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Chris Packham Pushes For Unicorn Rewilding in the New Forest

Unicorn in Puckpitts Inclosure drift pound circa 1700.

This article originally appeared in the 1st April, 2019 edition of the Lymington Tomes / Miltonian Adverteaser and is reprinted without any regard to their permission.

Miltonian Adverteaser / Lymington Tomes correspondent Olivia Narwhall.

Celebrity naturalist, and tadpole tapas enthusiast, Chris Packham has demanded that Natural England reintroduce unicorns to the New Forest.

“We are living at a time when there is catastrophic species decline, loss of habitat, and still no definitive method for eating Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and although I can find no correlation between those problems and the absence of unicorns, I feel this is a solution that will really work.

“Unlike the marauding ponies which have turned the Forest into a hellscape which SSSI * condition Natural England have rated as 10% above average, the unicorn’s horns prevent them from browsing trees. The rainbows they emit will be a welcome additional benefit in climate change drought periods.

The Forestry Commission was sympathetic, “our attempt to breed Gruffalo at Bolderwood did not go well, and could have made us elf-shelve our literary mission to fictionalize 20% of the Crown Lands by 2022. Many members of the public support this unfounded reintroduction because unicorns are ‘Shiny!’.

Official Verderer, and syndicated advice columnist, Lord Willie Manners expressed concerns over DEFRA’s handling of the issue. “At this time we have little confidence that DEFRA could resolve the unicorn subsidy post-Brexit, although they have submitted one proposal by tapestry. Also, despite having the requisite stature, our Head Agister is unwilling to undergo species reassignment to become a Centaur.”

Commoners Defence Association head, Tony Hockley, who once successfully talked a leprechaun out of his gold, “Packham continues to undervalue the contribution that Commoning makes to the Forest. He has made similar claims before. In 2008 he suggested overgrazing was responsible for the disappearance of faerie rings, that was shown to be commercial fungi foragers, in 2016 incidents blamed on ponies of barking of beech trees were traced to a donkey possessed by the conifer goddess Pitthea.

“On the other hand, the Commoning community is fully up to the challenge of Forest run unicorns, which will require its own set of breeding and stallion programmes and drifts. We can certainly see the promise of future Beaulieu Road sales with Fantastic Beasts.

Eleanor of Castille and Unicorn at Queen’s Bower, New Park circa 1340

Local historian who’s never been mistaken for a warlock, Richard Reeves, blames the media. “Those documentary makers kept goading me for a soundbite, I told them the Forest was ‘Magical’, townie middleclass idiots literally didn’t understand that was figurative.” Then, citing dozens of primary sources, including Borges , Richard regaled the room with a complete cryptozoology of the New Forest, which caused one of our reporter’s heads to explode with the rapid influx of information.

The Freshwater Habitats Trust has opposed “Unfortunately, the glitter unicorns produce, in the same ways cattle exude methane, degrades into microplastics which would sully the otherwise pristine waters of the New Forest Catchments.”

Friends of the New Forest Chair, John Ward sighed, “It is disappointing that this proposal seems slightly less mythical than the Park Authority’s Strategy for Recreation Management.”

New Forest Association Habitat Committee Chair, and man who continues talking 30 seconds after you stopped listening, Brian Tarnoff objected, “We are appalled that this should be a priority when New Forest District Council are in the process of destroying the green belt, which will harm biodiverse network connectivity, this will deter visitors such as the Pegasus on its migration between Greece and Iceland. §” He then outlined the generational crisis which will be caused by the NFDC Local Plan, but we thought that unimportant to our vital stoking of this celebrity unicorn controversy.

Ministry of Magic Appointed Verderer Anthony Pasmore, hastily shuffling parchment maps of leylines between New Forest barrows, tumuli and boiling mounds to the bottom of the pile, called the move “too little, too late! There was a time when visitor numbers were kept in check by simple warding spells and the Forestry Commission’s Werewolf Keepers. The disturbance by dog walkers, spread of monkshood, decline in leeches and ban on newt harvest have put paid to those hallowed traditions.”

“A few impalings might also warn off detectorists, once they learn how sensitive unicorns are about ancient monuments.” Pasmore added with a wry, withering look.

Brockenhurst resident, Observer Film Critic, and ex-member of The Railtown Bottlers, Mark Kermode, who often refers to the New Forest as “Narnia”, did not comment, but cryptically offered greetings to Lucius Malfoy.

In other news: Worshippers erect Pylon Sized Wicker Man at Hale Purlieu and invite a National Grid representative to assist search for missing schoolgirl. National Park one step closer to creating Green Halo after radiation leak. ABP Withdraw Application For Deep Water Port at Dibden Bay, submit Plan for Affordable Housing For Mer-people in its place. Man engaged in recreational activity on the Forest annoys other people doing other recreational activities on Forest. Film at 11.

