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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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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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Presentment: Dragons Teething Pains

  Presenting a guest blog from Wednesday’s Verderers Court, a Presentment from Lyndsey Stride on some of the unintended consequences of Dragons Teeth.  

Good morning OV, V and MOP.

Thank you to the Verderers and Forestry Commission for their efforts to protect the verges of the New Forest Crown Lands. I know that dragons teeth have been a very positive management tool over many years around car parks in the New Forest.

Can you reassure us that plans and funds are in place for the long term management of the new roadside dragons teeth and the verges? And that where you displace parked cars you have considered and mitigated for the impact on the flow of traffic and identified alternative parking particularly when it is linked to housing or pubs? And that you are in consultation with the Highways Authorities and Emergency Services before you implement your plans?

Our experience in Emery Down shows that dragons teeth are both a benefit and a curse.

The dragons teeth put in on the Bolderwood road in 2018 have pushed parked cars on to the opposite soft verge causing significant damage.

  • The displaced traffic park alongside the new dragons teeth preventing large vehicles such as fire engines and tractors with trailers from accessing the road at all, and forcing traffic to drive on the opposite side of the road towards a blind bend.
  • Other vehicles park between the brow of the the hill at Northerwood Gatehouse, past the church to the New Forest Inn. This makes it very dangerous to pass with a car let alone a truck and horse box or on a bicycle. I recently witnessed a family group attempting to cycle up the hill while a Tesco delivery van drove straight towards them, having committed to the manoeuvre whilst unable to see around the bend. At times 20 or more cars are tightly parked with no passing places.

Along Mill Lane dragons teeth and passing places initially protected the verge and for perhaps five years it seemed as though it was working. However recent years have shown that dragons teeth are not the answer. Either for traffic management or verge protection.

  • The bramble has taken over resulting in a loss of grazing and the
    traditional verge flora and fauna.
  • Animals and pedestrians are pushed on to the single track road as the scrub has encroached.
  • Many dragons teeth have been driven in to and are now gone, resulting in alternative passing places being created and the verge destroyed. The hedges have been pushed back and destroyed to allow cars to pass one another on the single track road.
  • It is very difficult to manage hedges beyond the dragons teeth and as a result they are in places encroaching on the verge itself.
  • In summer we are unable to access the farm during peak hours and have to move animals and hay and silage early in the morning or late at night.
  • Satellite navigation systems are pushing drivers on to our quieter Forest roads. Dragons teeth do not stop them coming.

These are my own views. I ask again. Have you considered and mitigated for the long term impact of the very significant number of roadside dragons teeth which you are installing as part of the HLS scheme?

Lyndsey Stride

 

Lyndsey Stride is a practicing Commoner, and also leader on the recent Commoning Voices Project / Exhibition, part of the Our Past, Our Future Heritage Lottery Fund.

For more on other local uses of Dragons Teeth, here’s the Better Boundaries Our Past Our Future HLF Project.

EDITORS NOTE: With Apologies … The atrocious title pun is mine, not Lyndsey’s.

 
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Fungi and the Law (a summary)

We thought it was time to review where fungi law is currently. With Autumn fully upon us, and a plethora of various understandings being put about, I’ve attempted to summarize (with extensive notes below).

The Theft Act 1968 makes it illegal to take fungi or plants from the wild for commercial purposes[*].  But the fines are low enough(£100-300) to be a wrist slap cost-of-doing-business for commercial foragers.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to pick any rare (schedule 8 red data list) wild plant including fungi[†].  The CPS Guidance lists much stronger penalties, including up to £5k fine per item, six months jailtime, and forfeiture of vehicles used in the act or to transport goods[‡].  The same act makes it illegal to “uproot” any wild plant without authorisation, but there seems to be neither guidance nor history of prosecution for this.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – both of the previous examples apply anywhere in the wild, the Wildlife and Countryside Act also provides extra protection for land designated as SSSI.  This makes it an offence on SSSI land to “intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which land is of special interest”[§].  The New Forest has one of the few SSSI designations that lists its fungi population as one of its special interest features.  The downside of this is that very few prosecutions have been brought under this part of the act, although the fines up to £20k would make a very useful deterrent.

