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Presentment: Ashurst Hospital Site

1909 Map including the layout of the Ashurst Workhouse

 

We welcome a guest post from our former chair, Peter Roberts, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

Ashurst workhouse from the west c.1907.

My name is Peter Roberts. I am a former Verderer and a former resident of Ashurst.

Yesterday the National Park Authority published their Plan Amendments which includes the use of of land at Ashurst for housing. This land is the former Workhouse Site, which was taken from the open Forest in 1836. When the grant for the land was made there was a specific reservation that in the event of the workhouse no longer being required it should revert to the Forest. Seven acres of the site were returned to the Forest in 1988, thanks mainly to the work of the late Verderer David Stagg.

The remaining land is commonable land from which the common rights have never been removed. It should be returned to the open Forest for grazing for the commoners stock. I implore you to object most strongly to the National Park Proposed Main Modifications and work towards returning this land to the rightful users.


1836 Site Plan

Notes:
The grant was made on 31st December 1836 and may be found in the Wood Lease Books now held by the Forestry Commission in Queen’s House (Vol 4 pp 279-285). The original is at Kew: NRA ‘Grants of land for Workhouse 1836-1915’, F10/52 4079/1.

We thank Peter for permission to share this Presentment, and his notes.  For the 150th Anniversary of the New Forest Association (aka Friends of the New Forest) he wrote our history in Saving the New Forest.

At last month’s court, in a short, off the cuff, two sentence presentment, one of our trustees similarly urged the Verderers to assert the Forest’s rights to the land in question. Our planning committee had made a representation to the New Forest National Park Local Plan Inspectors regarding the site.  Notes from both Peter Roberts and Richard Reeves regarding the site were shared privately with the Verderers at that time.

New Forest Local Plan Modifications are open to consultation until 31st May 2019.  More information, including the additional Ashurst Workhouse allocation, which does NOT recognize nor even mentions the Forest rights of the portion not returned to the Forest, may be found here.

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Presentment: Commercial Dog Walking

Our Vice Chair, Gale Gould made this Presentment at this month’s Verderers Court, clarifying our position about Professional Dog Walkers and Commercial Exploitation of the Forest.

The Verderers may or may not know that last week the Lymington Times published a correction to their previous article about Commercial Dog Walking Charter, which incorrectly reported the position of the Friends of the New Forest (New Forest Association).

For the avoidance of doubt the views of the Friends of the New Forest are similar to those that have been expressed by the Verderers.

Friends of the New Forest does not support the charter because it does not effectively regulate a commercial activity that is taking place on the Forest.

Failing to take early control of activities that have a serious detrimental effect on the Forest results in it being very difficult to control them in the future.

Commercial dog walkers should be required to obtain permission. This would ensure reasonable controls can be put in place including, for example, restricting to four the number of dogs that an individual can walk.

Dogs should be on leads during the bird nesting season, which would bring the Forest in line with the ‘Countryside and Rights of Way Act’, as observed in many other national parks.

It is our view that all commercial activity carried out on the New Forest should be regulated and require consent on a personal and individual basis. This enables the recording and registration of the person to whom consent is given, so that scale, location and the effects of the activity may be monitored. Consent would be accompanied by conditions (for dog walking this might include the things in this charter, such as numbers of dogs on one lead and when or where dogs should be on a lead).

In contrast, simply issuing a code of behaviour in the form of a Charter for a commercial activity, with no regulation, tacitly accepts the activity as being one that has a general, blanket approval with no means to monitor numbers or have any information about those carrying it out.  It would also serve as an unintentional precedent.

In his subsequent Presentment on the subject of stallions and geldings, Dr Tony Hockley, Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, added on the spot support for our Presentment.

The Lymington Times correction printed in their 12th April 2019 issue: “it was incorrectly stated that Hampshire Police, Natural England, Friends of the New Forest and the RSPB had declared their support for a professional dog walking charter.”  The reporter at fault did offer a personal apology to our vice chair at the Verderers Court.

The Forestry Commission does administer a permission system for commercial and events use of the Forest, however it is not comprehensive and does not currently include licensing or permission for commercial dog walkers.

We and other organizations, including the RSPB, Commoners Defence Association, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and the Verderers have had input into both the Draft Professional Dog Walkers Charter and the generic Dog Walkers Code through the National Park Authority’s Dog Forum.  Friends of the New Forest continue to maintain that the commercial exploitation of the Forest element must be addressed for the guidance to have any useful value.  All commercial exploitation of the Forest should also be addressed more fully under any future Recreation Management Strategy.

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Rewilding The New Forest?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Verderers response to BBC Inside Out South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30th January 2019

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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: Our Objections to Local Plans

New Forest District Council’s Local Plan aims to build 10,500 homes over ten years. In their own summary they admit this is 3 to 4 times their current development rate.  13 of 20 of their proposed strategic development sites are on Green Belt.

This will increase the population in the district and park by roughly 7 times that of Lyndhurst.  One of these “Lyndhurst”s will be an entire new village at Fawley, which will increase the population of the park by 10 %, at the wrong end of the already stressed A326 transport corridor.  This would have a severe recreational impact on the Forest with disturbance to habitat and livestock, and would further urbanize the already saturated Waterside Area, requiring upgrades to the roads that due to that saturation would necessarily encroach onto the highly protected Crown Lands within the National Park, and would increase traffic westward across the Park on roads already animal accident blackspots.

