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Protect Heathlands by Restricting Sky Lanterns and Fireworks Along With Barbecues

We believe the susceptibility of our heathlands to wildfires is the crux of the proposed public space protection order that seeks to ban barbecues on the Crown Lands.  The order ought to be expanded to restrict sky lanterns and fireworks, which would be just as likely to ignite a devastating blaze.

Our Trustee / Council member, Brian Tarnoff made this recommendation in a Presentment to the Verderers Court 16th November 2022.

NFDC Public Space Protection Orders and Heathland Fires
We broadly support both of the two PSPOs focussed on the Crown Lands, aimed at preventing wildfires, and banning the inappropriate feeding and petting of Forest Livestock.

The Dorset Open Land PSPO [*] which came into force on 1st July 2022 included prohibition on:

a. placing, throwing or dropping items likely to cause a fire,
b. lighting fires, barbeques (including disposable barbeques), Chinese lanterns or fireworks,
c. using items which either (i) cause a naked flame or (ii) pose a risk of fire

The NFDC draft uses much the same language, but excludes restrictions on fireworks and sky lanterns.   All other extant PSPOs targeting wildfires on moorlands, coastal and heathland habitat have the same restrictions as Dorset. [†]

Over 190 councils in England have committed to banning sky lanterns, many have included this ban in their PSPOs.  Both Hampshire County Council and New Forest District Council have banned sky lanterns from events they permit on their own land.  (The National Park says they have banned sky lanterns on their web page on wildfires, but it is unclear if they have any practical way at their disposal to enforce this ban.)

NFDC may balk at inclusion by insisting that they need more direct evidence of the threat from sky lanterns and fireworks to progress the PSPO.  Clearly more than ten other authorities were able to meet the legal requirement for those prohibitions in their PSPOs.  It may be difficult to find specific remains of either fire source in the aftermath of a 200 hectare heathland fire, and if anything we’d rather not have further evidence beyond what a sensible risk analysis from the Fire Service might supply.  There is ample evidence that our heathlands will be susceptible to wildfires, we should guard against every probable source.

Sky lanterns and Fireworks ought to be added to the PSPO:

  • Consistent with best practice as shown in other PSPOs.
  • Consistent with rules of the authority on our Western border, where crossborder incidents have and may occur.
  • Balance of probability that the risk of wildfires to the public outweighs the negligible loss of enjoyment in the public space of these activities.
  • The increasing risk of summer wildfires as the effects of climate change continue.

We hope that the Verderers will consider this in their response to the consultation.

This is part of our series on PSPOs. Other articles include:
Our report on the NFDC PSPOs going forward to consultation on fires/barbecues and feeding/petting ponies.How Our Recommendations for Dog PSPO fit with New Forest Dog Walking Code, and Kennel Club Guidance (forthcoming)

ENDNOTES

[*] The Dorset Open Land Anti-social Behaviour Related Public Spaces Protection Order 2022  https://www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/w/public-space-protection-orders-for-anti-social-behaviour

Dorset’s BBQ and campfire/wildfire policy and sky lantern and balloon release Equality Impact Assessment

https://www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/w/bbq-and-campfire/wildfire-policy-and-sky-lantern-and-balloon-release-equality-impact-assessment-eqia-

[†] Other moorland, heathland and coastal habitat wildfire PSPO’s, all with the same restrictions as Dorset’s:

Dorset County Barnsley
Oldham Tameside
Kirklees City of Bradford
High Peak Borough Council Bolton Council
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council
Calderdale West Yorkshire Newark and Sherwood District Council

 

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NFDC Cabinet Advances Prohibitions on Forest Pony Feeding and Barbecues to Consultation

New Forest District Council has sent two draft Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) for the Forest to address fires, barbecues, pony feeding and petting to public consultation.

In the first of a series on PSPO’s we discuss these two orders, our broad support, and initial suggestions.

At the 2nd November New Forest District Council Cabinet meeting, members approved two draft Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) for public consultation.  The first to ban the lighting of fires and use of BBQs (principally on the Crown Lands), and the second to ban the feeding and petting of ponies, horses, mules, and donkeys in the open areas of the New Forest.  We broadly support both of these PSPO’s, and hope that the addition of these restrictions will make a significant difference with these issues. Years of positive messaging have not always succeeded.  These PSPO’s allow fixed penalties notices of £100 to be issued, giving more bite to the byelaws and guidance already in place.

PSPO’s are meant prohibit anti-social behaviours or require certain restrictions on activities within a public space.  Their framework was established in the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.  Each PSPO must undergo public consultation, pertains to specified public space within a defined area, lasts for 3 years before review and repeated consultation.  The Act requires that the target behaviour is detrimental to those in the locality, is persistent, is unreasonable, and justifies restrictions imposed under the order.  Guidance specifies PSPOs should be used responsibly and proportionately in response to issues that cause anti-social behaviour and where necessary to protect the public.

Petting and feeding the Forest’s semi-feral ponies will alter their behaviour, making them more aggressive, apt to bite or kick if subsequently denied human food, and tempting them to spend more time on roads where they are more vulnerable to accidents.  This makes them a danger to the public and themselves.  Their natural diet is grazing the Forest, altering this can lead to digestive problems, and even death from choke or colic.  Misguided, well meaning leaving of carrots, apples, grass cuttings has led to deadly consequences.

At the Cabinet Meeting, Commoners Defence Association Chair Charlotte Lines welcomed the PSPO targeting inappropriate interactions with Forest ponies. “The continued petting and feeding of our legally depastured animals is ever increasing.  Whilst education and signage has its place, and helps to a degree, it’s not been enough in recent years, and now is the time to implement stronger measures.  The Public Space Protection Order will be vital in ensuring the Forest and our animals are protected so that they can continue to provide the essential service of grazing which is needed to maintain and enhance the landscape and the ecological diversity we see today.”

The NFDC documents referred to our Byelaw Watch surveys within their evidence base for this PSPO.  During six weeks in autumn 2021, the survey reported 150 instances of livestock being fed by the public.  This year, between 25th July 2022 – 31st August 2022,  a Forest wide survey including more than 98 observers, reported 187 instances of livestock being fed and/or petted.  Another 66 instances were recorded in our static snapshot survey of Nine popular car parks on August 29th Bank Holiday Monday 10:00 am – 2:30 pm.

We will be refining our response to the upcoming consultation, but for now we’d note that NFDC might take a page from other councils which alongside similar measures for fires and barbecues, have also banned or restricted fireworks.   Over 190 councils in England have committed to banning sky lanterns, many have included this ban in their PSPO’s.  The National Park says they have banned sky lanterns on their web page on wild fires, but it is unclear if they have any practical way at their disposal to enforce this ban.

The 2018 moorlands fire near Stalybridge destroyed 4,500 acres, killed many farm animals, necessitated evacuation of 150 residents. Troops assisted 15 fire services.  The smoke affected air quality across the north west of England.  The Environment Agency estimated the cost from moorland damage at:

  • 26,281 tonnes of carbon dioxide were released, valued at £1.68 million
  • 15,400 tonnes of carbon sequestration capacity was lost, valued at £3.6 million (capacity to take in and store carbon as peat)
  • 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent) is stored in the moor valued at £121 million
  • 7810 tourist visitors per year were lost, valued at £205,000

Afterwards many local authorities in that area (including Tameside, Oldham and High Peak Borough) introduced PSPO’s prohibiting activities carrying a significant risk of causing wildfires: lighting a barbecue, building or lighting any kind of fire, and lighting fireworks or launching sky lanterns carrying an open flame.

The summer 2020 Wareham Forest Fire impacted approx. 220 hectares of heath and woodland, and saw firefighters from all 50 of Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service stations involved in the major incident that lasted over two weeks.  The number of incidents in Dorset relating to BBQs between 2016 and 2020:

2016 –

4

2017 –

3

2018 –

16

2019 –

18

2020 –

74

The Dorset Open Land Anti-social Behaviour Related Public Spaces Protection Order 2022 came into force on 1st July 2022 which included prohibition on:

a. placing, throwing or dropping items likely to cause a fire,
b. lighting fires, barbeques (including disposable barbeques), Chinese lanterns or fireworks,
c. using items which either (i) cause a naked flame or (ii) pose a risk of fire

The language for the NFDC PSPO is almost the same, excepting the exclusion of sky lanterns and fireworks.  With drier hotter summers expected, we should look to prospective threats.  We will join others in encouraging NFDC to include these prohibitions explicitly.

