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Presentment: Latchmore Brook: Part 1: An Apology

As the Latchmore Brook planning application may be decided before the next month’s Verderers Court.  The NFA find that we owe everyone an apology.

We’ve never made a secret of our support for the Forestry Commission’s wetland restorations.  But clearly, in some areas, we haven’t made our case often enough, publicly enough, or possibly well enough.  For that we must apologize to the whole of the Forest.

We apologize to the Verderers, I know you don’t need anyone to leap to your defence, but you have been impugned, under the snide accusation that everyone involved in, or indeed supporting the project, would knowingly harm the Forest.  The Verderers who many of us regard as the conservative line in the sand, that we are so fortunate have powers granted by the New Forest Acts.  You have supported this project in the various forms its taken when it has come before you.

This is one of the Leaders of the opposition’s most poisonous assertions, that the process itself, is somehow tainted by a cosy “partnership”.  The National Park Authority, Verderers and Forestry Commission are only “partners” in the project inasmuch as they are the statutory bodies obviously required to be on the project board.  It only benefits the FC as they fulfil their legal obligation to respond to the Natural England condition assessment of the SSSI, and only benefits the Park as it successfully fulfils their statutory purposes “to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area”.  The NPA is represented on the board by their Chief Exec Alison Barnes.

The NPA’s Planning Committee is made up of 14 of the 22 members of the Park Authority.  The Committee is mostly (12) local Parish, Town, District and County Councillors and 2 Secretary of State Appointees [through DEFRA].  As with any Planning Authority they have strict criteria they must adhere to, and whilst they may seek advice from the civil servant staff of the Authority including their own ecologists and the Chief Exec, the decisions are theirs.  No previous scheme has been refused because, like the present one, they are worthwhile restorations to improve the habitat, and have met the criteria for planning approval.  There is NO conflict of interest as the Chief Exec on the board of the project serves the members of the Authority, not the other way around.

We apologize to the Forestry Commission,  and other public servants that have had to bear the brunt of what many would call a hostile work environment.   I’ve heard hissing at Parish Council meetings.  I’ve seen ecologists aggressively berated at consultations and site visits, where they are merely doing their job and explaining, calmly, what the values of these projects are.  The NFA haven’t been able to be present at all occasions and have not intervened enough.  Not that I lay all bad behaviour at the feet of the Leaders of the opposition, but neither do they repudiate such behaviour.

We also apologize to the FC because while the NFA have campaigned for more monitoring built in to all these projects –  We didn’t insist enough to give everyone a larger more convincing body of evidence.

We apologize to the Friends of Latchmore.  Yes, we do. On one level we welcomed them, we disagreed with their conclusions, but a localized voice giving the Forestry Commission a hard time, could have been useful.  The NFA, covering more issues over the whole Forest, can’t be everywhere all the time.  But they are never sceptical enough with their own arguments, they don’t sort the wheat from the chaff, as a result we’ve heard a few valid points hidden amidst a white noise of hyperbole and pseudoscience.

But here’s where the NFA have done the leaders of the Friends of Latchmore and as a result many of their followers a true disservice.  We didn’t challenge them publicly often enough.  We thought there was no point in popping up doing tit for tat when the planning process would make the decision.  We limited speaking here at the Verderers Court mostly to key moments when the Verderers were to decide their views.  In some cases they may even have taken our silence for validation.

We’ve let them steal a march on us in the public perception, but in doing so they have spread an entrenched dogmatic view which stifles debate, because you can’t have a discussion where one side never concedes any of the many valid points that suggest that either this project is worthwhile, or that its challenges are proportionate.

I won’t make up for lost time now.  I have a critique of more than ten errors on just one of their webpages which I’ve sent separately to the Verderers (on our news page).  But I beg the courts indulgence to address a few points…..