The New Forest National Park Authority and NFDC share a viability study that accepts the developer’s contention that in order to develop 1500 homes at Fawley, they must build 120 as premium homes on a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation in the National Park.  Adjacent to the Power Station site, Tom Tiddler’s Ground is a young coastal grazing marsh that could easily qualify for SSSI status if it were grazed by commoners livestock[1].  [see addendum below for alternatives offered]

The National Park is failing its statutory purposes to conserve and enhance by adopting the poor logic and questionable feasibility behind the NFDC support for the Waterside development, and lack of objection to the scale of NFDC’s 10,500 home plan.  The Park Authority and District Council should be working together to fulfil their legal obligation to protect the Forest, not to undermine that protection for the sake of NFDC’s political objectives.

The Friends of the New Forest / NFA are objecting to the NFNPA Local Plan under examination in November, before your next court, because if accepted as it is, it lays the groundwork for NFDC’s Local Plan which presumes the need and scale of the NFDC objectives, including the destruction of Tom Tiddler’s Ground.

The Government 25 Year Environment Plan promises greater protection for National Parks and both designated and undesignated habitats, and a review for possible expansion of the boundaries of National Parks.  The Park’s own policy should only allow major development under exceptional circumstances.  10,500 homes in the ostensible buffer around the Park, the intentional destruction of Important habitat, and the decimation of Green Belt flies in the face of any presumption that the National Park provides the Forest with any protection.

We ask the Verderers, in their role as a statutory consultee to support our objections, particularly when the NFDC Local Plan is considered.  This is a generational threat to the Forest, and hope that all present in both official and private capacities will join us in this fight.


[1] Indeed previous attempts to do just that failed only due to unreasonable demands from the Power Station management.

ADDENDUM:
The current proposals range from 1500 homes on both the site and onto the SP25 land, or 4000 homes on the site alone (that profitability in the viability study equates 120 homes on the Park’s area with 2500 homes difference, is an example of the nonsense that the viability study purports, and a veiled threat to make an even more unacceptable development).  Even within the Power Station site, the proposals are not limited as they should be to just the former industrial area.  There is also an entirely cracked logic that if these homes must be built to fund the Power Station site development, that they must be built there, and not anywhere else in the country, and they must be built first, but with no guarantee that the industrial site would be developed subsequently.

The current proposals for the Power Station site, which do not demonstrate exceptional circumstances required for major development within the Park, should either be abandoned, scaled down to minor settlement, or mixed use for recreation or perhaps most fittingly for its industrial heritage sustainable power generation in the form of a solar array, all of which should be confined wholly to the industrial area alone, and outside the 400m zone of any future and very likely SPA designation.

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Recreation Management: What We Should Keep and Add

The 2018 RMS Survey Proposals drop important Actions from the Current Recreation Management Strategy 2010-2030. We discuss what we’d want kept, and propose other useful key projects.

Actions to Retain from Current RMS 2010-2030

All the partner organizations were part of the extensive consultation that produced the existing strategy, which they would have had substantial say in and adoption. The objectives of the existing Strategy are “owned” by definition by the National Park which includes that Strategy as one of its core documents. Whilst it’s true that the Park Authority has limited direct responsibilities and powers, it’s incumbent on them to use their influence on those organizations that do, and there is a legal obligation for those bodies to listen and act accordingly.

One of the reasons that we find that the new proposals are not a substantial improvement over the existing RMS is that it leaves out specified actions which we continue to support. In some instances there are references to these in the survey, but passing or implied inclusion of these actions is insufficient as they should be explicitly included. Here is a non-exhaustive list of actions which should be considered for stated inclusion, with some suggestion for amendment or extension into new projects.

Develop a National Park Ranger Service

5.3 Raising awareness and understanding
5.3.3 Work with the recreation user groups and land managers, to promote responsible behaviour amongst all users that respects the special qualities of the National Park and the needs of others through a range of mechanisms, and especially by:
A.. Face to face contact with co-ordinated ranger services, providing a friendly and knowledgeable presence able to convey consistent messages
5.3.5 Develop a National Park Ranger Service which is responsive to the needs of the Forest as they emerge, and facilitate the co-ordination of existing ranger services within the National Park. Consider establishing a Young Friends of the New Forest Group to involve and engage young people more in the area.

5.3.3 Referenced absent Ranger Service aspiration 1.1 and 2.1
5.3.5 Passing mention 2.4 on the ground “mitigation rangers” and 5.2 funding

Credible enforcement of any rules developed, or even the existing byelaws, would require an investment in personnel. We would want to see this ambassadorial role extended to include some elements of enforcement.

We cannot necessarily expect either FC Keepers or Rangers, or NPA Rangers to fulfil the role of enforcement. It may be that a new role modelled after the Foreign style “Park Ranger”, that is with some police training and enforcement powers should be considered. There needs to be enough of a perceived enforcement presence, whether directly from beats of such rangers, or the extended eyes and ears of the combined other Rangers/Keepers/Agisters network for Park users to sense that they could be seen or challenged for inappropriate or illegal behaviour. We recognize that this would require funding, but providing this service would shore up any funding plans that require charging which itself would need enforcement to be effective.

