care in the Forest.

Please Don’t Feed The Animals

We constantly have to remind people not to hand feed the Forest ponies and donkeys. The Forestry Commission puts up signs and the Ranger teams visit picnic sites and busy car parks talking to people and explaining why it is so important that people don’t feed the animals.

Unfortunately, however, despite all our efforts some people ignore our requests and as a result, every year we have to order ponies and donkeys off the Forest because they have become too demanding in trying to persuade people to feed them. This is not fair on the animals which face a very uncertain future and it is not fair on their owners who want their animals to be out on the Forest. Please DON’T feed the animals.

Out Of Control Dogs

Another commoner’s animal has been attacked by a dog.

A donkey was found at the weekend on the Northern Commons with extremely serious injuries to her muzzle, face and neck. The vet who was called to treat the animal confirmed the injuries were definitely been caused by a large dog. The donkey’s owner is now incurring costly veterinary fees and the animal is badly traumatised, in a lot of pain and struggling to eat. It is quite possible that the donkey will not survive.

The New Forest is a wonderful place to take a dog for a walk but it is irresponsible and unfair to allow a dog to inflict injury on another animal. Every year several Forest animals are either badly injured or die as a result of dog attacks. Anyone who cannot be certain of keeping a dog in their charge under proper control, should not let it off the lead.

Defra’s Appointed Verderer

I am sorry to have to report that Hallam Mills, who has served the Court as Defra’s appointed Verderer for the past six years, has decided not to seek appointment for a further three years.

Hallam has made a valuable contribution to the running of the Verderers’ Court and we will miss his knowledge and wise counsel.

As a result of Hallam deciding to step down in July, Defra is seeking his replacement. An advertisement will appear shortly in the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times and a copy of the advert will also be available on our website.

Applicants for this unpaid position should have a good knowledge of animal welfare and in addition, ideally both a working knowledge of livestock and experience of the New Forest’s unique system of depasturing stock. In addition, they should have an understanding of the pressures arising from the need to balance the interests of agriculture, conservation, and recreation in the Forest.

Please note that whilst we are happy to answer general queries about the duties of a Verderer, Defra is handling the actual appointment process. Details of how to apply will be contained in the advertisement. Completed applications must be returned to Defra by 31st May 2019.

HLS 2019 Celebration Evening

Please join us on Wednesday 22nd May from 6pm at Minstead Village Hall for an evening celebrating the work taking place to protect and enhance the internationally important habitats of the New Forest. It will be a great opportunity to look back at the achievements of the HLS scheme over the last 9 years. It is also an opportunity to thank our volunteers who have contributed so much of their time to help deliver the scheme’s objectives. The Verderers HLS Scheme is due to expire at the end of February 2020. A great deal of effort is going into trying to secure a future scheme to provide funding for commoning and other environmental support for the Forest. There has been extensive contact with politicians, Defra officials and Natural England. However it is too soon to predict with any certainty what the outcome of those discussions will be.

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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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NFA President’s Report 2017-18

Our President, Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre sets our work in big picture context, Brexit, the 25 Year Environment Plan, Recreation Management Strategy and Local Plans.  Last of our series of Annual Reports relevant to our AGM on Saturday 21st April 2018.

Much has happened over the last twelve months on the national scene that will have an impact, one way or the other, on the Forest, a number of which were mentioned in my report last year.

Farm Subsidies

The Forest’s organisations have come together to form a group in order to deal directly with the Government and present the best case for what our local farmers and landowners need once EU funded subsidies cease. The group, which I have chaired, has already given the Minister responsible for National Parks, Lord Gardiner, a clear and simple request in writing which I personally handed to him at the New Forest Show. We asked for a basic principle to be acknowledged, which is that farmers in highly protected areas of national importance like the New Forest should be rewarded for the public benefit that they supply by conserving the landscape. We also asked that any such reward be governed by a scheme that was locally designed and locally led. I am happy to report that in the long awaited 25 year Environment Plan this principle has been firmly acknowledged.

25 Year Environment Plan

The plan was launched by the Prime Minister herself, which is a very encouraging sign of how high up the government’s agenda conservation has reached. The plan is full of quite widely worded ambitions for our countryside, but overall it is a positive and very encouraging document, the main theme of which is a determination to ensure that there is a net gain for the environment over the 25 year period, with an ambition for this generation to be the first to hand it on in a better state than we found it. Quite a challenge!