So technically, picking fungi on the New Forest SSSI without authorisation, is completely illegal, but under two less enforced portions of legislation.  BUT Picking fungi for any commercial purpose, OR picking rare species for any purpose anywhere are both illegal and realistically arrestable, prosecutable offences.

Byelaws

The Forestry Commission byelaws make it an offence to do anything to a plant, and also lists as prohibited for removal “soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals”[**], strangely this seems to omit fungi, but this is because fungi were originally within the definition of “plant”.  The loophole was created when taxonomists reclassified fungi to a separate Kingdom.  The Wildlife and Countryside Act and other primary legislation solve this with a codicil that defines their use of “plant” as inclusive of “fungi and algae”.  The loophole should be closed in the Byelaws.

But for taxonomists and pedantry, it ought to be illegal in the FC Byelaws.  It is due to the loophole that the FC last year publicly suggested that fungi foraging wasn’t strictly illegal, ignoring illegality under the W&C Act. Oddly enough, The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW), is widely perceived to have banned all foraging on the access land it created (not applicable to the Crown Lands); yet, it too has the same loophole, in that it prohibits taking of plants, but never explicitly includes fungi within that definition, and virtually all guidance you will find says that it does!

The National Trust Byelaws explicitly prohibit fungi foraging[††], the Wildlife Trusts prohibit on their Nature Reserves, and Epping Forest (whose model of enforcement we hoped to emulate) prohibits “Taking anything”, usefully all inclusive.

Natural England, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, as modified by the NERC Act 2006, has powers to make Byelaws for SSSI land.  However, these have yet to be exercised (saving for existing byelaws on certain National Nature Reserves), and only just this year have DEFRA and NE begun a consultation on how they might formulate such Byelaws.  This could be used in future to protect the notified features of the New Forest SSSI, which would include fungi, and effectively cover their accidental exclusion from the FC Byelaws.

Personal use limit. 1.5kg – This was an amount suggest in FC publicity for many years.  It has no legal basis, and came from a misreading of guidance, The Wild Mushroom Picker’s Code of Conduct.  The Code suggested that amount for culinary forage as a per foray group total per visit, and should only be done with permission of the land owner/manager.  The Code deemed culinary forage as inappropriate on SSSI and/or National Nature Reserves.  The New Forest is both.

The supposed personal limit is moot and was never applicable, neither legally nor in guidance, on the Crown Lands, the New Forest SSSI.  The appropriate limit is 0.

I would prefer a complete ban on the New Forest SSSI in recognition of the precious, delicate and under pressure habitat, that should be protected, not just by on paper designations.  Foragers can go elsewhere, but our flora and fauna can’t.  Those pretending they care for the environment, but arguing their entitlement to its harvest, regardless of its protections, are raiding the larder of a burning house.

That said, in one stakeholder meeting I suggested a practical measure for enforcement that would let those genuinely taking a small amount for personal use off the hook, whatever you could comfortably hold within your two cupped hands, surely enough for an omelette without waste.

The Friends of the New Forest support the Forestry Commission’s “Look, Don’t Pick” policy for the New Forest SSSI under their stewardship. We would like to see the FC take a prosecution for picking of Red Data List species, which carries strong penalties capable of putting off commercial foragers.

 


ADDENDUM and FOOTNOTES (for those with more will power)

Also worth noting the Forestry Commission’s powers and designations on Crown Lands:

NCC Consent 25 January 1988

The Nature Conservancy Council issued the following consent to the FC regarding the above operation:-  “The collection of fungi as authorised by the Forestry Commission, subject to periodic review by the FC and the NCC.”

FC/Verderers/English Nature Declaration of Intent 25 July 1995

“The Forestry Commission will continue to manage the New Forest as an area with the status of a National Nature Reserve and to maintain the nature conservation interests for which it is designated under national and international legislation or agreements.”

FOOTNOTES

[*]

The Theft Act 1968 Section 4 “Property”.
(3) A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose. For purposes of this subsection “mushroom” includes any fungus, and “plant” includes any shrub or tree.

This allows foraging activities for purely personal not any commercial use. Commercial use would include resale, but could be applied to those who run commercial foraging forays without permission of the landowner.