Influencing beyond the boundaries of the National Park

5.9 Influencing recreational provision beyond the boundaries of the National Park
5.9.1 Outside the National Park, work in partnership with other Authorities to improve recreational provision that provides for their community needs (thereby helping to relieve pressure on the New Forest Special Area of Conservation). Ensure that recreation provision is at the forefront of planning for major urban expansion within a 20km radius beyond the boundary of the New Forest.
5.9.2 In partnership with neighbouring authorities, actively support their search to identify and implement opportunities for new Country Parks or similar and advocate the inclusion of these aspirations in the local development frameworks and core strategies of neighbouring authorities.

5.9.1 is not indicated in any way by the new proposals. In light of NFDC’s current draft local plan targeting 10,500 houses over 10 years, the commensurate surge in local population using the Forest, and NFDC’s low quality standards for Suitable Alternate Natural Greenspace (proposal to use degraded arable rather than setting a standard to offer land restored to a quality commensurate with the protected habitats for which it is meant to mitigate), this is clearly an important action.

5.9.2 could be construed to have a passing mention as an ambition Objective 4’s statement and glancing mention in Objective 5 Funding, but it is not featured amongst the Actions. Given that infrastructure needs may demand the wholesale destruction of the nearby habitat of Dibden Bay along with greater stress on local transport infrastructure, perhaps it would be reasonable to suggest that the National interest would demand a substantial mitigation which perhaps could include compulsory purchase of sufficient well placed land to fulfil the ambitions for Country Parks that would offset damage and act as preferred recreation sites.

Below we have proposed new projects to extend influence to neighbouring authorities: “Habitat Mitigation Framework for the Forest that is Fit for Purpose” and a “Strategic Regional Development Forum.”

Camping and Parking Infrastructure

5.6 Providing sustainable services and facilities
5.6.1 Undertake a review of recreational and visitor facilities in the National Park.
5.6.3 Manage car parking in the National Park as a means of providing access for people to the New Forest and managing impacts on the most sensitive areas. Overall car parking capacity across the National Park is not anticipated to increase or decrease significantly from existing levels:
A.. Audit car parking provision within the National Park6.4 Camping and caravanning
6.4.1 Audit the provision of camping in the National Park and maintain the unique experience the New Forest offers; sustain the significant contribution it makes to the local economy whilst ensuring that campsite management does not adversely damage the Park’s special qualities.
6.4.2 Work with partners to identify potential alternative sites to which the phased relocation of the more damaging campsites (e.g. Hollands Wood, Longbeech and Denny Wood) might be achieved whilst providing a similar quality of camping experience. It must be recognised the difficulties in finding alternative sites; many issues will have to be taken into consideration, including the local economy, transport links, access to facilities (e.g. villages, shops) and the camping experience.
6.4.3 Work with campsite operators to reduce the environmental footprint and impact of camping and caravanning on sensitive areas to enhance landscape and visitor satisfaction by:
.. preventing the extension of existing and development of new camping and caravan sites
.. restricting the spread of new supporting built facilities
.. ensuring that any built facilities that are provided reflect their surroundings
.. securing more sympathetic conservation management of existing camp sites
.. monitoring the condition and operation of the sites on designated areas.6.4.4 Explore opportunities to develop campsites as substitutes to those displaced from the commonable lands as a valuable form of farm and business diversification in robust locations.
6.4.5 Provide further guidance on the future management of campsites to reduce the dependency on car use, for example, by encouraging campers to leave their cars on site whilst visiting the National Park and continuing to promote alternatives to the private car for travel around the Forest.

5.6.1, 5.6.3 and 6.4.1 Audit of parking and camping provisions and facilities – a very straightforward achievable bit of work, unfortunately not yet done eight years later.

Below we have proposed new projects to address campsite issues: “Bring temporary campsites under a regimen of consistent standards and controls” and “Close Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech Campsites”. Both of these would augment the goal in Policy DP18 “enable the removal of pitches from sensitive areas by the relocation of part of a site to a less sensitive area”.

New Forest National Park Core Strategy Policy DP18: Extensions to Holiday Parks and Camp Sites
Extensions to existing holiday parks, touring caravan or camping sites will only be permitted to enable the removal of pitches from sensitive areas by the relocation of part of a site to a less sensitive area adjoining an existing site, providing:

  1. a) there would be overall environmental benefits
  2. b) there would be no increase in the overall site area or site capacity
  3. c) the area where pitches or other facilities are removed from would be fully restored to an appropriate New Forest landscape, and any existing use rights are relinquished.

To be supplanted by almost identical Submission Draft Local Plan 2016-2036 Policy DP47: Holiday Parks and Camp Sites removes the restrictive stipulation “adjoining an existing site”

Possible RMS Projects

This is a non-exhaustive list of possible projects that would be welcome ways of delivering the aspirations which should have been more explicitly spelled out in the survey document.

Research Station for the Forest

This would pool resources to staff and deliver a focus for New Forest research. It would maintain a catalogue/concordance of extant research, coordinate research efforts from academic institutions, quality check citizen science, and encourage research to provide evidentiary base for spatial strategy, recreation and livestock impacts on habitat, climate change or any other key criteria for future decision making.

Habitat Mitigation Framework for the Forest that is Fit for Purpose

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).

