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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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NFA Habitat and Landscape 2017-18

RSPB Franchises Lodge - credit Terry Bagley

Habitat and Landscape Chair, Brian Tarnoff reviews with uncharacteristic brevity the past year on the Forest Design Plan, Recreation Management Strategy and the England Coast Path.  Part of our series of Annual Reports relevant to our AGM on Saturday 21st April 2018.  Updates since original publication, reflecting these ever changing issues, are provided below each section.

Once again I am full of gratitude and amazement at the generous contributions of our committee members this year. This included countless hours volunteered to pour over one of the most vital consultations we’ve seen in some time, and days spent trudging the Forest in all weathers on site visits for works proposed by the Forestry Commission on the open Forest.

The Forest Design Plan

Consultation continued this year. Our ecologists took part in round table discussions on this year’s draft, a palpable improvement over the March 2016 version. The detail, which had concerned us previously, now was much more in line with the commitment from the 1999 Minister’s Mandate (strongly supported by subsequent policy) to restore pasture woodlands, heathlands, valley mires and Ancient and Semi-Natural native woodland, and favour broadleaves over conifer. In these meetings, Forestry Commission staff expressed sound underlying principles that would serve this plan, both in its current form, and going forward, to manage towards these goals.

Our main quibble is that the documentation of the plan does not adequately express those principles. This may seem a small thing, given how close the detail plan is to delivering many of our Association’s goals, but without them in place the plan may not be able to show its logic adequately to stand on its own against Habitats Regulations Assessment, or possible changes in future management of the Forest which could veer away from the promise this plan holds.

After the public consultation on the plan, the Forest Services review determined that consent under EIA regulations is required for the deforestation proposals (some areas being returned to open Forest habitats). Forest Enterprise has been tasked with producing an Environmental Statement for consideration, and we are amongst the stakeholders invited to a scoping exercise in January 2018. DEFRA have agreed to roll forward some elements of the FC’s expired felling license, which was dependent on the now unknown date for approval of the plan by the Inspectorate for renewal.

The Forestry Commission have opened up the next stage of consultation which runs for eight weeks from 11 Apr 2016 to 6 Jun 2016. This will produce the version of the plan which will be submitted for the inspectorate, and final consultation later this year. The NFA will argue that the planned eight weeks may not be sufficient for less nimble organizations (those that meet less frequently, such as Parish Councils, or those larger whose relevant knowledge is spread across expert and consequentially busy staff); we would prefer ten to twelve weeks. When the timeframe was sprung upon the great breadth of Forest organizations in attendance at a special launch day on March 22nd, the FC suggested that they may be “flexible” about the length of the consultation. We will be making our case later this month.

Wetland Restoration Strategy

In a similar spirit of openness the Forestry Commission proposed a Wetland Restoration Strategy at a well-attended December workshop including representatives across the spectrum of the debate. In addition to more constructive engagement with all stakeholders, we hope this will lead to a monitoring program that is apt, affordable and will adequately support future efforts.

The FC have just updated us (12/04/2018) with a view of present and future monitoring plans. We believe these will be robust and adequately adapt and augment standard river monitoring techniques to the unique challenges of the New Forest’s streams and wetlands.  We hope sufficient funding will be allowed to cover a range of catchments including both restored and untouched.

England Coast Path

Understandably our section of Coast, with a nearly uninterrupted series of very protected habitats (some garnering between four and five layers of designation, nationally and internationally), has been a very thorny problem for Natural England, who have nudged the consultation forward throughout the year. Once mooted for March 2017, now February 2018 (the original target date for implementation was March 2018).

Although a habitat adjacent inland route may be viable, the coastal margin created by the default spreading room designated in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 would potentially create up to 3,500 acres of new access land on these easily disturbed habitats, where it would cause irreparable damage. We hope that Natural England will exclude these, but even if they do, the Ordnance Survey will not show those exclusions. Our main role currently seems to be to remind one and all of the immense importance of our Coast with greater fragility and importance than the precious habitats of the Crown Lands that typically draw our focus.