— Brian Tarnoff, Chair, Habitat and Landscape Committee
New Forest Asssociation

In a feat of both irony, and good timing thematically, the presenter met the five minute limit for Presentments, and was cut short. The second part shifts emphasis to addressing areas that concern all of us about the project, Wildlife, Material Delivery Routes and Beauty.  The full presentment was distributed in written form to the Verderers, as well as the Annotated Fact Check of the Latchmore Crowdfunding Page.

The Presentment was preceded by a very short thank you to the Forestry Commission for their new Look, Don’t Pick Fungi policy.  We released a fuller response to the policy here.

Deputy Surveyor: Stream Restoration and Fish

At September’s Verderers Court, the Deputy Surveyor, Bruce Rothnie used his optional Presentment slot to discuss Stream Restoration’s potential benefits and impacts on fish.
FMIB 43029 Brown Trout (Salmo fario) This is the common brook trout of Europe, and it has been named Von Behr Trout by the United States

There have been some presentments made in this Court raising concerns about the impacts of the stream restoration work on fish.

Fish are a vital part of the ecology of the Forest and we all want to know that their surroundings are in a condition where they can thrive.  In many places across the Forest the streams have the natural diversity of conditions that are good for fish – gravel riffles, pools, and vegetation in the water and along the bank.  The stream life is in harmony with the natural processes of the site and robust to weather variations.

Unfortunately in some places man’s intervention by straightening and deepening the streams has upset these natural processes and reduced the natural diversity upon which fish and other stream life depend.  The straighter channels increase water flow which strips them of gravels, vegetation and the natural variation of water depth that is so vital for all stages of fish development.

We all know that ponies grazing on the Forest need the freedom to roam in order to thrive.  They can find shelter from hot or stormy weather; they can find water in ponds and streams; and they can exploit the range of vegetation at different places and at different times of year.  Imagine if they were to be constrained to areas without this variation – their condition would quickly deteriorate.

The same is true for fish and we have an opportunity through our stream restorations to re-establish the diversity.  By restoring meandering streams we provide the physical conditions from which the natural processes can take over and the stream life can return at nature’s pace. These changes do not occur overnight and we have seen at sites restored in the past that benefits can show quickly but may take years to establish fully.

Of course we are concerned about disturbing the existing fish populations during work.  That is why we undertake fish surveys before work and then capture and relocate them downstream just prior to work starting – these techniques are widely used across the country and allow us to minimise the impacts on the existing population during work.  After the work we are carrying out further surveys of fish and invertebrates at sample locations to see how quickly the stream life returns. I was talking with one of the people doing this monitoring work the other day and I was struck by his enthusiasm about the increasing numbers of fish and invertebrates he had been observing over successive visits – it’s early days but very encouraging.

Concern has also been raised about higher water temperatures if scrub adjacent to the streams is removed and their shading effects lost.  Often this scrub has established on the drier spoil banks created when streams were dredged. Removing this scrub allows us to flatten the spoil banks and permit the stream to flood out naturally during high flows onto the adjacent floodplain – a key part of restoring natural processes. This is important “surgery” before healing can take place. 
Water temperatures will vary and it is this variation in different parts of the stream and at different times of the year that is important for the survival of fish at all of their stages of development.  The vital factor is that fish have opportunity to utilise the natural temperature variation created by pools and riffles and the vegetation in the stream.  So by restoring this physical diversity we also restore the natural temperature variations that we also seek.

All restoration schemes are planned and executed to minimise the impacts on wildlife.  The measure of success of these schemes will come with evidence of their condition over time once nature has responded to the physical changes.  Anyone left in doubt that these transformations are beneficial should visit some of the earliest sites on the Forest restored in the early 2000s – their condition is impressive and certainly more in character with the Forest we all know and love.

Bruce Rothnie
Deputy Surveyor
21st September 2016

–used with permission with our thanks.

This is part of the NFA’s initiative to publicise good works on the Forest.  Presentments by the Deputy Surveyor ordinarily do not enter the public record until the minutes of the whole Court, including the in camera sessions, are approved at the subsequent month’s sitting, unless directly reported by the local papers.