Strategic regional development Forum

In the past some planning regimes managed on a more regional basis was able to reduce pressure in and around the Forest. Both the promises of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and its subsequent upcoming review of National Parks should be an opportunity to put the case again. Recreation pressure on the Forest is directly affected by population proximity, housing targets within and on the borders of the Park. If the park and its borders cannot be afforded a sufficient buffer zone that retains its own green belt with sufficient alternative natural greenspace, then the government’s promise of increased protection to our parks and habitats is hollow. The Draft Action proposals have relegated engagement with other authorities to mitigation (which as already noted is undercooked), housing targets with direct impact on Forest recreation are relevant under Section 62 Duties.

Bring temporary campsites under a regimen of consistent standards and controls

Both these camping projects (see below) could help address the obligation under the 2001 SAC Management plan to relocate three FC Campsites (Five year priority 6.4.2 of RMS 2010). Temporary campsite provision in and around the Forest should provide a consistent minimal standard and be subject to appropriate licensing. This could lead to a Charter, or even a scheme similar to “New Forest Marque” for campsites to assure visitors of a Park led standard of quality, and perhaps, oversight. It may also be appropriate to encourage some small pop-up sites as alternative temporary use of backup land during the peak tourist summer season, which could serve as an additional income for commoning.

Close Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech Campsites.

The Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 (page 30, Part 3: General Prescriptions) gave “Unfavourable Declining” condition assessments to Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech due to the presence and management of the campsites.   The Campsite Survey (New Forest Camp site Baseline Survey: Final Report (Cox, Jonathan: July 2010: Lyndhurst: New Forest Association)) showed these have less than half the canopy they ought. This Authority’s Landscape Action Plan doesn’t even have the word campsite in it, let alone a consideration of their impact. The NPA need to address this remiss approach.

 

 

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Recreation Management: Evaluated Actions

Detailed Response To the Draft Actions

The 2018 survey proposals consider 25 “Actions” spread over 7 “Objectives”.

For the most part these are bland statements of guiding principles, but offer few concrete strategic steps to manage recreation. It is difficult to formulate a response to such an underwhelming document. On their face, it is difficult to quibble with the stated actions they vary from statements of the obvious (apply enforcement to illegal recreation activities) to standard operational concerns (find funding and consider charging the beneficiaries of recreation), but there is almost no substance (much talk of developing mechanisms and techniques with no useful specificity). Much of it is not well written, eschews plain English, and may be left to so much interpretation that opposing views may inaccurately be imposed on its meaning. It may seem pedantic or churlish to point out these flaws in the presence of obvious good intention, but this is meant to form a core policy document of a National Park Authority, it should include clearly stated proposals.

The main problem is not the writing, or the bland proposals, but what has been left out, either dropped from the previous RMS Strategy, lost through omission by vagueness, or simply not considered.   These include Management actions meant to fulfil the obligations of the SAC Management Plan. What follows here is an in depth critique including the full text of the proposed Objectives/Actions for reference, we have detailed omitted or alternative actions, and our summary remarks and conclusions are available separately.

By and large, the stated Objectives are relatively sound, having antecedents in the existing 2010 Strategy. The descriptions of each are at the heart of the good intentions of this revised Strategy, yet they’re not even up for discussion, only the proposed “Actions” are offered up for evaluation. There has been a truly odd decision in the presentation of these core descriptions in the online survey, by default they are hidden, requiring respondents to manually “unhide” each. Additionally a Draft Criteria for Judging Recreation Facilities has been published to the Managing Recreation web page but no comment is sought for this in the survey.

Raising awareness and understanding –
ensuring recreation is sustainable, wherever it takes placeObjective 1: Convey the things that make the New Forest special to both visitors and local people in more consistent and effective ways, so that they understand the importance of making responsible recreation choices.This objective acknowledges that the level of awareness of the New Forest’s special qualities, and their sensitivity, is currently insufficient. People who enjoy and come to understand the New Forest are much more likely to value and want to protect it, so it is important to work together in a range of ways to create a greater sense of ownership, respect and responsibility that ensures the Forest will retain its unique features into the future. The work needs to be tailored to resonate with the varying motivations, values and interests of different audiences.

We fully support education initiatives. These objectives and actions are important and in many ways already in hand. We believe a change of emphasis from “the special qualities of a National Park” to “delicate habitats of a National Nature Reserve, working farm and forest” would highlight the need to protect, especially for those for whom “Park” is an urban greenspace for play.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
1.1. Improve the quality and availability of information and interpretation about the special qualities of New Forest. Websites, social media, printed materials, exhibitions, film and face-to-face communication
1.2.Encourage organisations involved in tourism to inspire respect for the special qualities of the National Park by regularly including agreed key messages in their communications. Through Go New Forest, visitor attractions, publishers and accommodation providers
1.3.Develop the current programme of guided activities and themed events to give local people and visitors authentic experiences and meaningful connections with the special qualities. Guided walks, public events, activities in villages and training courses
1.4. Increase the uptake of formal educational programmes on offer and provide additional supporting resources on New Forest specific topics. Through Educators Forum, online curriculum-linked resources, travel grants, school assemblies, eco-groups and teacher training

Objective 2: Address significant and/or widespread negative impacts caused by recreation in the most appropriate, proportionate and effective ways.