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Dog Public Space Protection Order: A Statement to NFDC Council Cabinet

We add our suggestions for a possible Dog Public Space Protection Orders to our broad support for the two proposed New Forest District Council PSPOs to stop inappropriate interaction feeding of Forest Ponies, and banning fires and BBQs on the Forest.  This statement was given by our Trustee / Council member, Brian Tarnoff in the Public Participation section of the NFDC Cabinet meeting on 2nd November 2022.  Here we include the Endnotes separately shared with Cabinet Members.

This is part of our series on PSPOs.  Other articles include:
Our report on the NFDC PSPOs going forward to consultation on fires/barbecues and feeding/petting ponies.

How Our Recommendations for Dog PSPO fit with New Forest Dog Walking Code, and Kennel Club Guidance (forthcoming)

Dog PSPO

We commend the council for considering Public Space Protection Orders to bring forward measures to address inappropriate interaction with Forest livestock, and banning the use of barbecues and open flames on the Crown Lands.  However, positive control of dogs is a priority widely suggested by the National Park, Forestry England[i] and the Verderers [ii].

East Hampshire District Council successfully brought out a PSPO for controls on dogs in November 2021. [iii]  Similar rules for the New Forest could be mandated which would be entirely consistent with the New Forest National Park’s Dog Walking Code [iv] which is supported by all stakeholders in the New Forest Dogs Forum, including New Forest Dog Owners Group.

Such an order may include:

  • Leads to be mandatory:
    • When their use is requested by any staff of the relevant land managers, including rangers, keepers, agisters, etc. [consistent with FE byelaw 5.xiv.]
    • In areas designated by the land managers of the Crown Lands, adjacent commons or reserves, primarily during ground nesting bird season, but for any other reasonable management purpose intended to reduce disturbance to wildlife or commoner’s stock.
    • Along all stretches of the England Coast Path[v] that are directly adjacent or include within their coastal margin either fields containing livestock, or sites of importance to nature conservation (including SSSI, and/or any areas exempted from coastal margin by Natural England).
  • Out of control dogs worrying/chasing/attacking livestock.
  • Persistent dog fouling of car parks and paths.
  • Littering, including leaving bagged faeces.

The district council should not treat this as a political hot potato.   There is nothing here not already agreed to by the key stakeholders.  While it is possible to roll out PSPO’s separately, you would address an arguably more prevalent set of issues in a more timely fashion, and save on time / expense / effort of separate consultations.

I myself am a dog owner who enjoys the privilege of exercising our dogs under close control on the Forest.  I also represent Friends of the New Forest, a conservation organization, on the New Forest Dogs Forum (as well as the Recreation Management Strategy Advisory Group).  As a responsible dog owner I would like to see measures rolled out that would further positive education.  The Forest is an important remaining bastion for wildlife, and a working forest for commoning. By introducing consequences we may get the attention of those who take our Forest for granted.


ENDNOTES:

[i] From the Forestry Commission Byelaws:

Acts Prohibited on the Lands of the Commissioners

  1. No person shall in or on the lands of the Commissioners:-
    xii. permit any animal in his charge to be out of control;
    xiv. permit a dog for which he is responsible to disturb, worry or chase any bird or animal or, on being requested by an officer of the Commissioners, fail to keep the dog on a leash;

https://www.forestryengland.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Forestry%20Commission_Byelaws.pdf

[ii] Verderers Minutes Jan 2021 page 12:

DOGS-ON-LEADS
As with many other issues which are damaging to the Forest, enforcing a dogs-on-leads policy would be extremely difficult. Byelaws are an unwieldy and expensive means of enforcing the law and an alternative is badly needed in the Forest. The Official Verderer suggested it would be best to wait for a legally enforceable solution to verge parking to be identified, as a similar solution may be possible to try to reduce the impact of other undesirable activities on the Forest – out of control dogs being one. Meanwhile, the Deputy Surveyor said he will investigate Public Space Protection Orders again to see if there is any way they can be used.

https://www.verderers.org.uk/app/uploads/2021/02/Verderers-Court-Minutes-January-2021.pdf

 

[iii] East Hampshire District Council’s PSPO :

  • requires dog owners in the borough to clean up after their dogs and dispose of the waste responsibly.
  • exclusion of dogs from enclosed children’s play areas.
  • an offence not to put a dog on a lead when instructed to by an officer authorised by the council for that purpose.
  • enables officers to issue fixed penalty notices if a dog owner is not adhering to these rules.

https://www.easthants.gov.uk/dogs-east-hampshire

https://www.easthants.gov.uk/public-space-protection-order-dogs-pdf-5-mb

 

[iv] New Forest National Park’s Dog Walking Code:

Stay safe and respect the environment:

  • Carry a lead for each dog in your care.
  • All dogs must wear collars with ID tags with the owner’s name and address.
  • Park only in designated car parks, not on a verge or in a gateway.
  • Keep dogs on leads in and around car parks and alongside roads.
  • Do not allow your dog to chase or attack livestock, deer or any other wildlife.
  • Keep your distance from grazing animals, especially mothers and their young.
  • Release your dog if threatened or chased by cattle, ponies or other animals to get to safety separately.
  • Dogs must always be under effective control when on a public right of way (for example through farmland); keep them on the path and do not allow them to stray onto adjacent land.
  • Keep your dog to the main tracks when birds are nesting on the ground (usually March – July).
  • Throughout the year, avoid disturbing coastal birds by exercising your dogs away from them.
  • Keep well away from any work taking place such as forestry and pony round-ups, and observe warning signage.
  • Pick up after your dog; put bagged dog poo in a dog waste bin or litter bin, or take it home.

Be considerate to other forest users

  • Always keep all dogs under effective control; if you cannot reliably and quickly call your dog back to you and away from people or other dogs, please keep it on a lead.
  • Keep your dog from jumping up at or approaching other people, especially children, horse riders and cyclists and prevent excessive barking.
  • Keep dogs away from picnics.
  • Show respect for other dogs (especially those displaying yellow as this indicates they need space); if an approaching dog is on a lead, put yours on a lead too.
  • Consider moving aside to let other walkers, cyclists and horse riders past.

https://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/things-to-do/walking/dog-walking/dog-walking-code/

 

[v] England Coast Path – Issues relating to Access For Dog Walkers:

There are key issues surrounding the England Coast Path for the Coast of the New Forest.  The scheme inadvertently creates a combination of factors which would allow new, unwelcome access by dogs to protected habitats, and fields used for livestock, including back up land for commoners animals.  This is due to the way in which “spreading room” referred to as “coastal margin” is defined, the way the Ordnance Survey intends to show the land as access land, and Natural England’s uneven guidance and proposals for the New Forest route.

As defined Coastal Margin creates Access Land for the entire seaward side of the Route to the Waters edge.  Where the route is relatively close to the water, this is less of a problem.  However coastal habitats which need to be avoided send the Route inland, and are therefore automatically included in Coastal Margin. This was not defined in Primary Legislation, but as a statutory instrument.  It was not mooted within the consultation on 2009 Act, presumably bringing forward the spreading limitations of the CROW Act 2000.  The 2010 order was discussed for 20 minutes by 17 MPs in Delegated Legislation Committee, and in Lords Grand Committee in 3 hour meeting with 5 other items.  The order has no provisos for the scenario where Coastal Land is Excluded by Natural England, leaving its definition impracticable.

Highcliffe to Calshot route potentially creates @3,500 acres of access land on protected habitats.  This includes an Area of Special Protection which even the landowner may not enter without Natural England permission (Needs Ore Point, Gull Island and Warren Shore east of Gravelly House are given special levels of legal protection being subject to an Area of Special Protection order in accordance with Section 3 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended)). This order makes it an offence to enter this area and to disturb birds. Entry, except by permit, is prevented to Warren Shore and Needs Ore (1 March-31 July) and to Gull Island (at all times of year).