[†]

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 13 Protection of wild plants
(1)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a)intentionally picks, uproots or destroys any wild plant included in Schedule 8; or
(b)not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant not included in that Schedule,

he shall be guilty of an offence.

(2)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a)sells, offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild plant included in Schedule 8, or any part of, or anything derived from, such a plant; or
(b)publishes or causes to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that he buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell, any of those things,
COPY

he shall be guilty of an offence.
(3)Notwithstanding anything in subsection (1), a person shall not be guilty of an offence by reason of any act made unlawful by that subsection if he shows that the act was an incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided.
(4)In any proceedings for an offence under subsection (2)(a), the plant in question shall be presumed to have been a wild plant unless the contrary is shown

Unfortunately, fungi are not terribly well served here.  In fact, their inclusion in the act is a bit of an afterthought.  This is in part due to the reclassification of fungi into their own kingdom in 1969.  A codicil, section 71 subsection 2 “it is hereby declared that in this Act “plants” include fungi and algae.” was added to the bill in subsequent legislation, Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.  (The NERC Act 2006 also established Natural England, and Section 41 species)

[‡] The Crown Prosecution Service does not seem interested in the SSSI related offences, their  guidance on Wildlife Offences focusses on more straightforward criminality, mostly pertaining to offences in Sections 9 & 13.

Powers of Arrest, Search and Seizure

Under section 24(2) Police and Criminal Evidence Act, as amended by Schedule 12, paragraph 13 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 (the CROW Act,) the following are arrestable offences:

[INCLUDING] …

  • Any offence under sections 9, 13(1)(a) or (2) WCA 1981 (taking, possessing, selling etc of Schedule 5 wild animals or Schedule 8 plants). …

All offences under Part I WCA 1981 are summary only, except for offences under sections 14, 19ZA(7) and (8) which are either way. ….

Most offences are punishable on summary conviction by six month’s imprisonment and/or by a maximum fine of £5,000 (level 5). Where an offence is committed in respect of more than one bird, nest, egg etc the maximum fine shall be determined as if the person had been convicted of a separate offence in respect of each such item. See Section 21(5) WCA 1981.

Offences under section 14, 14A and 19 XB(4) are punishable on conviction on indictment to a term not exceeding two years imprisonment and/or a fine or both.

Powers of Forfeiture under WCA 1981 and generally

Wherever appropriate, courts should be reminded of their power to make such orders.

Under section 21(6)(a) WCA 1981 a court shall, following conviction for such an offence, order the forfeiture of any bird, egg, animal, plant etc in respect of which the offence was committed. Under s.21 (6) b a court may in the same circumstances order the forfeiture of any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing used to commit the offence found in the offender’s possession. Forfeiture of a vehicle is often likely to be an effective means of deterring repeat offences relating, for example, to rare birds and eggs as well as of incapacitating an offender’s future ability to conduct such activities. ….

The Forfeiture guidelines are intriguing, adding a nice deterrent that in addition to the heavy fines for taking or selling Schedule 8 species, the vehicles used may be forfeited.

[§]Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Section 28 Establishment of SSSI’s Provision P Offences

(6)A person (other than a section 28G authority acting in the exercise of its functions) who without reasonable excuse—

(a)intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which land is of special interest, or intentionally or recklessly disturbs any of those fauna, and

(b)knew that what he destroyed, damaged or disturbed was within a site of special scientific interest,

is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or on conviction on indictment to a fine.

Natural England is the statutory body which determines which features, flora and fauna are key to any given SSSI, these are called notified features as NE, when they designate a SSSI, are required to notify landowners of their obligations to the SSSI.  On SSSI’s intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging flora or fauna by reason of which land is of special interest is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 28 (P).  Whether or not the fungi harvested is one of the notified species, the ancillary consequences of the activity of foraging, including trampling and disturbance may be covered by this as well. Hefty penalties invoked here may give prosecutions considerable bite.

[**]

The Forestry Commission Byelaws 1982

  1. Acts Prohibited on the Lands of the Commissioners

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, or dig up or remove any soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals of any kind;

The Forestry Commission byelaws list prohibited substances for removal which includes “plants” which may ambiguously refer to fungi (if we take into account inclusive definitions in Primary Legislation).  It may be worth removing this ambiguity by either seeking an inclusive interpretation of the existing byelaw – after all, it is likely that the original byelaws were drafted before fungi were reclassified, and it seems stingy when your list includes soil, turf, leafmold, moss and peat, to insist that plant does not include fungi.  Otherwise we could petition the FC to amend the byelaw, this is a long game move, though, and would take as much as five to ten years.