This objective recognises that there are many different ways to encourage responsible recreation and to reduce or displace activities that might impact negatively on the New Forest or other people. It also emphasises the shared responsibility for protecting the Forest between relevant organisations and user groups. There is already broad recognition of the main issues, and some good initiatives are in place; but more work is needed to share best practice and jointly explore new ways to achieve the desired results.

Responsible recreation is an admirable goal. To some extent it should follow from education, a sense of respect, ownership, and as is suggested here “shared responsibility” for protection of the Forest.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
2.1.To help address a range of different issues and aid joint working, develop a ‘toolkit’ of different ways to influence recreational behaviour. Best practice advice and training on face-to-face communication, ‘nudge’ techniques, making the right option the easiest one to take, printed materials and signage, websites, digital technology, social media, peer pressure
2.2.Through working groups with appropriate terms of reference or other joint initiatives involving local organisations and user groups, identify and implement the most effective and long lasting strategies to address significant and widespread negative impacts caused by recreation. Reduce disturbance of wildlife, feeding of animals, animal accidents, litter, verge parking, fungi picking and negative impacts of dog walking, cycling and horse riding
2.3. In support of other techniques, use appropriate and proportionate enforcement activities to deter illegal recreation-related activities. Address verge parking, litter, illegal flying of drones, wild camping, lighting fires, parking in car parks overnight, cycling off the permitted network and out of control dogs
2.4. Increase the number and effectiveness of staff, volunteers and ambassadors ‘on the ground’ who can encourage people to enjoy recreation responsibly. Through higher levels of funding, improved partner coordination, habitat mitigation scheme rangers, apprentices, joint training, citizenship policing and a new ambassador programme
2.5.Manage organised activities and larger events in order to minimise negative impacts on wildlife, the working Forest and on local people. Licences and permissions given for use of Crown land and other open Forest areas, and events given guidance by Safety Advisory Groups

 

2.1. “To help address a range of different issues and aid joint working,” is an unhelpful word salad and an unnecessary preamble to “develop a ‘toolkit’ of different ways to influence recreational behaviour.” which is vague enough on its own, but at least means: “develop ways to influence recreational behaviour” which is what I hope you’re trying to say.

2.2. Isn’t “Through working groups with appropriate terms of reference or other joint initiatives involving local organisations and user groups, identify and implement the most effective and long lasting strategies to address significant and widespread negative impacts caused by recreation.” exactly what this strategy is meant to be doing? Is one of the “Actions” genuinely for this Strategy to develop itself? The result apparently is to reduce all the ills of the Forest as listed as “Examples of possible delivery”. How that magically transpires is not specified.

2.3. “In support of other techniques”, which other techniques? If you can’t specify them, why mention them? “use appropriate and proportionate enforcement activities to deter illegal recreation-related activities.” Is it necessary to specify, when deterring illegal activities, use of appropriate and proportionate enforcement? Are you suggesting that, for illegal recreation activities disproportionate inappropriate enforcement is a known issue?

“Provide enforcement to stop illegal activities.” or “Enforce law” more apt / readable?

2.4. An initiative to better support, increase “on the ground” presence of staff with ambassador / education and most importantly some level of enforcement power would be welcome. If a Forest user feels that they may encounter Forest Rangers on perhaps one out of ten excursions (or whatever magic number that would inspire the public to feel that they are likely to be occasionally, even with the mildest touch, “policed”) The lofty aspiration perhaps beyond the grasp of current funding/enforcement models might be a Parks Service in the style of Foreign National Parks, like the US whose Rangers have constabulary powers, local wildlife and habitat keeping, and education expertise.

2.5. Again, managing organized activities and larger events, whether through permit systems or accompanied by Safety Advisory Group involvement (in non permit related venues) would require some level of enforcement to either insure that permit or safety stipulations were observed, or to confront those flaunting whatever system is in place. Additionally, it may be desirable, as part of wider road initiatives targeting the fenced and gridded roads to work towards powers for local Authorities to have greater say so in the use of those roads, which may lead to permits required for high capacity road using events.

Objective 3: Reduce the barriers that limit participation in beneficial outdoor recreation among those who need it most

The New Forest already helps people to maintain and improve their health and wellbeing, it provides training and employment opportunities and is an ‘outdoor classroom’ from which we can all learn. However, some people may feel excluded and others do not recognise the value of the Forest (to themselves, the wider population or to future generations). This in turn risks alienating important sectors of society and failing to make the most of the ‘natural health service’ that is available. This objective is therefore about targeted work with specific groups of people at locations that are well-suited for bespoke interventions or activities.

This objective is made more convoluted and possibly misleading by the fact that it makes much of its language vague in that obligatory dance around avoiding using a term that might offend people with disabilities. In doing so, they may have been equally patronizing, offensive, and so unspecific that anyone with a beef against “barriers” of any description, might feel they could be catered to. Additionally, there is an attempt to lump issues including “youth” which surely belong under education, and the general health of outdoor recreation, which in no way demands to be on the Forest (it is not an obligation for the Forest to provide). Conflating these issues is not helpful to any of them.