The eight week consultation on the Highcliffe-Calshot stretch finally began on 14th March 2018 and is due to run until 9th of May 2018. The route itself (barring some quibbles) is reasonable, however the exclusions for spreading room are either incomplete or lacking classification for habitat protection.  The consultation documents themselves are of greater scale and complexity (the sensitive features appraisal alone, at 215 pages is three times larger than the equivalent document for any of the other published stretches), and yet we’re expected to comment on them within the standard 8 week consultation window.  The Sensitive Features Appraisal is rife with error and stops short of a full Habitats Regulation Assessment (relying on flimsy mitigation measures which have failed elsewhere).  We could go on (and we will elsewhere….), but in short, the needs of our habitat point up severe flaws in the legislation, specification and consultation processes.

Recreation Management Strategy

The welcome review of the NPA’s Recreation Management Strategy has been mentioned above in this annual report. Unfortunately the public survey reiterated paragraphs from the current strategy alongside each potential subject heading, leaving some confused as to whether to respond to these remarks or implicitly approve them? For our response we asked that the next RMS should feature priority projects with clear objectives and timeframes. We proposed a comprehensive review of recreation infrastructure within the park, including surveys of habitats, campsites and parking, with actions leading to a provision that is ‘Fit for Purpose’. We proposed initiatives to raise the profile of the National Park so the decision makers of adjacent Authorities and communities become more aware of their impacts on the Forest and ‘Section 62 Duties’, create adequate, proportional mitigation, and petition Central Government for more strategic targets to take pressure off the Forest. We also asked for clearer messages in Education that would easily highlight the Forest’s need for protection as a National Nature Reserve, Working Farm and Working Forest.

Our full response to the RMS survey is here. Subsequent remarks on the Park Authority’s flawed draft interpretation here.

Going Forward — Other areas of concern to address in 2018:

Dibden Bay (ABP) / Fawley Power Station (Fawley Waterside Ltd)

Along with Associated British Ports revisiting their goal of a deep-water container port at Dibden Bay, our Association and the whole of the Forest will be facing many challenges for renewed development of the already heavily urbanised Waterside. This includes the proposal by Fawley Waterside Ltd for the development of a new town, with an estimated population of 3,500 on the site of the Fawley Power Station. The development on the brownfield portion of the site, originally exempted from the National Park, might be hard to resist, but the current proposal includes a ‘village’ built out into the National Park on Tom Tiddler’s Ground*, which is a young coastal grazing marsh and forms a rough habitat that is prime for rehabilitation.

— excerpted with updates and links from the NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee Annual report, by Committee Chair, Brian Tarnoff

* Tom Tiddler’s Ground is considered over several pages in committee member Clive Chatter’s tome Flowers of the Forest.

Finally, we should note that many of our committee members were involved in steering the process which led to the purchase by the RSPB of a major landholding in the Forest, now to be known as RSPB Franchises Lodge.  We’ve been embargoed from discussing this effort as it has unfolded over the years (and at long last announced on 23 Mar 2018).  I wish to thank the RSPB for the purchase, and the members of our committee who identified and shepherded this opportunity to fruition.

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Whistleblower Leaks Plan to Convert Forest To Car Park

artist’s sketch of the whistleblower

In what may be an advance preview of the next Recreation Management Strategy, a whistleblower has come forward with information indicating plans afoot to pave the entire Forest to put up a parking lot. The whistleblower, only willing to be identified by the handle JMitchell@CanyonLadies70, has hinted at other coming developments, but it is unclear whether these plans are from the National Park Authority or the District Council.

For now, the locations are vague (a comment about boutiques has suggested Lyndhurst), but, with some deduction, there is a chance that the Lyndhurst Park Hotel will be released from its development limbo to reopen under a fresh coat of pink paint and with a new entertainment venue described as a “swingin’ hot spot”.