Natural England have the power to Exclude such areas of the coast from Coastal Margin.  However, the Ordnance Survey have decided to publish the route, and to display all potential access land under a “Magenta Wash”, regardless of whether the land has been excepted or excluded.  They’ve suggested that their printed maps will include a very small print caveat that their “depiction of access does not imply or express warranty as to its accuracy or completeness”.  Given that their data is used by both their own and 3rd Party mapping apps, which will not show this caveat, this policy is useless, and undermining to positive control and messaging about the route.  It is estimated that 75% of the New Forest’s coastal margin will be excepted or excluded land, but would be shown as access land.

Natural England’s proposals for the Highcliffe to Calshot are inconsistent with their own guidance on dog controls.  Only 2 stretches have Dogs on Lead Restrictions for habitat protection, for the rest of the route dogs are only required to be under close control off lead.  The lack of livestock based restrictions ignores NE Coastal Access Scheme Guidance:  2.4.6 “under Part 1 of CROW, a person with a dog must keep it on a short lead in the vicinity of livestock”  And Excepted Land status of  “land covered by pens in use for the temporary detention of livestock” has not been applied consistently along the route.  Unfortunately the Natural England guidance for the Coastal Path says that the route be made to the “least restrictive option”, which places the needs of walkers above conservation.   This invention in the guidance is not mandated in legislation, and within a National Park flies in the face of the Sandford Principle which is enshrined in law.

For the entirety of the New Forest portions of the England Coast Path dogs should be on lead for all sections adjacent to:

  • Protected Habitat (whether or not Excluded)
  • Land in use for Livestock Management
  • Coastal Margin leading to either

Potential Impact on Features of Nature Conservation Importance of increased public access to the coast

  • Damaging levels of trampling on vegetated shingle habitats, and adjacent saltmarsh, with erosion of woodland ground flora.
  • Increased levels of disturbance would have adverse impacts on breeding waders and other ground nesting birds including nesting Ringed plover, Redshank, Lapwing and Avocet.
  • Avocet and other waders and wildfowl nesting on lagoons inland of the coast would be vulnerable to disturbance, in particular from dogs.
  • Impacts on nesting Ringed plover would have an adverse effect on the Solent and Southampton Water SPA & Ramsar Site for which this is a qualifying species.
  • Wildfowl & waders feeding and breeding on grazing marshes, lagoons and improved grassland fields inland of the coast would be very vulnerable to disturbance from public access.
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Notes: Solent Freeport Background

Our statement regarding the Solent Freeport at the New Forest National Park Authority meeting on 20th October 2022 included these Notes and Footnotes for the benefit of the Authority Members.

Further context is in THIS article (forthcoming).

NOTES:

New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis submitted a question about the seeming inclusion of the whole of the New Forest in the provisional boundary of the Freeport.

LEVELLING UP, HOUSING & COMMUNITIES – SOLENT FREEPORT [53254] – 21 September 2022

Dr Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, for what reason the entirety of the New Forest has been included within the provisional boundary of the proposed Solent Freeport.  [53254]

[Due for Answer on 11 October.]

ANSWER

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up (Dehenna Davison):  By delivering investment on specific priority sites, Freeports will create thousands of high-quality jobs in some of our most disadvantaged communities. These sites have been carefully selected for their suitability for development by the local Freeport coalition, which comprises key private partners and Local Authorities who, importantly, provide democratic accountability for the actions of the Freeport. The development sites sit within an ‘outer boundary’ which sets the limit for how far apart they can be and broadly indicates the area they expect to benefit most directly from the Freeport’s economic impacts. While the Solent Freeport outer boundary intersects with the New Forest National Park, this in no way means that the area has been earmarked for development nor does this confer any special planning status. Local authorities retain all their statutory powers and responsibilities, including responsibility for providing planning permission. Freeport status in no way undercuts the local planning process and there is no change to the current planning and environment status of national parks.

https://www.julianlewis.net/covid-written-parliamentary-questions/levelling-housing-communities-solent-freeport

The Government’s assurances in their reply to Julian Lewis [above] do not mention or reaffirm the Duty of Regard to the National Park in the planning process, and given that this government and its predecessors have failed to bolster environment legislation (and may even further dilute), had Natural England assess their own proposals below the standards demanded by legislation, systematically defunded both Parks and the agencies relevant for delivery of environmental and habitat, their ambitious targets seem hollow promises.

 

ENDNOTES:

[i] Statement on NFDC Website, 14 October 2022

No changes to planning and environmental protection says New Forest District Council

New Forest District Council leader, Cllr Edward Heron has written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in response to the call for expressions of interest to become an Investment Zone which was announced by government on 24 September 2022.

The letter reiterates that as a partner in the Solent Freeport, we are keen to secure the greatest benefits for their residents, as well as the local area.

Councillor Edward Heron writes:

“Within the government’s recent Investment Zone opportunity there is much that aligns and enhances the Freeport benefits, both to the tax site areas, and the wider District. The financial incentives are significantly enhanced and it is important that our businesses and developers have the opportunity to benefit from this new offer. For example, securing tax incentives over a 10 year period to 2032 rather than the current Freeport period which expires in 2026 and will make these sites significantly more attractive as a place to locate businesses.

We are keen therefore to explore with Government, and our partners what an Investment Zone could deliver for the Solent Freeport and ultimately our residents and our environment now and in the future, and I have therefore supported the Solent Freeport Board’s expression of interest submitted today.”

The announcement from government made it clear that Investment Zones would only be taken forwards with the support of the Local Planning Authority.

The letter from Cllr Edward Heron goes on to say:

“New Forest District Council supported the Freeport on the basis that the designation would not impact on the statutory planning process that a landowner would need to go through, to seek consent to develop the site.

The indication of support from this Council as the local planning authority is based on the understanding that the current level of environmental protection is assured for the future and on the clear and unequivocal understanding that conversion of the Solent Freeport to an Investment Zone will not include a streamlining of planning, deregulation, or a dilution of the environmental protections that are currently in place. Should this not be the case, then the Council would not support the designation of the Freeport Tax Site within the District as an Investment Zone.

I understand that this commitment is shared by the Freeport Board and we look forward to shaping a unique Investment Zone that delivers sustainable and inclusive growth for the New Forest and wider region.”

The increased Freeport opportunities for investment, regeneration, and employment were endorsed by us during the submission of the Solent Freeport business case to the government in March 2022. The business case carefully considered the Freeport within the context of the environmental designation across the area, working to focus on net zero, green recovery and strengthening the environment.

The Solent Freeport focuses on the Council’s Waterside area with the Waterfront tax site covering four specific landholdings; the former Fawley Power Station, Exxon Mobil, ABP’s Strategic Land Reserve and Marchwood Port (Solent Gateway). The whole District, including the New Forest National Park, is included in the Freeport outer boundary which is intended to ensure that the potential funding and broader benefits from the Freeport can be focused across the whole area.

https://www.newforest.gov.uk/article/3167/No-changes-to-planning-and-environmental-protection-says-New-Forest-District-Council

[ii] The Solent Protection Society review of the Solent LEP’s Freeport Consultation response makes these observations (quotes from the LEP response in italics):

Given the large number of local authorities across the Solent Freeport region, Solent LEP go further, proposing “the establishment of a special Virtual Planning Authority that is facilitated by a coordinating institution with the cooperation of relevant local authorities”. This is a direction which Solent Protection Society believe should be pursued with great caution. There are already well publicised proposals, for example the Aquind Interconnector project near Portsmouth and the Southern Water desalination plant near Fawley, where opportunities for public and local authority scrutiny are being overridden by central governments’ declaration of the initiative as a ‘National Infrastructure Development Project’.

The Solent LEP response also proposes “extending the permitted development rights accorded to ports to include assembly and manufacturing though they believe this would still not improve the planning environment enough to act as an incentive to potential investors. While the expansion of permitted development rights would simplify development processes on seaport land, it would still not allow for the greater freedoms or coordination in higher-level planning required to ensure Freeport success.