Society has an obligation to level the playing field to be more inclusive. How this practically extends to the Forest may not, or cannot remove all “barriers”. Replacing styles with kissing gates, or other manageable solutions, is likely within the purview, but paving paths, providing more pedestrian/equestrian/wheelchair friendly bridges is perhaps not. The chief problem with this section is it doesn’t confront the need to have that conversation, merely hinting at that below referencing “appropriate changes”, but with no criteria for what is appropriate. It would be disingenuous to suggest that every inch of access land on the Forest could be made accessible, nor do we think that any user group so demands.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
3.1. Inspire more young people to appreciate and understand the special qualities of the New Forest and realise its relevance and value to them and to future generations. Through wild play, digital technology, training and apprenticeships, award schemes and inspirational youth-led projects
3.2.Develop targeted schemes that harness the health benefits of outdoor activity in and around the New Forest, close to where people live and at agreed locations. Regular walking, cycling, green prescriptions, volunteering, Green Halo Partnership and Health and Wellbeing Forum projects
3.3.Establish regular liaison between organisations that provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and organisations that represent people with a range of disabilities to identify and implement appropriate changes that will increase accessibility. Better information, fewer stiles or other ‘barriers’, accessible toilets

3.1. This point is more about using some recreation opportunities to promote education for youth, and belongs in Objective 1.

3.2. When discussing schemes to promote recreational activity, whether part of a health benefit scheme or not, the key aspect we would want to manage is where this takes place. This point belongs in Objective 4.

Sustainable recreation in the right places – managing where it happens
Objective 4: Achieve a net gain for the New Forest’s working and natural landscape and for the recreational experience by influencing where recreation takes place.This objective is primarily about geographical distribution of recreation and associated facilities; there are also links with earlier objectives with respect to specific sites where people are provided with information. An holistic, long-term vision and a short-term plan for agreed gateways, key sites and core routes is needed (within and beyond the National Park). Only by taking this ‘spatial approach’ can we be sure to attract people to the most appropriate sites and reduce the impact on the more sensitive areas and thereby protect the special qualities.

By using this approach, significant net benefits should be achieved. Desirable changes will vary considerably: from ‘easy wins’ such as the provision of additional information through local information points, through changes to the location of car parking provision (about which a range of views is likely to be expressed), to ambitions for new country parks outside the national park boundary that may take many years to come to fruition.

The long-term vision needs to address the following categories of locations:

  • a) Gateways: key access points such as certain villages, visitor centres and information points, rail stations and car parks near the perimeter of the Forest or close to A roads
  • b) Key sites: agreed popular sites for recreation such as country parks, wild play sites, campsites and Forest locations with facilities such as larger car parks, visitor information and toilet facilities.
  • c) Core routes: walking, horse riding and cycling routes (on and off road) including sustainable travel options (walking, cycling or public transport from where people live).

Spatial strategy is at the heart of how we can actually influence recreation, which is why we have continually called for a review of recreation infrastructure since the inception of the Park, and nominated it as one of three key priority projects in our response to last year’s RMS call for views. We strongly support “ambitions for new country parks outside the NP boundary” although this is given only a passing reference in the deliverables for action 4.2.

When discussing key access points, it is worth noting that RMS partner, NFDC took the extremely short sighted decision to close the visitor information centre in Lyndhurst.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
4.1.Develop a long term vision for where within and around the National Park people should be encouraged to enjoy outdoor recreation. Changes to ‘gateways’, key sites and core routes
4.2.Within a year of publishing the update to the 2010 strategy, consult the public and relevant organisations on what changes should ideally be made to ‘gateways’, key sites and core routes to achieve this objective. Maps showing sensitive habitats, conservation designations, and areas with higher tranquillity which need to be protected from adverse impacts of increased recreation; revisions to the location of parking capacity in the National Park; parking restrictions to prevent physical damage to the Forest; selective improvements to the network of off road cycle routes; rights of way where enhanced signage would be useful; locations for visitor information; locations where safety can be improved e.g. where off-road routes cross busy roads; possible areas where increased recreational opportunities might be desirable on private land and outside of the National Park
4.3.Having taken account of feedback on the above action, and after obtaining appropriate regulatory consents, develop a phased programme of implementing changes that avoid temporary net or ongoing likely significant effects on the recognised features of designated areas. Extend, relocate or reduce gateways, sites or routes to ensure impacts on recognised features are decreased
4.4. Implement the programme as resources allow, adapting and reassessing individual elements in the light of monitoring. Ensure that people park in the car parks and not on the verges, and use the sites and routes provided.

4.1. Simply summarizes the key notion that “where” is one of the key tools at our disposal for management of Recreation. This is the crux of what we support.

4.2 Here we have one of the few concrete proposals, and it gibes well with the new spatial strategy for recreation infrastructure which we have proposed and would support. However, by lumbering the project with a year timeframe, which would limit decision making to whatever data is to hand or can be cobbled together within that time, it would inevitably result in an infrastructure just as arbitrary as the one created when the Forest was fenced and gridded half a century ago. Given that within the current RMS, five-year action 5.6.3., the very straightforward project to audit car parking provision within the National Park has not been undertaken within eight years, some scepticism arises as to how this and all other relevant data may be achieved.

There is a further disconnect in not folding in the longer term goals of Objective 6 for data and evidence, and the notion that a spatial strategy should be achieved by public consultation rather than a basic evidence based consideration of the existing habitat and its pressures.