[††]National Trust Byelaws 1965

Soil and Vegetation
2. (a) No unauthorised person shall dig, cut or take turf, sods, gravel, sand, clay or any other substance on or from Trust Property.
(b) No unauthorised person shall dig up or remove, cut, fell, pluck or injure any flowers, plants, fungi, moss, ferns, shrubs, trees or other vegetation growing on Trust Property or remove any seeds thereof or injure any grass or climb any tree.

The National Trust Byelaws are quite clear, and here in the New Forest they have had to be vocal as they’ve had incidents, such as when their own organized educational fungi walk on one of the Northern Commons under their managagement could find none as the area had been stripped by commercial foragers.

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Presentment: Recreation Management Strategy : May

RMS Findings report Cover Image Horse-riding-on-heath

At January’s Court, I asked you to take with a blood pressure threatening portion of salt, the results of last year’s online RMS survey, which by its own terms made no attempt to get “a balanced and representative sample”, and included provably false misreadings of its mere 1500 respondents[*].  A true consultation would present the relative merits, pros and cons of its statements, no attempt was made towards this in the survey.

When I make these complaints to park authority staff, who now erroneously refer to this poll as a “consultation”, they have a tendency to brush these off with the tautological statement that all must be well because the process has been signed off by the Six Organizations on the RMS Steering Group including NE FC HCC NPA NFDC and of course, the Verderers. [This confers a collective infallibility which I would not burden you with.]

Sadly, as another online poll will be used to comment on new RMS proposals, we’re now due to repeat that meaningless exercise this year. There are some good ideas within these proposals[†], but they are incomplete and unfocussed, and very much the result of the messy group think employed.

The review of the RMS should have a broader vision, which acknowledges that the complexity of solutions required may need more than 144 characters to express, should include not just the recreation provisions for neighbouring authorities, but strategic review of new development that puts greater recreation pressure on the Forest. This brings housing targets and mitigation regimen across the entire region into the discussion[‡]. This cannot be done in a format more suited to counting how many people like that photo of a fox cub, or if you think that dress is blue/black or white/gold.

The future of the Forest, and its millions of recreational visitors, should not be at the behest of an insecure online poll whose unverifiable population is half that of Lyndhurst. We want an RMS aimed at Managing Recreation Strategically to fulfill the Statutory Purposes of the Park, and the legal obligations to protect the designated habitats. We want leadership able to defend that Strategy in a public consultation, even the measures which may not be simply explained, or may need defence against interest groups who would put their needs above those of the habitat, commoning’s working farm and forestry. Please use your seat at the table to stop this important document, and the process guiding it from being dumbed down.


[*] One item was interpreted as having “wide public support”, despite only being supported by 22%.

[†] See Addendum below.

[‡] The RMS would need to confront the aspects of the NFNPA and NFDC draft local plans which will pave the way for an inappropriately large development, wholly within the National Park, creating a new population centre of 3500 people (larger than Lyndhurst). Placed 30 minutes down a cul de sac with paltry mitigation for that population which would be dumped entirely on the Forest for Recreation provision, and on the road infrastructure (requiring upgrades that would encroach into the Forest, and greater traffic across animal accident hotspots within the Forest).

ADDENDUM:

The Addendum written for the Verderers referred them to  the NFA’s response to last year’s Future Forest survey, then included these additional remarks on the latest RMS proposals under our three main areas for specific, achievable projects.

National Park Infrastructure

The proposals do contain an aspiration to create a map to be used to address infrastructure priorities, but this is given an absurd “quick-win” goal of being produced within a year of the adoption of the RMS update. Rather than specifying key criteria and gathering evidence to base a sound spatial strategy, this will be done with whatever haphazard data is to hand or may be hastily compiled within that timeframe leading to an infrastructure just as damagingly arbitrary as that which we’ve inherited.