In what might seem to some a worrying threat to environmental standards, the Solent LEP go further, suggesting that “existing environmental regulations along much of the UK coastline supersede Permitted Development Rights, further limiting their additional value as an incentive”.

https://solentprotection.org/2021/05/11/what-might-the-solent-freeport-mean-for-the-solent-area/

 

Their updated analysis of Freeport Tax Sites including noting that Dibden Bay is listed as both a Tax and Customs Site (for those trying to disabuse the notion of its development as a port facility).  This notes particularly:

Marchwood Port / ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ – Solent Gateway / ABP

Tax site type – Existing Facility / Greenfield
Customs Site – Marchwood Port / ABP ‘Strategic Land Reserve’
Assumed programme delivery priority – High/Medium

It is notable that ABP have only submitted the northern part of their Dibden Bay ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ for definition as a Freeport tax site. Leaving the southern part of the Dibden Bay site out of the Freeport definition enables ABP to retain an option to keep this part of the ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ for future expansion of its non-freeport operations from the eastern shore.

Current environmental regulations give the Dibden Bay shoreline some level of protection from development, however once the freeport is in operation, developments within its boundary will benefit from the government’s proposed relaxation of planning regulations within freeports. As SPS observed in our report from May 2021, the Solent LEP at page 17 of their consultation response suggested that permitted development rights in freeports should be extended to enable those rights to supersede existing environmental development regulations.

Once development of the northern part of the Dibden Bay shoreline has been permitted under the freeport rules, then a precedent would have been set which could then be used to attempt to override the existing environmental protections outside the freeport boundary in the southern part of the ABP ‘Strategic Land Reserve’.

https://solentprotection.org/2022/03/21/solent-freeport-tax-sites/

[iii] Two bills effecting planning, with overlapping goals for growth are still proceeding forward, expect if one falls the other to remain:

https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1801329/expect-planning-infrastructure-bill

https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1801044/levelling-bill-cards-says-housing-minister-despite-rumours-contrary

 

[iv] Interview with outgoing ABP exec Doug Morrison [including claims for future of Dibden Bay]:
http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/10914052.Port_expansion_will_happen__says_outgoing_boss/

https://solentprotection.org/2014/01/05/dibden-bay-yet/

 

[v] Report to NF NPA Meeting 20/10/2022 by David Illsley, this is the paper that the Authority were to discuss after our  statement in Public Questions.  It outlines the lack of clear guidance from Government surrounding the Investment Zones, issues of implications of the Freeport and Investment Zones on the National Park, and options for the Members to support.
https://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/app/uploads/2021/12/AM-637-22-Solent-Freeport-and-Investment-Zones-update-October-22-Authority-report-1.pdf

 

[vi] The Duty of Regard has already been eroded by NFDC in their most recent local plan:

During the 2019 examination both the Wildlife Trust and RSPB stated categorically that not only had the NFDC failed to show the efficacy of their current mitigation, but NFDC had in no way shown that they could possibly mitigate for their four-fold increase in housing development in the new plan. (also see Endnote ix below)

[vii] HCC failed to initiate the most basic habitat assessment before or since consultations around the proposals for widening the A326. Also, given the years of NFDC consistently overdeveloping the Waterside and permitting development up to the edge of the road, any widening will inevitably impinge on the Forest.

viii] The Campaign For National Parks wrote a brief analysis of the Investment Zones and Freeports, (including the claim that the current sea life disaster off the North York Moors coast are due to dredging at Teesside):

“The Government’s proposed Investment Zones may impact 7 National Parks and 29 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – together accounting for 2 million hectares of our most special landscapes. This follows announcements on Freeports that include the New Forest, Dartmoor and North York Moors National Parks, along with many AONBs, within their boundaries. We only need to look at the ecological disaster unfolding on the North York Moors coast, with growing evidence suggesting this is a direct effect of the Teesside Freeport, to know that unregulated development in these precious landscapes would not end well.”

https://www.cnp.org.uk/blog/%E2%80%9Cnot-blind-opposition-progress-opposition-blind-progress%E2%80%9D

 

Their comments on the Government’s Response:

There is much to be concerned about in the current Government’s proposals to boost growth by “liberalising” planning and doing away with many vital environmental protections. One of the things we’re most concerned about is the proposed investment zones which, as analysis we published last week shows, could impact seven National Parks and 29 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). These areas account for a combined 2 million hectares of landscape, pulling in 250 million visitors last year, and generating an annual economic contribution of £24 billion.

We wrote to Simon Clarke, the new Secretary of State responsible for planning, to highlight these concerns and seek a formal commitment to excluding National Parks and AONBs from investment zones. Our letter also asked for reassurances that there will be no downgrading or removal of the additional planning protections which apply in these areas, including the presumption against major development.

We’ve now had a response from Simon Clarke, which makes lots of positive references to the benefits National Parks deliver, but unfortunately doesn’t give us the reassurances we need. It is good to see that the Secretary of State recognises the contribution of these Protected Landscapes to our identity, economy and environment, and his acknowledgement of the important role for these areas in achieving nature recovery commitments. But rather than ruling out any possibility of investment zones in Protected Landscapes, he says that they will only be allowed where there is local consent.

This doesn’t give us the reassurance we need. The Secretary of State must go further and confirm that there is no way that Investment Zones will go ahead in National Parks and AONBs. Placing the emphasis on local planning authorities to make those decisions brings huge risks, particularly for AONBs which are not planning authorities and have no formal role in decision making. Indeed, the Government set out proposals in the Landscapes Review earlier this year to make AONBs statutory consultees for planning precisely because they don’t currently have a strong enough role in planning decisions.

Dr Rose O’Neill, Chief Executive of Campaign for National Parks said: “We welcome warm words from the Secretary of State, but we need to see firm commitments in policy that Investment Zones will not go ahead in National Parks and AONBs.”

Campaign for National Parks is also very concerned about the impact that investment zones in other areas close to their boundaries could have on National Parks and AONBs. Increased development in neighbouring areas will only increase pressure for new roads and other infrastructure inside Protected Landscapes.

Rose added: “It is absolutely vital that our Protected Landscapes are protected from the impacts of damaging development outside their boundaries too. We only need to look at the ecological disaster unfolding off the coast of the North York Moors National Park, and the growing evidence linking this to the neighbouring Teesside Freeport, to see why it’s so important to protect our most precious landscapes from unregulated development.”

Campaign for National Parks fought for the creation of National Parks over 70 years ago. That they, and AONBs, have been stewarded safely and protected from irresponsible development ever since is one of the biggest successes in public policy in this country. The rules in place to protect them are not “burdensome requirements”: they are a vital part of ensuring we pass this inheritance to future generations.

https://www.cnp.org.uk/news/warm-words-are-not-enough-we-need-firm-commitments-planning-system

The ongoing issues with Teesside Freeport dredging and the DEFRA response to mass sea life poisoning, noted in the CNP’s response:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2340893-whats-causing-a-mass-die-off-of-crabs-on-the-uk-coast/

The RSPB response to recent proposals including “Investment Zones”
https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/millions-called-on-to-stand-up-for-wildlife/

 

[ix] Additionally, the conservation charities agreed with the NFA contention that the mitigation regimes inappropriately use the 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 major SANG to the West at Moors Valley, and plans for similar facilities to the East not yet realized).

NFDC’s standards for SANG’s are not sufficient to create landscape scale alternatives for recreation of sufficient quality to take pressure off the New Forest.  Initiatives to create effective and meaningful landscape scale mitigation projects to relieve recreation pressure on the Forest have been stalled continually, but their fruition should have been a prerequisite to any further development within the District.   A HIOW Wildlife Trust assessment of greenspace provision within Hampshire ranked NFDC third from bottom, just above Portsmouth and Southampton, yet developers seek to erode the NFDC’s already minimal standards for SANG delivery.   The Plan released Green Belt sites for development, rather than considering its potential for large landscape scale alternative greenspace for mitigation.

The Plan also undermined Duty of Regard by making the Fawley Waterside allocation dependent on the destruction of a SINC (Site of Interest to Nature Conservation) within the National Park, which was opposed by some National Park members.

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Solent Freeport Requires Regard for the New Forest National Park

We made this statement regarding the Solent Freeport at the New Forest National Park Authority meeting on 20th October 2022.  The Authority agenda included a discussion of the Freeport, its possible bid for announced Investment Zones, and whether the inclusion of the District, including the Park in the “outer boundary” of the Freeport would undermine the Park, or the habitat protections of the Park’s designated land.