4.3. Merely posits implementing the half-baked brainchild of 4.2.

4.4. Again an instance of presuming the resolution of the list of “Examples of possible delivery”.

Finding funding – and using it effectively
Objective 5: Increase the level of funding available for recreation management so that it is sufficient to address both existing and upcoming needs.This objective recognises that resources are limited and that some aspirations for improved management of recreation can only be achieved if additional funds can be found. For example, car park maintenance could occur more regularly and more rangers could be deployed across the National Park if additional funding can be found. New recreation sites such as country parks would require major capital funding and business plans which ensure they are sustainable financially.

It is both good that a forward strategy considers funding sources for implementation, but also sad that certain elements of basic management including enforcement and education are no longer guaranteed products of the public purse despite their universal benefit (this is not leveled as a criticism of the proposal, but an observation of the situation this objective must address). We do find a disconnect between a Government touting a 25 year Environment plan including promises of greater support and protection for habitats and National Parks, but not offering the cash to ensure these goals may be met.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
5.1.Approach and work with organisations to raise funds and other resources for specific recreation-related projects. Local businesses and charities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, grant making bodies, youth and health-care organisations, Clinical Commissioning Groups
5.2.Develop a coordinated approach among planning authorities in and around the New Forest to mitigate the impacts of new housing on protected areas – with the aim of using developer contributions to support work that protects the Forest. Agree a common approach to determine the levels of developer contributions, work together to boost awareness raising initiatives (including rangers) and, with funding from the Local Enterprise Partnerships, landowners and businesses, create significant new recreation sites outside of protected areas
5.3.Through consultation, develop mechanisms through which those who benefit from recreation facilities can contribute towards their maintenance and the good of the wider Forest. Developing and promoting the voluntary Love the Forest visitor gift scheme, inviting donations to support specific recreation facilities, reviewing where and how much people are charged for parking, larger events and provision of services
5.4.Work with the Government to include incentives for access improvements on private land within future land management grants, where these would benefit the public and reduce (or not increase) pressure on nearby sensitive areas. New walking, cycling and horse riding routes; campsites and other recreation facilities; England Coast Path

5.2. Mitigation schemes are key in and around the Forest, but sadly they need to be drastically redesigned to fit the Forest. Using the Natural England work at Thames Basin Heaths critically undervalues our much richer and under pressure habitat. This is why we proposed a project to make mitigation for development in and near the Forest fit for purpose.

5.3. We welcome allowing for the possibility of charging Forest users, but this should be stated more clearly. If the charging model is adopted, there would likely be backlash, but a sound rationale should be developed to justify this move. A more specific view of what this would fund (enforcement, education, infrastructure maintenance etc) would make the value of charging clearer.

5.4. We outright reject the notion that “where these would benefit the public and reduce (or not increase) pressure on nearby sensitive areas.” could result in the England Coast Path, which under current proposals only increases pressure on our most disturbance sensitive highly designated Coastal habitats.

Data and evidence – to help guide the work
Objective 6: Collate data and evidence to help inform the ongoing management of recreationThere is ample evidence of the benefits of quiet outdoor recreation to our health and wellbeing. It is also clear that people sometimes impact in negative ways on each other, on sensitive wildlife and on important aspects of the working New Forest. The actions in this strategy can and should therefore be progressed.

However, more data and evidence would help target resources more effectively and efficiently, clarify trends in recreation, help predict which interventions are most likely to work and monitor the success of different recreation management initiatives.

 

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
6.1.Through existing or new forums, collate existing data and evidence, agree which data can most usefully be used as ‘key indicators’, identify gaps in knowledge and develop plans to improve the evidence-base used by organisations that manage recreation in the New Forest. Species population data, habitat condition assessments, frequency of incidents caused by recreation, numbers of people taking part in different recreation activities, traffic counts and visitor data from tourism businesses
6.2.Analyse and publish data on a repeat or rolling basis to assess trends in recreational activity and on aspects of the New Forest that might be affected. Analysing data to show the degree to which recreation management interventions achieve the desired effect, State of the Park Report, Annual Monitoring Reports for local plans

 

Evidence based decision making should be at the heart of management across the Forest, not merely for recreation. Although it is acknowledged that the Forest is a highly designated Habitat for conservation, it is relatively poorly surveyed. A Recreation Management Strategy demands a more thorough, cohesive knowledgebase to be able to move forward, particularly in respect to spatial management decisions (as in the canard of Action 4.2. proposing spatial maps absent sufficient data/evidence). This does present an opportunity for fostering useful research, surveys and a more comprehensive understanding of populations of local flora and fauna and their sensitivities.

We agree with the element of 6.1. that useful key indicators must be identified and agreed, but would add further that an agreed minimum level or granularity of data is necessary. This would allow pragmatic decisions to be made once some basic understandings have been achieved, avoiding analysis paralysis. We would quibble slightly with 6.2., the emphasis on “trends of activity” over habitat that is (not “might”) be affected.