Adjacent Authorities and Communities

The proposals limit discussion of influencing adjacent authorities to their recreation provisions, where placement of population increases from new development if often the strongest driver in creating recreation pressure on the Forest. Mitigation regimes use formula developed by Natural England for Thames Basin Heaths, which does not scale appropriately to the Forest because a) the Forest is much richer in features and biodiversity at threat and should cost developers more b) the morphology of the Forest is different: Thames Basin Heaths spatially has greater opportunity for alternative spaces, where the Forest, surrounded, creates more of a siege situation (with only one defence to the West at Moors Valley, and plans to the East eternally pipe dreamed).

Education

Of course there is a useful “Raising awareness and understanding” action point which is front and centre, but it is focussed very much on doing more of the same, but more often in more places with better production values, not shifting the message to significantly highlight the habitats and ways of life under threat. Getting a very simple key notion across that the Forest needs our collective respect and protection could give those education efforts a more useful focus and lead to positive impact.

 

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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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Guest Post: High Level Stewardship AGM 2018 — Official Verderer

The New Forest HLS is England’s largest environmental improvement scheme, launched in 2010.  The scheme is managed through a formal partnership between the relevant statutory bodies for the Crown Lands: the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

This year the AGM was preceded by an Open Day afternoon in the Garden of Queen’s House, featuring stands and displays from representatives of various HLS projects, festive New Forest Marque nibbles, and a mare and young foal (perhaps one of the first many had seen for the year).  Here Lord Manners, the Official Verderer, reflects on this year’s achievements.

Today

I hope you have all had an opportunity to visit the open day and enjoy the new format. Do please give us your feed back on what you thought worked and on any areas where you think we could have done things better or differently.

As we have had an open day there are no speakers or presentations this evening apart from me. In the next few minutes I propose to run over some of the highlights of the past year.

Education

I would like to start by mentioning the educational aspect of the HLS. It is vital that we do as much as we can to educate our school children about the special qualities of the Forest.

2136 pupils from 47 schools were able to take part in educational visits this year, thanks to HLS education access funding. The slight decrease in numbers is due to curriculum changes at GCSE level. Schools visited all through the year. Human impacts and activities, and investigation of the special qualities of the Forest have remained the most requested teaching sessions. HLS funding ensures that the schoolchildren visiting the Forest not only enjoy their visit, but leave with a much greater understanding of its heritage and landscape.

Lost Lawns Restoration – Tree and scrub management

Consultation site visits took place in March to view the following lost lawn locations: Bramshaw, Brook Wood, Broomy/Splash Bridge and Milking Pound Bottom. Following the issue of a felling licence in September works commenced at 2 out 4 sites – Splash Bridge/Broomy (Dockens Water) and Milking Pound Bottom. At Elkhams Grave, Trenley Lawn, Red Rise tree and scrub felling took place as agreed with consultees. At Bolderwood hollies habitat restoration and pine clearance of some mature trees was carried out. Slender Cotton Grass habitat at Holmsley bog was cleared of willow and birch encroachment. A total area of 66 Ha was achieved.

Wetland Restoration

In Summary the following wetland restoration areas were achieved:-

  • 2532m of meanders were restored.
  • 1078m of drain was in-filled
  • 1079m of channel was bed-level raised

Two planning application sites were part completed:

  • Wootton Riverine Woodland Phase 1 was completed following the work that was undertaken last year.
  • Pondhead (Parkhill Lawn, Matley) was part completed. Weather and seasonal constraints limited full completion in 2017.

Noads Mire This site has been re-programmed into the summer 2018 wetland restoration works and will be completed by George Farwell.

Ferny Crofts South was also partially completed this year.  However due to the weather delays experienced on site through August and September 2017 it was decided that the completion of this site should be delayed until August/September 2018.

Coxlease Lawn. The site was subject to wet weather delays for seven days. The site became too wet to continue work within the 2017 wetland restoration season and it is proposed that this work will be completed in 2018.

The short wetland restoration season was curtailed further by wet weather causing many of the sites being too wet to work for large periods of the summer. Work was not possible due to wet ground conditions on approximately 45 days out of a possible 105.

Bracken Management

This was carried out by two local contractors MJ Hoare and Dan Shutler. 33 days of bracken forage harvesting was carried out between them covering a total area of 69 Ha.