The deforestation resulting from this paving project will require relocation of some conifers, and ostensibly large deciduous plants for viewing by the public. Another surmise is that this display may be in the New Forest Centre. However, no representatives of the Ninth Centenary Trust who run the Centre could be contacted on this proposed conversion of the Centre to a tree museum, nor the plan to abandon the Centre’s free entry policy to charge the people a dollar-and-a-half (just over £1 pound sterling, as determined by American tourist focus groups, as what it would be worth “just to see ‘em”).

The Forestry Commission has also been unavailable to comment on whether the proposed deforestation is within the scope of their Forest Design Plan, and the rumour that glyphosate may not be available post-Brexit, requiring use of the even more controversial DDT for control of pest plants like the non-native rhododendron. The informant did express concerns, which we believe are unfounded, that this may affect their right to forage for apples on the Crown Lands; although we do concur with worries over the effect of the pesticide on birds and the declining population of bees.

When asked why he/she had come forward, the whistleblower said that people “don’t know what they’ve got till it’s gone”. In this reporter’s experience it does always seem to go that way. When confronted with the NFA’s research showing no known basis of these plans from any of the relevant authorities, the informer fled the café, slamming the screen door on the way, and hopped in a big yellow taxi which sped off.

It is not known whether there will be car parking charges or a clock scheme. An unidentified Natural England contact may have stated “we welcome this plan as it will give visitors a place to put their cars when they come to use the boardwalk we’re erecting around the entire coast.”

It is worth noting, that beyond the lack of corroboration, the meaning of this article will evaporate to mere satire by noon on the date of publication. Whether the satire is weak, or based on deeper truths, is entirely up to you, dear reader.  If we have inadvertently misled, feel free to contact the relevant authorities, be sure to tell them “Shooo bop bop bop bop!” (with apologies to J Mitchell).
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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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Recreation Management Strategy and Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership Strategy

Our representation to Public Questions from the January meeting of the New Forest National Park Authority. We point out flaws in the draft interpretation of last years Recreation Management Strategy Survey (which goes too far in over egging the results), and the undercooked Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership Strategy (which doesn’t go nearly far enough).

Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership Strategy

… is an important initiative, however it currently falls short by only considering SPA planning designations and not the full range of important coastal and international designations. As with much mitigation work, little has been done to scale the mitigation to the level of protected features (Thames Basin Heaths is a decent baseline, but has much fewer protected features than our coastline).[*] The Government’s new 25 Year Environment Plan seeks to boost conservation of both designated and undesignated habitats. With these shortcomings, and the new considerations of the recently minted 25 year plan, it would be premature to adopt. We hope you will seek a review and have the strategy amended accordingly.

Recreation Management Strategy

I have previously noted problems with the survey. It made far too much reference to the previous RMS, including out-of-context headings (not even explained as “Summary of 2010 actions”), which constrained much debate to those topics, and were seen as manipulative leading statements. The responses are from an unscientific self-selecting sample, and although the Findings Report admits this[†], it then characterizes some results as authoritative, an unwarranted exaggeration. I’ll give one example:

“Implement and promote the England Coast Path and associated access rights” was the survey summary for Coastal Access. This provided no explanation that the “Associated rights” included coastal margin / spreading room which would potentially turn 3500 acres of our most sensitive breeding and wintering bird habitats (with up to five overlapping layers of national and international designations including an Area of Special Protection) into access land. 23 respondents thought ”the route will attract people away from more sensitive inland areas” (a polar opposite of the truth). It is more than likely that few had heard of the ECP outside of the survey, or would have nominated it, if it hadn’t been mentioned. Yet the concluding report states “The consultation responses suggest that there is wide public support for the England Coast Path,”[‡] which is a very strong extrapolation of 22% of 1500 respondents[§]. If less than a quarter support a proposal, is that wide? If mooted, absent its implications, is that even valid?