Adaptive monitoring and implementation – keeping the strategy alive
Objective 7: Regularly review progress against agreed recreation management actions and adapt forward plans to protect the special qualities of the National Park and enable people to enjoy and benefit from them

It is impossible to predict the degree to which the actions in this strategy will be achieved, especially given the ambitious nature of some actions that will depend on new resources being found. However, the six organisations on the RMS Steering Group intend to remain focussed on protecting the Forest for the benefit of future generations; they will therefore continue to meet, monitor progress and consider how to respond to changing circumstances.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
7.1.Regularly review the implementation of the actions in this strategy and the degree to which they achieve the desired outcomes. Feedback from lead organisations, reports from joint forums, trends in the occurrence of incidents, analysis of the effectiveness of interventions where this is possible, feedback from user groups
7.2.Where actions are not progressed or finalised, consider what could be done to redress the situation and gain agreement for revised actions where possible. Find new resources or prioritise the most important actions
7.3.Review and update the Recreation Management Strategy actions after five years. Consultation with user groups, local organisations and the public

Reviews and updates are the minimum due diligence to any plan. There’s no objection to its obvious inclusion, but this is another disconnect as to why it is necessary for these elements to be rated on a like/dislike scale in an online opinion poll.

Many of the “actions” from the rest of this proposal are so vaguely defined that it will be difficult to establish criteria. The promise of a “review and update” after five years seems a bit hollow coming from the Park Authority which in eight years has not reviewed the actions of the current strategy, despite containing the same five year promise.

We will continue to insist that a Strategy must contain a Plan with more precisely defined actions, these are mostly ideas and guiding principles about what actions might be done.

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Recreation Management: Adjusted Expectations

Our Strategic (or perhaps less than) Approach to the RMS Review

We welcomed the review of the National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy, the core policy document whose difficult birth plagued the early years of the Park. Little of its 60 actions, including straightforward surveys and a five year review had been achieved. It is to the credit of the Authority officers that they mooted this review, which was accepted unenthusiastically at the March 2017 meeting by the Authority membership in the manner of a recalcitrant child taking medicine.

This review is an opportunity to raise the profile of Recreation Management in the Forest, to revisit the extensively publicly consulted upon 2010 Strategy, to create a more focused Plan featuring fully specified high-priority projects to address the ageing infrastructure, education and large increases of use resulting from growth of development on our borders.

Since then the red flags have gone up with the confusing, unrepresentative survey, its poor interpretation, and the drive this year to engage in a similarly, perhaps even more empty and simplistic exercise in public engagement. (for more about our concerns with the surveys read here)

We have at every step of the way offered the NPA constructive criticisms of both the content and method of this review.

When questioned directly as to how the review in any way improves on the existing Strategy, NPA Officers and Members have given certain responses (which I’ve taken few liberties in paraphrasing):

  • All is well because the surveys and proposals have been signed off by the partner organizations (gnomically tautological, often with flourish pointing to their logos).

  • The “actions” of the original strategy weren’t “owned” by the relevant organizations, which need to deliver the objectives.

  • This Strategy will call for the partners and others to volunteer initiatives to deliver actions and objectives which will deliver Recreation Management.

All the partner organizations were part of the extensive consultation that produced the existing strategy, to suggest that they never really signed up to those objectives is a ripe nonsense. The objectives of the existing Strategy are “owned” by definition by the National Park which includes that Strategy as one of its core documents. Whilst it’s true that the Park Authority has limited direct responsibilities and powers, it’s incumbent on them to use their influence on those organizations that do, and there is a legal obligation for those bodies to listen and act accordingly.

Case in point: the Natural England SAC management Plan 2000 prescribed that campsites in A&O woodlands be shut down with their camping provision perhaps moved elsewhere. The FC are under an obligation to make this happen. The National Park should be monitoring camping provision for the whole of the Forest, including the licensing of “pop-up” campsites which may very well be providing that alternative provision organically. The National Park, obligated by their purpose to conserve, should encourage the FC to fulfill the SAC management plan, and use its leadership and influence to help smooth the way for this action.

This is not merely a case in point. It is an Action pledged under the existing 2010 Strategy. Oddly it seems to have been dropped from the new version. Whilst all this should happen because of obligations outside the purview of the Strategy, it is entirely within to help chivvy it along.

There might be the view that the Friends of the New Forest / NFA should play a longer game, presume that the vague well-meaning mishmash will eventually garner useful concrete proposals fully supported by the partner organizations, and that these will also magically cover the statutory obligations given little or no space in the proposals. Given the lack of follow through on the 2010 plan, and the failure of the Park Authority, both officers and members to take on board our criticisms of this version of the strategy over the last year, we lack confidence in their ability to steer this course. We would fail our duty as a critical friend of the Park if we merely patted them on the back for their effort and patronised them with a “bless!” and perhaps a gold stick-on star.

This may risk a chilly relationship between us as the National Park Society for the New Forest, but they are public servants, they are indulging our resources and they should expect criticism for below par output. As little we’ve said has deterred them so far, we can at least demand from them a swift roster of actual plans following on from this survey process which would quell our concerns, and attract our praise, which will be equally vocal and public should they hit the mark. Otherwise we’ll continue to watch as they tread water and ignore all the life preservers we helpfully lob in their direction, mindful that this delays useful and needed action to the detriment of the Forest.

We still have faith in the potential of the National Park to deliver a coherent plan which we could support, and what we have before us contains many of the right ideas amongst the blather. The Authority needs to show a willingness to propose specific solutions which could include difficult choices which they would defend publicly. We await their leadership.

This is part of our ongoing coverage of the National Park Authority’s review of the Recreation Management Strategy which we ultimately support, but have grave disappointments in the conduct and current proposals to date.
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