Currently the Solent Freeport Board includes representatives of Hampshire County Council, New Forest District Council, Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Eastleigh Borough Council and Havant Borough Council, and representation from Associated British Ports (ABP), Solent Gateway and the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership(LEP).  The National Park Authority is not a Solent Freeport Board member, but attends meetings in a non-voting capacity.

Text below in square brackets [ ] was omitted from the reading to the Authority, in order to remain within the time requirements for public speaking at Authority meetings.  Notes provided for Authority Members, along with this statement, may be read here, and are given as direct footnote links below.  Further context is in THIS article (forthcoming).

Solent Freeport

The case for excluding NFNPA from a formal decision-making role in relation to the Solent Freeport has not been made. Policy objectives for the Freeport are likely to conflict with both the Statutory Purposes of National Parks, and the 25 Year Environment Plan, notably regarding responsibilities for the protection, conservation, and natural capital enhancement of environmentally sensitive areas. In those respects, the New Forest is of unique global importance which must be recognised. We are deeply concerned by the prospect of further pressure on the special qualities of the National Park due to the proposed Solent Freeport. Simple retention of an ordinary planning regime[i], as promised by New Forest District Council (NFDC), will not ease our concerns, for these reasons:

  • The stated aim for the Port expressed by the Solent LEP [in the consultation [ii]], proponent and Board Member of the Port, is to establish a “Virtual Planning Authority”. They suggest Freeports remove “existing environmental regulations” they claim limit incentives to investors.
  • The current Planning and Infrastructure Bill[iii] and the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill may expand the definition of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning removing local oversight.
  • The ambition of ABP to develop the Dibden Bay SSSI [seen as “inevitable” by their previous chief exec[iv]].
    • They’ve already registered the site for both Tax and Customs [as a fait accompli].
    • NFDC adopted ABP’s label “ABP Strategic Land Reserve” ignoring its habitat designation.
  • The Government’s initial response to the NPA’s queries about the Freeport implications[v] does not mention the Duty of Regard and states only that NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] policy for protected landscapes will continue to apply within Freeport outer zones, excluding the Dibden Bay SSSI.
  • The Duty of Regard has already been eroded by NFDC in their most recent local plan. [as noted by the RSPB and HIOW Wildlife Trust, the unsustainable level of housing development and inadequate mitigation for pressure on the Forest] [vi]
  • Hampshire County Council and other proponents for the widening of the A326 [in part to support the Freeport development] have ignored the consequences to wildlife corridors and public access, showing lack of Duty of Regard. [vii]
  • RSPB, and Campaign for National Parks have expressed concerns about Investment Zones and Freeports. [viii]

The Duty of Regard is key, the National Park will be negatively impacted by Freeport development. The National Park should have oversight through direct representation. The overlapping private interests of ABP, Solent LEP and Solent Gateway should not have disproportionate control.

[The notion that the Freeport could be a useful source of mitigation funding from developments is deeply flawed. The current level of development already in the NFDC Local Plan is well beyond the potential for mitigation. Development beyond these levels involves accepting irreversible damage which cannot be balanced by such small benefits. [ix]]

The Dibden Bay SSSI, an important site in its own right, is a vital support to winter waders that breed on the Open Forest. Its protection, as well as the many other sites for nature connectivity, wildlife corridors and green infrastructure, should be part of the priorities for this Authority outside the park, where nature doesn’t recognize administrative boundaries.

We ask this Authority to thoroughly weigh the implications on the Park’s Purposes, before supporting a Freeport or Investment Zone, or any planning regime that undermines the Duty of Regard. And if it goes forward, regardless of where the boundaries are drawn, the Authority should demand a place on the Board of the Freeport as a full voting member, and pursue a clear policy to block the destruction of the Dibden Bay SSSI.

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Verderers Announcements & Decisions : Cycling

This month’s announcements about cycling responds to a few of the preliminary observations from this year’s Byelaw Watch shared in the September Court by our Vice Chair, Gale Pettifer.

At our last court the New Forest Association reported from its byelaw watch over 700 instances of cycling off the way marked routes in a period between 25th July and 31st August this year.

Regrettably this came as no surprise. The Verderers have over many years expressed to Forestry England their concerns about the ever increasing amount of cyclists who regularly trespass off the approved cycle routes. In recent months we have expressed those concerns both to the Deputy Surveyor and his team and direct to the Chair of Forestry England, providing information about the scale of the issue and its consequences. The result of the New Forest Association’s recent byelaw watch, emphatically reinforces what has been said by the Verderers to Forestry England many times. This is an issue which can no longer be treated by Forestry England as a low priority.

In commenting on this it is all too easy to characterise the Verderers as anti-cycling. That is emphatically not the case. The Verderers are very well aware of the many benefits of cycling and support the existence of the Cycle network. I am not the only Verderer who makes use of the network from time to time.

It is therefore a good time to set out the Verderers’ position in relation to cycling off the approved cycle routes.

Cycling on the Forest is prohibited by Forestry England byelaws (byelaw 6). This is to be contrasted with the position of those on foot who have access to the Forest by right as do horse riders. The grazing stock is also there by right and delivers enormous conservation benefits. The grazing stock has shaped and continues to maintain the Forest’s mosaic of rare, interesting and important habitats.

The Forest of course provides excellent recreational opportunities. However it is also a working forest and an area of remarkable conservation importance and rarity designated as a SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Critically it still retains strong elements of a wilderness with areas where both nature and the stock are left largely undisturbed.

In 2015 a study resulted in the drafting of a map, identifying the level of disturbance across the Forest. The Forest was divided into 5 zones. Zone E was the most tranquil, where there were no well-used cycle tracks and no moderate passive recreation. Zone D in which there were no camp sites and there was no intensive passive recreation. Zone C had no all-year campsites greater than 150 pitches. Zones B and A were the least tranquil. The Tranquil Areas map has been used to reduce and where possible eliminate, disturbance from activities, including organised recreational activities which would significantly impact nature conservation in those sensitive areas.

However, the advent of the mountain bike and now electrically assisted bicycle means that it is ever easier to access vast areas of the Forest. They have contributed to the significant increase in the number of cyclists all over the Forest. Headlamps now throw a beam many metres ahead which can be seen from far away; these facilitate more and more night time cycling, apparently regardless of the impact on nocturnal animals. Tyres often incise into the soft ground, contributing to erosion and as one track becomes impassable another is created. As more and more houses are built within easy driving distance of the Forest the recreational pressure, including cycling, will only increase.

The Verderers recognise that different types of route cater for different cyclists. Some wish to travel from A to B. Others wish to use a circular route returning usually to the car park from where they started. The Verderers do not rule out participating in a review of the Cycle network but such a review must be against the backdrop of control of illegal off route cycling. In any such review preservation of the tranquil and undisturbed areas, links to the car parks, the interests of nature conservation and protection of the fragile environment together with the interest of the commoners must be taken into account as well as the interests of those who wish to use the Forest for recreation.

The issue of concern is not that of the cyclist who gets lost, or the family who inadvertently strays from the network. The issue is those who persistently flout the byelaw. Dog owners whose dogs harass or attack stock are dealt with by the police as are those who drive motor vehicles over the Forest without permission. The Verderers ensure that the commoners comply with our byelaws. Forestry England must ensure that its byelaws are policed and enforced. That is the only right and proper course and it is in the best interests of the Forest.

The Verderers therefore call upon Forestry England to take the following actions: –

  1. Acknowledge that off route cycling is widespread.
  2. Ensure that both the free maps and paid for cycle maps are fit for purpose so that cyclists can easily identify and follow the approved route.
  3. Sign each and every carpark under its control so that the public is clearly informed as to whether or not cycling is permitted and possible from that car park.
  4. Ensure that online mapping records the approved cycle network and unapproved routes are removed.
  5. Review and if necessary, improve the physical way marking of the approved routes.
  6. State publicly, including in this forum, firstly what its policy is in relation to enforcement of its byelaws, and secondly that it will prosecute persistent offenders.
Announcements shared with kind permission of the Verderers.
This month’s other announcements regarding Dogs, Brambles, Fees & New Verderers are on this link.
In November 2017 we made a presentment stating our concerns and objections to a medium sized night time cycling recreation event which was sponsored by a head lamp manufacturer.  We were concerned about the effect on wildlife and livestock by the unprecedented size of the nighttime event, which had not been notified to Natural England, and the promotion of particularly bright lamps (some equal to car headlights) for use on protected habitats.
Collage by Brian Tarnoff.
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Verderers Announcements & Decisions : Dogs, Brambles, Fees & New Verderers

This month’s announcements include the management and importance of brambles, controlling dogs in bird nesting season, pleas to not feed livestock, marking fees, and the appointments of the Forestry England and Natural England Verderers.