I can report that in a follow-up meeting between Lord Gardiner and England’s National Park chairmen, it was made clear to us that special places like the New Forest are expected to become exemplars of landscape conservation. We were all encouraged by the Minister to go away and consider putting together pilot schemes which would show how best to replace the existing regime of EU farm subsidies. The Forest’s farming group has much thinking to do.

Another surprise inclusion in the plan is a “21st century review” of National Parks and AONBS, which together cover 25% of our landscape. Lord Gardiner was not able to tell us what this might entail or when exactly it would begin. One of the key areas that such a review will cover is whether there is scope for the expansion of existing parks and the creation of new ones.

Recreation

The consultation that I mentioned last year has now taken place and the overwhelming priority chosen by the public is raising awareness and understanding of the special qualities of the area (especially the safety of commoners’ animals), with sustainable transport (ie public transport, reduced traffic and safer roads) coming a close second. The consultation was commissioned by a group of the Forest’s statutory bodies, including the Verderers, Forestry Commission and National Park Authority. The next step is now to formulate some clear and concrete actions, which will then be subject to a final public consultation in the summer. The ultimate aim is to ensure that recreation is properly managed, including taking a fresh look at where recreational facilities are provided in the Forest (such as car parks, which have changed very little since the 1970s) and in places that are away from sensitive areas and close to where people live. The group has as its watchword when deciding on any of these actions “Is this good for the Forest?”, not just now but for the next fifty years or more – the long term protection of the Forest must always come first.

New Housing

Our association, the proud watchdog for the Forest, is always on guard when it comes to planning and development, and has been watching the emergence of both of the areas’ Planning Authorities Local Plans, and making comment and criticism whenever necessary. The biggest potential development on the near horizon is the old power station at Fawley, however as I sit on the planning committee at the time of writing I can say no more on the matter! On behalf of our members I will conclude my report with a heartfelt thanks, as ever, to our Chairman and Council for all their hard work and vigilance over the year.

— Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre

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Brexit and The Forest

NFA Presentment for the Verderers Court 20th July 2016

However we feel about the Brexit referendum, its aftermath has introduced a vast array of uncertainty, including many elements key to the future of the Forest.

At last Thursday’s National Park Authority meeting, several members stressed the need to express our concerns about keeping the Forest’s levels of protection, investment and subsidy to government as soon as possible. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Environment Secretary will be contacted. The NFA offer our support and input, and hope that the Verderers will join this effort.

There will be much to consider: commoners subsidies past 2020; retention of the important landscape scale habitat designations of the SAC and SPA (Special Areas of Conservation / Special Protection Areas); what we may want from a new British Agricultural Policy, together with reformed Habitats and Birds Directives. New legislation may be necessary to back-stop these protections before the ties to the EU directives might be cut. There’s every reason for having the same levels of protection – or better – enshrined directly in United Kingdom law, policy and implementation.

The New Forest Acts and the role of the Verderers remain the bedrock safeguarding the Forest, and our National Park has unique qualities and demands. This must be recognized and respected at the highest levels going forward.

There will be clarifications needed. There is work to be done, and a timely and united forest would help put our vital points across.

Presentment made at the Verderers Court by Brian Tarnoff, Chair, NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee.

Presentment to The Verderers: NFA Response to the Independent Panel on Forestry

Presentment to The Court of Verderers.

Wednesday 20th July 2011
Peter Roberts. Chairman. New Forest Association.

The New Forest Association asks that the Verderers consider supporting the response of this Association when they respond to the Independent Panel on Forestry. Our submission is detailed so I will just highlight six points.

1 The New Forest Crown Estate should be kept intact because the back-up land and cottages are vital to commoning.

2 Remove intensive commercial forestry because the plantations sterilise bio-diversity. A return to broad leaved woodlands in some areas would reverse this. It would probably take 50-60 years to harvest existing plantations thereby allowing the timber extraction industry to adapt to the changes.

3 Replace Forestry Commission with landscape managers. It is difficult for the Commission to adhere to national policy whilst attempting to manage a unique area in an appropriate manner.

4 Retention of local expertise in any new body is vital because many Commission staff have great local knowledge.

5 The New Forest could be the basis of an Ecological Restoration Zone thereby fulfilling needs recognised in the Lawton report ‘Making Space for Nature’ and the recent Government White Paper.

6 Last but not least the retention of the New Forest Acts is of fundamental importance.

How the Forest is cared for matters more than who cares for it.

The full submission may be found on our website.

http://www.newforestassociation.org/NFA%20Response_to_the_Independent_Panel_on_Forestry.pdf.

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/.

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