Although I do not doubt the hard work, enthusiasm, and sincerity of those conducting this opinion poll. Please do not take as a referendum what has been a success of public engagement, but falls very short of providing anything more than the vaguest bellwether. The Recreation Management Strategy should be driven primarily by the need to fulfill the purposes and protect the special qualities of the National Park. It should focus on specific and practical steps for Management of Recreation not another list of aspirations promising delivery of recreation.

Unfortunately the format of Public Questions at NFNPA meetings limits each speaker to 3 minutes, even when speaking on multiple subjects. This requires a terse approach and presumption of knowledge of underlying reports (which NPA members ought to, but are not guaranteed to have read or digested). Further reading for the curious is noted below:

[*] NFNPA 538/18 – Solent Recreation Mitigation Partnership Strategy Adoption Annex 1 page 19 6.15 “The methodology used to calculate the figures is based on that developed by LPA’s within the Thames Basin Heaths mitigation scheme.”

[†] NFNPA 539/18 Recreation Management Strategy Annex 1 Findings Report “No attempt was made to limit participation in the consultation to a balanced and representative sample survey approach of the local (or wider) population.” page 3 para 8

[‡] NFNPA 539/18 – Recreation Management Strategy Annex 2 page 8, 3.7

[§] 528 (34%) responded to the “Coastal Access” heading, 343 (22%) supported the summary of the topic actions.

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Presentment: Thanks to FC for continued Fungi policy / England Coast Path shortcomings

Fungi

The NFA hope the Verderers will join us in thanking the Forestry Commission for their continuing attempts to protect fungi vital to the habitat of the Crown Lands. As they did last year, the FC are still working to disrupt the illegal commercial picking and appealing to the public not to pick as well. In this, the Forestry Commission are fulfilling their legal duty as stewards of the Forest habitat.

The national code of conduct[*] says It is inappropriate to pick fungi from SSSI or National Nature Reserves – the Crown Lands have the Status of both. It is explicitly illegal on National Trust land under their byelaws, and would be illegal under the FC byelaws[†], but for the loophole created by reclassification of fungi as separate to the plant kingdom.  Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981[‡] on SSSI’s “intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging flora or fauna by reason of which land is of special interest” is an offence. The New Forest is one of the few SSSI’s so notified for the special interest of its fungi.

Picking any of the Red Band Rare Species of Fungi[§] is absolutely illegal by anyone, anywhere, and carries £5k fine per item with jailtime and vehicle forfeiture. The NFA believes that prosecution of these offenders would discourage commercial foragers more than lesser penalties under the Theft Act 1968.[**]

England Coast Path

I listed some of the England Coast Path’s shortcomings at the July Court, now a short update.

Currently the Natural England Coastal Team have offered a Sensitive Features Appraisal to determine exclusions for habitat, a very narrow consideration of features at risk. Unless this were to exclude the route, spreading and coastal margin from the highly protected areas out of hand, we should insist upon the more comprehensive, higher standards of a Habitats Regulation Assessment.

The new timeframe for the Consultation on the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch (set to begin between September 27th and October 19th ) unfortunately the majority of the consultation would fall before the next meetings of both the New Forest Consultative Panel, and the Local Access Forum, after next Monday’s meeting of the National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy Steering Group and with no planned meetings for the Advisory Group. This threatens to exclude any measured joint response from local stakeholders. As a member of the Steering Group, we hope the Verderers will join us in calling for an extraordinary joint meeting of both RMS groups to consider the consultation. Natural England are blaming their “parent” DEFRA for the time frame, and a looming March 2018 implementation date. We may need to remind both government departments that they should not be forcing a rush to judgement where disturbance to our most remote, isolated and protected coastal habitat is concerned.