Newly Appointed Verderers – Mark Gammon & Clive Chatters

We are very pleased to welcome Mr Mark Gammon and Mr Clive Chatters to our Court today.

As announced by the Deputy Surveyor in July, Mr Gammon has been appointed by Forestry England as its representative on the Court. Today is, however, Mr Gammon’s first time in attendance. Mark is a retired senior Crown prosecutor who specialised in wildlife crime and animal cruelty offences. Previously he was a solicitor in private practice and he has a good understanding of enforcement. Mark has lived in the Forest for many years and he has a good working knowledge of local wildlife and conservation.

Mr Clive Chatters is Natural England’s newly appointed Verderer. Mr Chatters brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience of conservation issues in the New Forest and beyond. He has a considerable understanding of the pressures arising from the need to balance the interests of agriculture, conservation, and recreation in the Forest.

We are confident both will prove to be a very valued member of the Court.

Dogs

Peter Roberts made a presentment in July, urging this Court to pressurise Forestry England into changing its bylaws so that dogs are only allowed on the Forest on short leads in the bird nesting season.

There is no doubt that ground nesting birds are under very significant pressure in the New Forest and indeed elsewhere. Loss of suitable habitat, predation and disturbance are the three key factors. All three need to be addressed satisfactorily to ensure that ground nesting birds such as curlew and lapwing can breed successfully.

Mr Roberts objects to the strapline of NFDog “on the Forest, off the lead”. However, it is right to point out that its website also says” Keep to the main tracks when birds are nesting on the ground (usually March to July)”.

The Verderers have been engaging constructively with NFDog for some time to support and encourage its work which seeks to ensure that all dog walkers exercise their dogs responsibly when on the Forest. That engagement continues and our discussions will focus on, amongst other things, the need to achieve maximum protection for ground nesting birds in the nesting season from disturbance by dogs.

The Verderers do not rule out the possibility of seeking a change in Forestry England bylaws at a future date.

Brambles

Concern was expressed by Mary Gray about the extent of brambles on the open Forest. The Verderers agree that bramble needs to be managed on the Open Forest especially where it encroaches on valuable grazing. I understand that Forestry England manage brambles and will continue to do so. Browsing by deer and commoners’ livestock contributes to that management. It may be of interest to those present to know that there are many species of bramble in the Open Forest which straddles two of the richest regional bramble floras in Britain with its heathland and pasture woodland soils.

Marking Fees For 2023

After much debate and discussion in Committee, we regret that marking fees for 2023 will have to increase.

The marking fee for ponies, cattle and donkeys on the Forest

will be increased by £2.00 to £26.00 per head.

The Common rate of marking fee, for those commoners whose animals qualify, will be £13.00 per head for ponies and donkeys and £3.25 per head for cattle, which is 1/8th of the Forest fee.

Marking fees for sheep also increase by £2.00 per head. Sheep on the Forest will therefore be £10.00 per head and on the Commons, it will be £5.00 per head.

The marking fees for pigs remain unchanged. On the Forest they are £4.00 per head and on the commons £2.00 per head.

Announcements shared with kind permission of the Verderers.
This month’s other announcement regarding Cycling is  on this link.
Image notes: Mark Gammon’s WWF Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on wildlife crimes for the Crown Prosecution Service from the 2021 Wildlife Crime Enforcers Conference,  Bramble image excerpted from : 2005-07-05 Renardeau (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic), the cover of “Heathland” by Clive Chatters (one of his two current volumes for the Bloomsbury Wildlife imprint); Clive is currently Chair of the Habitat and Landscape Committee of the Friends of the New Forest.  Other image elements and collage by Brian Tarnoff.
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Campsites on the Crown Lands : Our Statement to the New Forest National Park Authority

We highlight our concerns with Forestry England’s tender for their campsites on the protected habitat of the New Forest to the July 2022 meeting of the New Forest National Park Authority.  We also ask the National Park to reaffirm its commitment to working with their partners in Forestry England to deliver existing agreements and to insist that future alterations to the campsites be subject to planning under its control.

The New Forest is the only National Park in the United Kingdom with camping facilities built directly on the protected habitats their designations are meant to conserve.  Only one other Park in England allows camping on SSSI: Dartmoor’s very limited backpack camping (two nights and only small tents that may be carried to site on foot).

The campsites on the Crown Lands were established at a time when the then Forestry Commission were presumed to be exempt from planning (although it is unclear as to whether these exemptions are permitted under the New Forest Acts), when the New Forest SSSI had only recently been notified (1959 the same year that the FC and NCC signed a joint minute of intent recognising the importance of the New Forest as an area of National Nature Reserve Status), and did not yet have the stronger protections of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and subsequent SAC(2005), SPA (1993) and Ramsar (1993) designations.

These campsites would not be permitted if proposed today;  if the Verderers had consented to these campsites, it is unlikely that they would now allow them.

We welcome Forestry England’s (and Land Scotland) move to change management of their campsites as an opportunity to review the provision in the New Forest.  However, we have concerns about the tender which we have raised with FE. The Heads of Terms make no reference to the role of the Verderers or the rights of Commoners, nor do they set out obligations to deliver the statutory and policy commitments arising from designations.

Other inappropriate elements include :

  • ‘year-round’ camping
  • annual allowance for tree removal
  • on-site shops
  • pre-pitched “glamping” (both in conflict with agreements previously made with the Verderers);
  • no reference to the liabilities posed by free roaming semi-feral livestock.

Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 prescribed the closure or relocation of Hollands Wood, Denny Wood, and Longbeech; part of a legally agreed SSSI management scheme.  In February 2010, this National Park adopted the Recreation Management Strategy 2010 – 2030 to which the Forestry Commission agreed as partners.  This included actions to audit campsite provision, and phased removal of the damaging sites [i]. Nevertheless, these sites are included in the current FE tender.

This National Park should encourage Forestry England to honour their agreements before engaging in new arrangements for the campsites.  You must also make the case to government and the nation that the protection of this designated National Park should not be reliant on revenue from an activity unquestionably damaging to its habitat.

When we had completed our 2010 Baseline Survey of the campsites [ii], we received verbal assurances that any future alterations would be subject to planning permission from this Authority.  We would like this Authority to reaffirm your own agreements and produce an unambiguous policy consistent with delivery of your first purpose and the Sandford Principle.

ENDNOTES and Attachments provided to the members of the National Park Authority.

Also please find attached 1) our letter to Forestry England of 22 June 2022, 2) our Presentment to the Verderers Court of 15 June 2022

Tender for the operator of New Forest campsites: Our Letter to Forestry England

Campsites on the Crown Lands: Presentment to Verderers Court June 2022

[i] New Forest National Park Recreation Management Strategy 2010 -2030, February 2010, pg.57

Priority actions for the next five years

6.4 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.

[ii] New Forest Camp site Baseline Survey: Final Report, Jonathan Cox with Mosaic Mapping, July 2010. (https://newforestassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Campsite_Survey.pdf)

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Campsites on the Crown Lands: Presentment to Verderers Court June 2022

We agree with and support the Commoners Defence Association’s position on campsites in their presentment today. We strongly share concerns about the campsites’ impact on commoning, habitat, and the correct involvement of the Verderers as specified in the 1964 and 1949 New Forest Acts. We welcome the more direct role of Forestry England, and the imminent surrender of the problematic lease with Forest Holidays.

However, we have wider concerns that Forestry England are allowing continued damage to the Forest to mar their legal obligations under the Habitat Regulations and the Minister’s Mandate, and existing agreements with Natural England and the National Park.

Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 prescribed the closure or relocation of three of the Crown Lands campsites. This is part of the agreed management scheme to address the Unfavourable Declining condition of those SSSI units, the Pasture Woodlands of Hollands Wood, Denny Wood, and Longbeech. Unfavourable Declining means “special features are not being conserved or are being lost, so without appropriate management the site will never reach a favourable or recovering condition”. The Plan required action by the Forestry Commission by 2003. Those Pasture Woodlands have seen a further two decades of decline. Our 2010 survey showed they retained less than 50% canopy than comparable woodland. During those 20 years Forestry blithely ignored the prescription for closure, the agency entered into a 75 year lease without consulting the Verderers, including those sites, and planned but thankfully dropped measures to further urbanize Hollands Wood with more infrastructure and a mobile shop.

It is also probable that over this time, growth of facilities off the Crown Lands may have already provided or exceeded provision necessary to replace capacity potentially lost from closing unfavourable sites.

While the establishment of campsites on the Crown Lands half a century ago was seen as an improvement on the previous free for all, they would likely not be permitted under modern regulation; nor would they be conceivable with our richer understanding of the importance of these habitats. Even now we are just beginning to appreciate other impacts including camping as a vector for invasive plant species. There is also more work to be done to evaluate the effects of noise and light pollution.

The SAC Management Plan narrowly considers only damaging factors within each SSSI unit, and so does not look at proximity. Forestry England’s policy closes Car Parks [i] (10 out of 130) in relation to Ground Nesting Bird sites from March to August. Forestry England already have the data in surveys they’ve commissioned, including data from Hampshire Ornithological Society, Wild New Forest and others, to be able to determine which further campsites should be closed for the protected SPA species Ground Nesting Birds by the exact same criteria.

Natural England should serve a management notice [ii], their legal recourse to enforce the actions in their agreement with the Forestry Commission. In February 2010, the National Park adopted the Recreation Management Strategy 2010 – 2030 to which the Forestry Commission agreed as partners. This included actions to audit campsite provision, and the phased removal of the more damaging sites (explicitly referencing the three SAC Plan campsites) [iii]. Forestry England should honour these agreements before engaging in new arrangements for the campsites.

The three campsites marked by Natural England for closure, Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech, as well as any other campsites which would be shut if they were merely dawn to dusk Forestry England Car Parks should be phased out as quickly as possible. An impact assessment equal to that which would be required by the planning process should be performed on the remainder. Forestry England should commit to changing or removing campsites as indicated.

At May’s Court the Deputy Surveyor announced that the tender process for a new operator had already begun. This should not have been done without prior agreement with the Verderers, and other stakeholders. Damaging campsites should not have been included in this tender, or only offered on limited terms. The campsites to be shuttered should be excluded from any tender or lease offer, or limited to a maximum of two years, the deadline for closure originally offered by the SAC Management Plan. Those rest requiring further assessment should have a maximum of five initial years to allow their impact to be judged.

Forestry England are in the untenable position of relying on revenue from an activity which is unquestionably damaging to the habitat that they are legally bound to protect. The nation must invest in the protection of this precious national asset, not sell it cheaply while driving it into further disrepair. This is the case that, sadly, must be made to government by Forestry England, by their Partners in the National Park, the Verderers and by all of us.

ENDNOTES

[i] Car Park Closures – From FE Website https://www.forestryengland.uk/article/new-forest-car-park-closures

Burbush, Clayhill, Crockford, Crockford Clump, Hinchelsea, Hinchelsea Moor, Ocknell Pond, Ogdens, Shatterford and Yew Tree Heath are closed to protect critical breeding locations for ground nesting birds. Alternative car parks are located near to all these areas.

Protecting ground nesting bird breeding locations

From March until the end of August, special quiet zones will be established at critical breeding locations to help reduce the likelihood of ground nesting birds abandoning their nests and exposing chicks to predators. A small number of our car parks, listed above, near to these areas will be closed.

In the quiet zones, people are asked not to disturb the ground nesting birds by sticking to the main tracks and not to venture onto open, heathland areas where birds will be nesting. Those with dogs are asked to lend their support by keeping dogs with them on tracks and where necessary using leads to keep them under close control.

From FE Email Release 7 Jun 2022 at 12:04 —

Subject: Car Park update

To:

Good afternoon,

I am writing to update you on some positive news regarding this year’s ground nesting bird season. One of our Keepers who has been closely monitoring the bird’s progress has reported a significant number of hatched Lapwing and Curlew chicks in one of the Forest’s key nesting locations in Burley.

These birds are extremely rare and surviving the next few weeks is critical. The campaign to support the birds allows us to be flexible and respond to the pattern of breeding as it develops during the season. Given the success of the birds in this area we are looking at ways to help as many as possible chicks successfully fledge. One measure we will be taking is to temporarily close Burbush Car Park in Burley. This brings the total number of car park closures due to ground nesting birds to ten, out of a total of 130 car parks across the Forest.

The car park at Burbush will close from Wednesday 8 June. We will closely monitor the progress of the chicks over the coming weeks and advise on reopening accordingly. During this time, alternative parking is available at nearby Burley and Burley Cricket car parks as alternatives.

During the current breeding season we can all support ground nesting birds. We ask everyone spending time here to stick to the main tracks and keep dogs with them, using a lead if necessary, during this critical time. The efforts of the community and those spending time in the Forest this breeding season can help make an important contribution to the future survival of these birds in the UK. More information can be found at https://www.forestryengland.uk/ground-nesting-birds

[ii] Management Notices – may be issued by Natural England to land managers who do not carry out works agreed in their management scheme to resolve unfavourable SSSI conditions, and require the work to be carried out within two months. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/protected-areas-sites-of-special-scientific-interest

[iii] New Forest National Park Recreation Management Strategy 2010 -2030, February 2010, pg.57

Priority actions for the next five years

6.4 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.
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Background: Close The Campsites That Harm Habitat

Northern end of Hollands Wood camp site, New Forest August 2005 / Jim Champion / CC BY-SA 2.0

This article includes the Background Notes from our July 2021 Presentment calling for a review of the campsite infrastructure on the protected habitats of the Crown Lands, the closure of three of the campsites which were given high priority in the 2001 SAC Management Plan.  These are only the campsites on land managed by Forestry England and run by Camping in the Forest.  We are also calling on the National Park and New Forest District Council for significant initiatives to improve standards for temporary campsites as a sustainable alternative.

We will be publishing further articles exploring this debate, as well as our own evaluation of available evidence in the context of the campsites.

 

i & ii Citing fundamental incompatibility within close proximity of veteran trees, Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 gave “Unfavourable Declining” condition assessments to Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech due to the presence and management of the campsites, calling for their removal or relocation as an immediate high priority.  Failure to carry out the works set out in the Management Plan to address the Declining condition should lead to Natural England issuing a Management Notice to the land manger which would make their non-compliance illegal.

[i] New Forest SAC Management Plan 2001, Part 3, pp 22-23

Issue 15. Recreation …

Most of the activities described in Part 1 occur in the pasture woodlands. It is however the location of car parks and camp sites within pasture woodland units which have created by far the biggest impact on their nature conservation interest. Impacts from the other major forms of recreation have not to date contributed to a decline in favourable condition of pasture woodland.

Car parks and camp sites: their impact on pasture woodland

There is a recognised and fundamental incompatibility in locating high concentrations of people, their equipment and vehicles within close proximity of veteran trees. Inevitably, health and safety considerations have resulted in extensive removal or vigorous tree surgery of ancient trees over time in these sites. In addition, the development of camp site and car park infrastructure and the physical trampling of ground vegetation has dramatically impoverished the ground vegetation, replacing it with artificial tracks, hard stands and species poor grassland. These impacts are progressive and striking. However there are other more subtle changes and impacts which contribute to affected units remaining in unfavourable declining condition:

  • reduction in lichen flora from tree removal, pollution, drying out and increased drainage;
  • removal of ground flora and increase in bare and compacted ground;
  • removal of dead standing and fallen wood;
  • long-term impact on regeneration and viability;
  • reduction in capacity to support range of organisms and traditional management;
  • progressive decline.

Location of car parks and camp sites in or adjacent to pasture woodland

As a matter of principle hard recreational facilities cannot be sustained in heavily treed areas of pasture woodland. A programme to consider each facility will be required, but in the meantime 34 car parks and 3 camp sites require immediate consideration for relocation or re-design in the short to medium term.