Those opposed to some of the wetland/river restorations have floated some theories suggesting detrimental impacts for fish.  The Brown Trout observed spawning in a restored section of Harvestslade Bottom, three months after the works were completed, clearly didn’t get their memo.

Verderers View: Leaving The EU: The Implication For Higher Level Stewardship Funding

At September’s Verderers Court, in his Announcements and Decisions, the Official Verderer, Dominic May, updated the Court on the fate of funding for High Level Stewardship, post Brexit, along with an appreciation of the achievements of the scheme.

I am pleased to inform the Court that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 13th August that agri-environment schemes will be fully funded, even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU. Our Higher Level Stewardship, the largest in the country, runs until February 2020, and we can continue doing so much good work improving the New Forest with this very important financial backing.

The New Forest suffers over time by a ratchet affect. No one activity will by itself ruin it, and each disturbance taken in isolation may on the face of it appear negligible. But add up every human intervention, such as artificial drainage, car parks, gravel tracks, utility structures such as telegraph poles or pumping stations, and incrementally over time we experience the significant loss of grazing, loss of landscape amenity, loss of habitat, and loss of good environmental condition.

Our HLS funds projects to conserve or improve the ecology and environment of the New Forest Crown Lands. We find ourselves in an impoverished financial climate within the public sector, so the £2,000,000 per year which we are spending from the HLS is absolutely fundamental to the future good condition of the New Forest.

Tylers Copse, New Forest. - geograph.org.uk - 661931This money enables us to turn the clock back to remove previous man-made interventions. We are improving the landscape amenity of the forest. We are improving grazing for the benefit of the forest stock, which are the architects of our beautiful New Forest landscape.

Our wetland restorations remove man-made drainage, so damaging to the ecology encourage the re-establishment of the flood plain, depositing beneficial organic matter on the forest rather than it being washed out to sea. And a positive by-product is to reduce flood risk downstream.

We are experiencing some concerted opposition to our wetland work: happily we live in a democracy with its foundation on freedom of speech, so this opposition is entirely proper. It is therefore up to us to win the debate, and provide justification for our plans. Some opposition is based on scientific principles; some on the use of public money; and some is based on what people are used to seeing in “their” area. However, the time horizon of us humans is very short, compared to the 937 years since the legal governance of the New Forest was formalised in 1079.

The HLS-funded terrestrial work on the New Forest has increased in importance and is providing ecological benefits as well as improved grazing. In the last year the HLS has paid to remove 136 acres of rhododendron. It has paid to restore 56 acres of lost lawns. It has paid to remove self-seeded non-native conifers over 316 acres of open forest. It has paid heather removal over 32 acres. And the HLS has paid for 355 acres of bracken control.

Ponies in the pound at a driftWe are keen that the HLS leaves a legacy for the future. This year the HLS has funded new stock pounds at Woodgreen, Holmsley, Appleslade and Woodfidley; these are built in hardwood for longevity.

With the inexorable increase in the number of cars, we are seeing a huge loss of grazing and thus habitat interest: areas of grass on the edge of roads or outside houses are being lost to bare gravel. You have all seen it. The causes are widespread: over-running the verge at junctions; dog walkers not using car parks; car parking in villages; ignorance from visitors. We are therefore funding a programme of works which will protect eroded verges, and in the longer term allow re-growth of natural vegetation. This verge restoration programme has been slow to get going, but this year the HLS has funded work in Woodgreen and Fritham, with plans in and around East Boldre in the near future.

Himalayan Balsam - geograph.org.uk - 963201
Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera)
in middle distance along the riverbank
at Newbridge in the New Forest.

The HLS funds the New Forest Non-Native Plants Removal Project, removing parrots feather, bog arum, skunk cabbage, Montbretia, Japanese Knotweed, Japanese Iris, buddleia, Himalayan honeysuckle, Himalayan balsam and  pitcher plant.