[*] The Wild Mushroom Picker’s Code of Conduct 1998

[†] FC byelaws 1982, Section 5 Prohibited Acts: “No person shall in or on the lands of the Commissioners: … (vii) dig up, remove, cut or injure any tree, shrub or plant, whether living or not, or remove the seeds therefrom, …”

[‡] Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 28 (P)

[§] Schedule 8 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

[**] Given the indiscriminate harvesting by commercial pickers, it is likely that, if caught, their haul may include samples of rare species which may be used in evidence.

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England Coast Path: Our Letter to the New Forest Access Forum

England Coast Path

The England Coast Path (ECP) will create new non-historically based Rights of Way which may also join up existing Rights of Way, including the Solent Way. It will also provide spreading room in the form of the coastal margin defined between the route of the path and the water’s edge. This is particularly 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. The New Forest Association wish to raise concerns about the scheme, many of which will pertain regardless of the published route.

Increased use and disturbance:

New routes will impact on tranquility and habitat disturbance. Joining up of existing routes will increase their use and hence their impact. Spreading room applied to existing routes will create new access which will also cause disturbance to areas those routes avoided. With no funding for mitigation and parking infrastructure; some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast would exacerbate the verge parking problem.

Coastal Margin:

Whilst Natural England’s powers to exclude areas from the coastal margin include habitat considerations under Section 26 of the CROW Act, the protective measures are paltry (minimal signage and barriers) and the Ordnance Survey’s depiction of all potential coastal margin as one colour shading without differentiating or delineating the exclusions will mislead many into protected areas. Worrying precedents have been seen: the published proposed Portsmouth to South Hayling route appears not to have any habitat exclusions under S26, this leads to glaring omissions of vulnerable wader roosts on vegetated shingle beaches (Consultation ending Sept 13th 2017).

There are weak provisos that the OS will claim covers the depiction issue (see figure). These do not even mention exclusions for habitat protection. There is no guarantee that this language will even be included on all relevant OS maps, nor that they will be featured at any remarkable scale for legibility. Excluded areas should be the majority of the margin along our coast, and should either be shown accurately, or not shown as access land at all.

The coastal margin / spreading room model is wholly inappropriate for our coast. Setting exclusions at mean high water mark could allow access into neighbouring excluded area at all times outside of high tide. Intruders can simply walk across from adjacent accessible foreshore. Additionally as the crossing point for rivers are necessarily sufficiently inland, the model becomes unworkable, complicated by different handling of “rivers” and “estuaries” and the length of a piece of string debate as to where one definitively leads to the other.

According to the NE Coastal Team “Discussions regarding the representation of the coastal margin were held with a national stakeholder group, this involved NE, NFU, RSPB, CLA, National Trust and the OS amongst others – this representation is not within our remit.” Despite this, NE still have the obligation to protect the coastal habitats that may be trespassed upon as a consequence of the depiction issue.

Weak Habitat Protection:

There is little or no serious consideration of sea level rise and effects of erosion. Where present, again ignores coastal habitat value and frames issues solely within effects to landowners. Coastal habitats would end up being squeezed between the established path and the advancing sea.

Currently the Natural England Coastal Team have offered Sensitive Features Appraisal which narrowly considers only certain items at risk, as if in isolation. The higher standard provided by Habitats Regulation Assessment is more appropriate for this very protected stretch of the National Park. Unless the proposed Appraisal were to exclude the route / spreading / coastal margin for these areas out of hand, the Habitats Regulation Assessment should be insisted upon. We would expect this to exclude these habitats comprehensively.