[ii] New Forest SAC Management Plan 2001, Part 3: General Prescriptions, pp 30-31)

  1. Recreational disturbance

Where units are in unfavourable condition through excessive levels of recreational disturbance then appropriate restoration measures will be carefully evaluated and implemented. Such measures are likely to include:

  • The closing and/or relocation of camp sites, followed by pasture woodland habitat restoration.
  • The closing, redesign or relocation of car parks, followed by pasture woodland habitat restoration.
  • The repair and restoration of eroded footpaths.

Priority sites for action during the 20 year span of this management plan are indicated on the tables below. It is appreciated that restorations involving major camp site closures and re-siting and car park re-structuring will generate highly complex issues, requiring considerable research, evaluation and resources, (both financial and in terms of provision of alternative locations where intensive forms of recreation are sustainable). Such proposals will require extensive consultation, and formal compliance with local authority procedures and the Habitats Regulations and will be the subject of individual detailed plans beyond the scope of this Management Plan.

The following table lists the locations of camp sites in or adjacent to pasture woodlands. A summary of their impact and their contribution to unit condition is given together with a prioritised recommendation for action.

Camp Site Location Impact Condition Assessment Recommendation Priority
Denny Wood In pasture woodland Severe reduction in old trees/ dead wood/ lichens & ground flora Unfavourable declining Relocate camp site / Restore pasture woodland High
Hollands Wood In pasture woodland Severe reduction in old trees/ dead wood/ lichens & ground flora Unfavourable declining Relocate camp site / Restore pasture woodland High
Longbeech In pasture woodland Severe reduction in old trees/ dead wood/ lichens & ground flora Unfavourable declining Relocate camp site / Restore pasture woodland High
Ashurst In pasture woodland Severe reduction in old trees/ dead wood/ lichens & ground flora Unfavourable maintained Redesign infrastructure to maintain existing features & prevent further degradation. Low

 

iii “Our recent consideration of evidence on recreation impact” refers to our 2020 report.  Our concerns were that, to date, the increase of recreational use arising from nearby urban growth has been assessed as a broad overview, rather than taking into account the impact on the Forest’s individual Special Qualities – these include ground-nesting birds and fragile wetland, heathland and ancient woodland habitats. While there is sufficient information available to the authorities to identify the key issues arising from recreational use, there are significant gaps that need to be filled for future recreational strategies, plans and projects to be effective. The report recommended that a long-term monitoring process be adopted to ensure that recreational policies are evidence-based and flexible to future change.

[iii] Chatters, C & Wynn R (2020) A contribution to understanding the relationship of the recreational use of the New Forest with its Special Qualities. New Forest Association.

iv Around 20% of the campsites in the National Park are on land covered by the primary conservation designations (i.e. SAC, SPA, SSSI, Ramsar)

[iv] Ewald, Naomi and Stride, Gemma, Freshwater Habitats Trust, A Look Beyond The Pitch – What This Means For The New Forest’s Freshwater Landscape pp 9-11 New Forest Waternews – New Forest Catchment Partnership Newsletter July 2020: Issue 10 Clean Water Camping

v Our 2010 Campsite Survey showed the campsites in pasture woodlands, (those identified for closure in the 2001 SAC Plan), have less than half the canopy they ought.

[v] Cox, Jonathan: July 2010 New Forest Camp site Baseline Survey: Final Report, New Forest Association
(Campsite_Survey.pdf)

vi Unwelcome, invasive plant species have been recorded at campsites throughout the UK and the New Forest in particular.  Perhaps it worth adding that the hazards to feet from the sharp spine on the fruit of the Cotula Sessilis may also be a problem for livestock including softer footed pigs and cloven footed cattle.

[vi] Rand, Martin (2020) Cotula sessilis (Jo-jo-weed) and other Buttonweeds in Hampshire, Flora News – Newsletter of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Flora Group No. 59 Autumn 2020 Published September 2020, pp 27-28.

The most intriguing (and worrying) arrival is Cotula sessilis (Jo-jo-weed or Carpet Burweed formerly Soliva pterosperma), which originates from South America and has now gone global…. Along with its invasiveness, it has a feature that makes it particularly unwelcome: the very sharp spine produced on each ripe achene. As it grows in short amenity grasslands and other places where people like to walk, it is a painful menace to pets and barefoot walkers and will even puncture the soles of flimsy footwear.

…The first record for South Hampshire was made in 1997 in Bournemouth by Felicity Woodhead. Significantly, as we shall see, it was found in a caravan park. … in 2017 it was followed by records on 9 sites in the Isle of Wight during an investigation by Paul Stanley. Every one of these was a holiday camping or caravanning site, and in several it was present in quantity. In the same year Paul extended his search to two campsites in the New Forest (Ashurst and Hollands Wood) which take caravans, finding it in both. It persists there until the present.

Given the clear pointers to the means of its spread, Hampshire’s popularity as a touring destination and our proximity to cross-Channel ports, it seems unlikely that it will not be found in more touring sites and perhaps elsewhere.

In 2017 Keith Turner made the first Hampshire record of another species, Cotula australis (Annual Buttonweed) on a camp site in Eastney, Portsea Island. …. Fortunately, this species does not have the spines of C. sessilis. In 2018 John Norton and Debbie Allan found it on another New Forest touring camp site (Denny Wood). This obviously suggests that it is arriving by the same means. …, its presence in the New Forest is of some concern too. …

vii The National Park’s new 2021 Partnership Plan draft lacks any meaningful initiatives to address the impacts of campsites.
Camping is only mentioned twice.
1. Campsites, only as an example of a recreation facility under Our Proposed Vision:

[vii] New Forest National Park Partnership Plan 2021 – 2026 – Issues, Vision and Objectives – Draft Consultation Document, June 2021
Our proposed Vision for the New Forest National Park (page 4)

The Vision for the New Forest is to be a national beacon for a sustainable future, where nature and people flourish. In 2050, the National Park is a unique and immediately recognisable place where:

  • facilities such as car parks, campsites, walking and cycling routes and community green spaces are in the right places to both protect rare wildlife and to provide a better, more informed experience for people

2. As the subject of unspecified “longer term actions”, possibly referring to the May 2019 RMS Actions (which only itself mentions campsites as another recreation facility AND as a possible access grant opportunity for private landowners (Action 5.3, pg 12 of the RMS))

Managing recreational pressures (page 10)

…Over the lifetime of this Plan, there is likely to be an increased demand for ‘staycation’ holidays and further recreational demands placed on the National Park as opportunities for travel further afield remain limited due to the pandemic. A joint ‘care for the Forest, care for each other’ action plan has been put in place for 2021 but we recognise that we need to deliver the longer-term actions that have already been agreed to better manage these increasing recreational pressures, including camping. Partnerships need to be developed to identify and create new green spaces for recreation away from the protected habitats of the New Forest.

There are no detailed plan actions addressing campsite issues, although it is possible to infer that it is lumped under the vague language around spatial strategy (Action 1.5.1.). For comparison, car parks are given a specific action (Action 1.5.2.) which partially echoes what we’d want to see for campsites, namely a plan to change the location and capacity on the Open Forest:

Agenda for Action (pages 16,17)

We will work together, and at scale, to maintain, reconnect and enhance nature. We commit to developing a nature recovery programme for the National Park that: ….

1.5. Mitigates recreational pressures by:

1.5.1. Developing a spatial plan for where recreation should be encouraged across the New Forest and surrounding areas

1.5.2. Agreeing a strategy to facilitate changes to the location and capacity of car parking on the Open Forest and adjacent commons

1.5.3. Developing a strategic approach to mitigate the potential impacts associated with increasing recreational pressures arising from planned new housing and visitor accommodation development on the internationally designated habitats

1.5.4. Increasing the level of funding available for recreation management so that it is sufficient to address both existing and future needs

1.5.5. Using appropriate and proportionate enforcement strategies to deter illegal use of the Forest

viii Previous Plan Campsite Aspirations:
The original Recreation Management Strategy of the New Forest National Park Authority included closing Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech campsites as well as initiatives to audit campsite provision, and reduce environmental impact.  We supported the 2010 Strategy, and have found that many aspirations then noted as 5 year priorities have not even been begun, and subsequent updates to strategy have increasingly watered down essential goals.

[viii] New Forest National Park Recreation Management Strategy 2010-2030 6.4.1-6.4.5 page 57

Priority actions for the next five years

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.

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