The bracken sprayer covered an area of 134Ha over the following sites: Bolderwood, Turfhill, Sloden and Milkham.

Control of Non native species

Non-native plant management was carried out across the Forest, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Catherine Chatters and her hardworking team of volunteers. This involves control of Pitcher Plants, monitoring and controlling Cotoneaster, Control of Parrot’s Feather, Japanese knotweed, Pickerel weed, Yellow Azalea and Golden Club.
Rhododendron. Cut & burn areas were tackled in January on the beat of Patrick Cook, site locations covered include the following SSSI units: Busketts, Ironshill, Rhinefield, Bolderwood, Burley through to Anderwood, Knightwood, Gritnam, Allum Green, Acres Down & Lucy Hill. Total time spent equivalent to 80 man days. Rhododendron spraying was carried out at Acres Down, Burley, Minstead and Allum Green, Bolderwood.

Gemma Stride, HLS Monitoring Officer

Riverfly Partnership

Volunteer rangers have been carrying out surveying of specific wetland restoration stream sites for riverflies, since 2015. All of their collected data has been input into the National riverfly database, and used locally to see abundance scores of riverflies and how they have re-acted before and after restoration. I would like to express particular thanks to those volunteers for participating in what is an extremely valuable but painstaking process.

Programme of Data Processing and Ground Surveys for Historical Features

2017 saw a successful survey season with the target coverage of 2,013 hectares reached. This work involved 131 volunteer days. Again I would like to express my thanks to the volunteers. During these days the volunteers helped to record archaeological sites, undertake detailed geophysical surveys of specific sites identified during the Lidar surveys and clear vegetation from scheduled monuments. During 2017, work also continued to clean survey data and submit records to the County Historic Environment Records Office. All the above work continued to feed into wetland restoration, lost lawn, verge restoration and ridge and furrow proposed schemes. Of the 20,130 hectares to be surveyed during the HLS scheme, only 3,342 hectares remain to be surveyed. This leaves 1,671 hectares to be surveyed during 2018. This work started in January. Work will also continue to identify monuments that require restoration works and collaboration between the appropriate parties to ensure the best results for the monuments and the habitats they are found in.

Beaulieu Road Sales Yard

Grazing Management

The HLS supports a wide variety of activities in order to maintain and improve grazing management.
494 Commoners received grazing payments

The HLS makes funds available to improve and develop Infrastructure for Livestock Management by means of a Small grant scheme. The HLS delivered 39 grants in 2017 for contributions towards stock handling systems. 15 grants are still to be claimed for 2017.

The HLS also makes funds available to improve and develop infrastructure for livestock management by improving sightline fencing and drift fencing,

Projects delivered were Boltons Bench: 120m Drift style fence, Pilley Allotment : 210m of wire fence, Hatchet Mill : replacement of oak split rails, Burbush : 85m of oak sightline fencing.

Sloden & Trim Holly Pounds were rebuilt in 2017.

Improvements to the welfare standard for ponies are achieved through the pony welfare scheme. The number of ponies entering the welfare scheme has increased this year as commoners are becoming more aware of the scheme. The scheme does appear to be reducing the older mares on the Forest as we are having less welfare issues over the winter.

Improvements to the value and diversity of the New Forest Pony Breed is achieved through the New Forest Livestock Society

The New Forest Livestock Society receives VGS funding towards the cost of marketing in order to increase sales at Beaulieu Road. The aim is to provide known potential buyers with regular reminders about sale dates, and to advertise the sales as widely as possible to attract new customers.

Looking ahead

This year the HLS is funding ridge and furrow restoration and stump removal in areas that have been felled. I think these are particularly exciting projects as they will not only improve the habitat but also improve the restored areas for stock and making drifting over those areas possible. I would encourage you to visit the area recently restored at Dur Hill as an excellent example of what can be achieved.

We have now completed 8 years of the Verderers HLS. The current scheme expires in February 2020. The Forest Farming Group, under the energetic chairmanship of Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre, is actively engaging with Government both at the political level and with the relevant civil servants. Our strong preference is for a bespoke, flexible scheme that suits the needs of the Forest. It is too early to say what the future holds but I am confident that the public and environmental benefits delivered by the Forest make it a strong candidate for future support.