Whilst the provenance of this article is without question at the time of its original publication, doubt may be cast on its validity when the noonday gun has sounded.

UPDATE (12 am 1st April) : This just in, Science says unicorns don’t exist, so apparently this article has been the act of a fabulist, and just in time for the closing of the HLS (High Level Sorcery) scheme.  Thanks to all those who have been good sports, and hope we’ve not spawned any basilisks.  Those responsible have not been sacked, but those who were responsible for sacking those responsible have been sacked.

Here’s a taste of last year’s silliness, a report on leaked plans for the Recreation Management Strategy.

* SSSI — Site of Special Speculative Imagination
Manual de zoología fantástica (later El libro de los seres imaginarios, Book of Imaginary Beings), Jorge Luis Borges with Margarita Guerrero, Fondo de Cultura Económica (1957); Dutton (1969)
Literally. Richard still refuses to pay the dry cleaning bill.
§ Olympus, Greece to Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, often stopping en route to chat to The Bisterne Dragon at Burley Beacon.

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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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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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England Coast Path: What can I do about it?

We suggest some representations you might wish to make.  And discuss how the format of the consultation is restrictive.

In the run up to the end of the consultation on the Highcliffe-Calshot stretch, we’ve put together a series of articles about the England Coast Path.   Now with precious time to spare, you may want to respond to the consultation. (if you want to refresh your memory on everything we’ve posted so far on the subject (including this article))
http://newforestassociation.org/tag/england-coast-path/

Here’s where you can find all the proposal documents including the forms for responses:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/england-coast-path-from-highcliffe-to-calshot-comment-on-proposals

First, let’s hunker down on what hoops Natural England have set for us to jump through.  There are two types of response you may make, “Objections” and “Representations”, both with different forms to fill out.  We have been told that if you do not use the forms for your response, your response may by discretion be ignored (and some have informally been advised that they would be ignored).  In some instances you may do both.

Only owners/tenants/occupiers of land directly effected by the route may make “objections”, but these are limited to specific grounds:

  1. The position of any part of the proposed route shown on the map(s)
  2. Where we have proposed (or not proposed) that the route should “roll back” in response to erosion or other forms of coastal change, or the nature of our proposal
  3. Where we have proposed (or not proposed) an alternative route (in addition to the ordinary route), or the position of the alternative route or any part of it.
  4. Where we have proposed (or not proposed) that the landward boundary of the coastal margin should coincide with a physical feature such as a fence or wall, or the nature of our proposal
  5. Where we have proposed (or not proposed) an access exclusion or restriction, or the nature of our proposal
  6. Where we have proposed (or not proposed) to extend the route to any point between the open coast and the first public foot crossing point on a river.

“Representations” are not limited in subject matter / grounds, and owners/tenants/occupiers may make these as well (and are invited on the forms to identify themselves).  Anyone else may also make representations as individuals or group representatives.  In both types, multiple forms would have to be submitted if commenting on non-contiguous portions of the route.  Each form must identify a single “land parcel” or several adjoining ones.  Again, you may choose to depart from guidance, but run the risk of being ignored.

1 & 2. For our purposes here you’ll need to look through Chapters 3, 4 or 5 of the proposals.  These 3 Chapters alone propose 114 discrete sections of the route from Lymington Bridge (East) to Calshot (and that’s excluding possible Alternate Routes, which we have little to worry about as in this instance there’s only two bits along public highway from Inchmery Lane to Lepe Road, and Alternate Routes do not create additional Coastal Margin).  54 of those sections aren’t on current established Rights of Way, 21 of these sections classified as “Other existing walked” 33 sections are new “not an existing walked route”.  You can choose any of these for comment, I’d suggest an area you know well, or if you don’t know, go for one of the new ROW as these may be the most problematic.

For your additional research, I suggest looking at the Government’s Magic Map page http://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx.  This lets you zoom into the area where your route sections are, you can turn off useful layers (layer menu is on the top left of the map ) under Designations / Sites of Special Scientific Interest (England) / Special Areas of Conservation (England) / Special Protection Areas (England) etc, also with useful Marine designations).  This is somewhat necessary as the consultation maps do not provide this information in any useful context or detail (there’s one map in the Overview which does not show the route and how it or Coastal Margin interact with the habitat and other designations).

3. Those listed in Schedule 1 Coastal Access reports, those with sport shooting rights and the following organizations: BASC; British Mountaineering Council; Country Land and Business Association; NFU; Open Spaces Society; Ramblers ; RSPB have to identify themselves (as if they were marked! — do you suppose they get a knock on the door asking how they were recruited to these shady organizations?).