Purpose:

While the path is being promoted for useful alternative recreation, pleasant views and tourist destinations, in other regions this may be desirable. Here it is:

  • Unnecessary – There is no actual need for the path.       The Forest does not want for draws to Tourism.
  • Arbitrary – The notion of a “coastal” path is merely a goal for completists, like those who want to walk Hadrian’s Wall, Land’s End to John’O’Groats etc. While a nice paper exercise for box tickers and sponsored walks, other paths / destinations are otherwise available.
  • Redundant – The Solent Way (aka Solent Coast Path) already follows much of the Hampshire coast line and passes through the New Forest; it also forms part of the European Coastal Path (E9).
  • No Benefit – Any suggestion that the path would draw recreational pressure away from other areas of the Forest is a robbing Peter to pay Paul argument, and perhaps worse as the coastal habitats have been better protected and thus more prone to fresh disturbance than other areas where sadly much damage has already been done.

Consultation on the Highclifffe – Calshot stretch:

Unfortunately the consultation timeframe (eight weeks, likely 27th September to Nov 22nd) unhelpfully falls between both the New Forest Access Forum and New Forest Consultative Panel quarterly meetings and does not take into consideration either of the pertinent National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy Steering and Advisory Groups. I’ve suggested NE move the end date to December 21st at the earliest, two weeks after the Consultative Panel, but I otherwise presume sub-groups would be formed to respond within the currently mooted dates. I respectfully offer any sub-group formed by this Access Forum, at its convenience, a presentation from one of the New Forest Association’s ecologists which would help contextualize the extremely high value of the habitats and species at risk near or on the route. I hope this would convey a more comprehensive picture of what’s at stake, than the information provided by the Natural England team tasked with delivery and promotion of the route has yielded thus far.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important Access issue,

Yours,

Brian Tarnoff
Chair, Habitat And Landscape Committee
New Forest Association / Friends of the New Forest


Update: We would now withdraw our objections about the Sensitive Features Appraisal, which should overlap sufficiently with a Habitats Regulation Assessment, however, we would still insist that the route and spreading room should comprehensively exclude the important designated habitats.

Although the timeframe of this consultation has slipped repeatedly since originally mooted for February 2017, the March 2018 launch date has fallen just after the 12th March meeting of the New Forest Local Access Forum, would have fallen after the 1st March meeting of the New Forest Consultative Panel.  The Panel was postponed by inclement weather to 19th April, giving it less than three weeks to formulate comment on the consultation (and its 72 page overview 81 pages of route detail and 213 page Sensitive Features Report).

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Presentment: England Coast Path

Legislation has mandated the England Coast Path, which in other regions may provide useful alternative recreation, pleasant views and tourist destinations. For the New Forest it will invite more disturbance into our most precious coastal habitats, a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected zones of international importance.

There is no funding for mitigation and little regard for infrastructure; some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast, precisely where we wouldn’t want to exacerbate the verge parking problem.

The Ordnance Survey will show the entire “coastal margin” (the entire seaward side of the path) as “access land”, without delineating exclusions. As the route is likely to be significantly inland and much of our coast will be excluded for habitat protections, this depiction will be grotesquely inaccurate. Arguments will be had with visitors assured by the allegedly definitive map that they (and their pets) may trespass on bird nesting grounds regardless of what the signs say. The Ordnance Survey should restrict their illustration to the route of the path itself, and only show coastal access land as it unambiguously exists now at Calshot, Lepe Country Park and other similar extant areas.

Unfortunately these problems will be pertinent wherever it may be proposed, and we expect the consultation on the Lymington to Calshot route from Natural England later this month. We hope the Verderers will help press the case with the Ordnance Survey and will resist the worst excesses of this arbitrary unnecessary exercise which will bring not a jot of benefit to the Forest.


[Note: this is the graphic that may appear on some of the OS maps. There are weak provisos that the OS will claim covers the issue. These do not even mention exclusions for habitat protection. There is no guarantee that this language will even be included on all relevant OS maps, nor that they will be featured at any remarkable scale for legibility.

Excluded areas will be the majority of the margin along our coast, and should either be shown accurately, or not shown as access land at all.

Natural England have the unhappy task of negotiating the route, and they and the National Park Authority will be responsible for signage and maintenance of any physical barriers to nominally protect the route.
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