Finally a thank you to the many people who work so hard to deliver the benefits of the HLS, they are too numerous to mention but they know who they are and they are due thanks not just from me but from all of us.

Lord Manners
Official Verderer
25 April 2018

Provided with permission by the Official Verderer, to whom we send our thanks.
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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: Recreation Events at Night


Last month the Commoners Defence Association noted problems with the planned 2nd December, Hampshire Maverick Silva Dark Series trail running event.  It is in early evening, but in hours of full darkness (starts an hour after sundown, and a quarter hour after end of twilight). It is sponsored by a headlamp manufacturer promoting a range of LED headlamps that emit 250 lumens over 65 metres [1] (The top of their current range outputs 1500-2000 lumens over 175 metres! [2]).

The nocturnal disturbance of both livestock (as noted by the CDA) and wildlife by a mass event on the Forest, alone, is of concern, but use of high powered LEDs will greatly compound that disturbance. The NFA object to the event as an inappropriate precedent for both reasons. This is, as well, a fundamental conflict with all aspirations to maintain tranquility within the Forest and night-time dark skies above it.

Research on light disturbance has shown bats, amphibians and plants affected by relatively low levels of light. The route comes as close to the A337 as 1500 metres, which could prove fatal to motorists if easily spooked deer bolt towards the road.

This event, if held in daytime, or more appropriately off the SSSI, would be relatively benign [3]. The Forestry Commission have clearly worked hard to mitigate a bad situation created by the event’s organizers, and their permission [4] explicitly states that this is a one-off and that “any future night time events would need to be run at other venues off the New Forest” suggesting Moors Valley as an alternative. Head torches are restricted to Max 250 lumens, max beam length 50m, and must be angled downwards.

A FC spokesperson informed me that the permission would not have been granted if the event were a later time in the evening, or if it was outside the short window of hibernation for many local species. Unfortunately, nature isn’t that simple. At least 11 bat species have been recorded in the route area, including some of the most light-averse. All these bats move in and out of hibernation November to March, rousing to feed when the weather is mild, with early evening as their peak time in winter [5].

The media have lost all the nuances: the route restricted to the gravel tracks in Inclosures (from original plan on open forest), limitations on lighting, and that the FC regard this as a one-off.  The reporting has oversimplified the FC assessment to suggest it “poses no negative impact on the SSSI”. A hard to support statement, which without the context of the prescribed restrictions, sends an erroneous, dangerous message.

This official FC permission will beget the expectation for more large scale after dark events, from the public unaware of even minimal limitations which should be observed, and encourage greater after dark usage both organized and unorganized, at even more damaging times of the year. Creating new unprecedented levels of disturbance on protected habitat at a time where there would be little or none is simply unacceptable.

The NFA hope the Verderers will join us in asking the Forestry Commission, and those who would sensibly enjoy the Forest, to let it, in the name of tranquillity, the livestock, and the wildlife, have a well deserved rest.

Annotations below refer to the bracketed numbers in bold above [n]….

[1] The event offers participants free test use of their previous slightly weaker range (170 lumens over 50 metres), which they no longer produce. The route starts and ends at Foxlease, goes through Clayhill and deep into Denny Wood, Parkhill and Standing Hat inclosures.
[2] That’s roughly the same as a single standard H1 Car head lamp on main beam. 12 Runners with the highest permitted beams will emit approximately as much light as a single car.
[3] …presuming it is well run, safe and considerate to other Forest users, and tidies up after itself.
[4] The Permission includes the following non-boiler plate requirements:

  • “Competitors will be restricted to using head torches with Led bulbs, Max lumens 250, max beam length 50m. All torches must be angled down. Marshals must keep lighting to a minimum as well as per runners.”
  •  “The permit is for this event only please note any future night time events would need to be run at other venues off the New Forest – we will look to offer Moors Valley as an alternative.”
  • “The route as agreed…. It is vital to keep to the tracks and paths as details on the maps provided.”
  • “All gates must be manned to prevent ponies and cattle going through and to ensure that there is no access by vehicles. Gate must be closed after use.”
  • “All litter must be cleared up and signs removed by the following day at the latest.”

[5] from nearby Busketts Lawn there have been records of at least 5 species in late December.

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