4. “relevant interest” means that you are a legal owner / tenant / occupier of the land in question (i.e. you would also be able to make an “Objection”)

5. Here’s the real meat of the Representation, what ever concerns you about the report in such a way as to show that it “fails to strike a fair balance” between the provision of Coastal Access Duty and personal, statutory, local or National Interests.  National interests would include honouring the protections to habitat in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and other agreements and law that specify relevant habitat designations.  Either think of your own concerns that fit the bill, look through our other articles for extensive critique, and/or use almost any of the points below which sadly will apply to much of the route.

  • The Sensitive Features Appraisal fails to carry out a full Habitats Regulation Assessment to assess impact of this section of the route, route facing mitigation measures may not be presumed to work, and in the context of Coastal Margin which may allow incursion through the Margin from other directions, the proposed mitigation is flimsy.
  • Presumption that this route has no significant impact has not been proven in the absence of the full Habitats Regulation Assessment, or the possibly illegal inclusion of the proposed mitigation at the screening stage.
  • Because of the poor presentation on the maps provided it is difficult to judge the relationship between the route, potential Coastal Margin, excepted land and exclusions.
  • The Ordnance Survey’s practice of showing all potential Coastal Margin as access land will mislead many off this route section onto protected habitats and dangerous salt marshes.
  • Dogs should be on leads for all sections adjacent or through protected habitats, grazing or back-up land for livestock.
  • Using the least restrictive option principle as a standard for the Sensitive Features Appraisal is wholly inappropriate in the context of a National Park.
    • The least restrictive option principle has no basis whatsoever in the Legislation,
    • whereas within a National Park, the Sandford principle which favours conservation over recreation where they may not be reconciled is enshrined in the 1949 Act and subsequent Acts.

6 & 7. Self Explanatory, note because you are expected to submit separate forms for each contiguous stretch you criticise, you may have made other representations about the same report.  8. Again, harking back to #4. If you are and owner/tenant/occupier, have you also made out an “objection” form for between 1 and 6 statutorily granted reasons.

9 & 10. Tell them who you are, and send it in.  At this late date, you’ll want to use the email. (southcoastalaccess@naturalengland.org.uk)

Now I think it’s worth noting, if you haven’t already caught on, but the format of this consultation is onerous.  Some of the questions on the forms themselves require specialist knowledge, or a visit to a separate document that explains some, but not all of the questions.  You are told to submit multiple forms for multiple sections.

By virtue of the fact that the forms are geared around references to sections of the route, there is no way to identify portions of the Coastal Margin you may wish to comment on,  the seaward portion of the Margin is never explicitly delineated on the maps, although there is a useless box, often sitting on the map obscuring features that explains the Margin is the whole seaward side but for Excepted Land and Exclusions, and the maps do not depict these either for reference.  The maps do not show the boundaries of legally protected designated habitats, so it is not easy to judge whether the section has an impact.  There is no direct way to reference any of the supporting documents.  There’s much wrong with the Sensitive Features Appraisal itself, the forms don’t really offer you a way to make those comments.

So, if you’ve any spare time between now and Midnight Wednesday 8th of May 2018.  Download and fill out the form and email it in.  Even if you miss the deadline, keep sending them in with the complaint that an extension to the consultation should have been granted as Natural England have produced a report of much greater size and complexity than any to date, with unhelpful maps to judge the proposals by, and they took more than an extra year to do it : they should be obligated to produce useable maps and allow another four weeks.

Finally, while you’re at it, go to the link to this article on our Facebook page and just leave the reference to the section on which you commented.  Thanks for your help!

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England Coast Path: What you need to know

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

Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

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

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

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

Increased use and disturbance

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

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

Sensitive Features

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Coming Soon:

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

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

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Whistleblower Leaks Plan to Convert Forest To Car Park

artist’s sketch of the whistleblower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fungi

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

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

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

England Coast Path

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

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

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


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

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

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

[§] Schedule 8 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

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

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

England Coast Path

The England Coast Path (ECP) will create new non-historically based Rights of Way which may also join up existing Rights of Way, including the Solent Way. It will also provide spreading room in the form of the coastal margin defined between the route of the path and the water’s edge. This is particularly problematic as our coast includes a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected habitats of international importance alongside which the route will necessarily skew inland. The New Forest Association wish to raise concerns about the scheme, many of which will pertain regardless of the published route.

Increased use and disturbance:

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

Coastal Margin:

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

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

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

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

Weak Habitat Protection:

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

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

Purpose:

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

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

Consultation on the Highclifffe – Calshot stretch:

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

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

Yours,

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


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

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

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