This summary of our Higher Level Stewardship achievements enables everyone to understand how important it is to the New Forest, and the Chancellor’s confirmation of continued funding to 2020 will enable us to keep up our very important work.

Dominic May
Official Verderer
21st September 2016

–used with permission with our thanks.

This is part of the NFA’s initiative to publicise good works on the Forest.  Announcements and Decisions by the Verderers ordinarily do not enter the public record until the minutes of the whole Court, including the in camera sessions, are approved at the subsequent month’s sitting, unless directly reported by the local papers.

The High Level Stewardship scheme is an Environmental subsidy, as evidenced by the word “Stewardship”.  The New Forest HLS scheme is England’s largest.  Whilst this statement from the Official Verderer confirms funding for the current scheme to 2020, there will still be post Brexit implications to subsequent schemes, other habitat funding, agricultural funding and environmental and habitat protections safeguarded under EU legislation, which may need to be back-stopped or re-invented before the formal exit process begins.

The NFA spoke at the July 2016 Verderers Court about some related issues in their Presentment Brexit and The Forest.

Rumour, Wishful Thinking, or Fiction?

On August 30th, The Friends of Latchmore issued a press release.  It spoke of an independent review which would cause the Forestry Commission to immediately withdraw the planning application for the Latchmore Brook wetland restoration. It was all their Christmases come at once.  It was a complete fabrication.

Now, to be fair, it is possible, as we will see, that they were led up a garden path, rather than, as has often been the case, the leaders.

The August 30th Press Release Begins:

Representatives of the Friends of Latchmore are pleased to learn that the Chief Executives of the Forestry Commission and Natural England have agreed that there will be a full and independent review of the wetland ‘restoration’ proposals in the New Forest National Park, including Latchmore Brook. The review is expected to begin towards the end of this year as soon as suitable experts can be appointed.

We now know that, apart from the first nine words, this is untrue.  It then decends into a series of flights of fancy “Forestry Commission and Natural England officials are relieved at the decision, due to the range of complaints…” and “the Forestry Commission is expected to withdraw the Latchmore planning application”.  Then crows a “Spokesperson for Friends of Latchmore said “We are absolutely delighted with the announcement” “.

The alarm bells already ringing became a klaxon.  Much of what had already been said was out of character, to say the least, with what we knew about the resolute intentions of the Forestry Commission to see the planning application through.  But a reaction to an “announcement”?  What announcement?  There had been no announcement.  It appeared that FoL had published their “Press Release” with absolutely no corroboration.

Cue, half a day of tail chasing, FC and NE internally, and many of us on the outside trying to determine a) if there was a shred of truth to this b) where these notions originated.  We confirmed that it wasn’t true, there had been no announcement, and that the rumour would be addressed by the Deputy Surveyor at the Consultative Panel.

At the 1st September, New Forest Consultative Panel, Steve Avery, Executive Director Strategy and Planning for the National Park when asked about the alleged withdrawal of the planning application by the FC, “That hasn’t reached me, or my authority.  We have a live planning application that we will proceed to determine until told otherwise.”  The Deputy Surveyor, Bruce Rothnie categorically denied any intention of withdrawing the planning application or knowledge of an independent review.

[partial transcript of the Consultative Panel]
BR: There’s been a degree of misunderstanding, misinformation that has put out in the last few days and I want to clarify the position.  We remain fully committed to Latchmore Brook Restoration Project and believe the current planning process is the appropriate way to deliver that.  Some of you will remember that some time ago, and certainly before I returned to the Forest, it was agreed that this should be handled through the planning process because of the democratic process it brings.  And that we volunteered to produce an Environmental Impact Assessment which was not required but we felt responded to the concerns of communities around us.  Now we’ve completed that and it is our intention to see that process through.

[referring to the rumour of the independent review]
I have no information to me that there have been any discussions of chief executives coming down to me.  I’m intrigued as to where you got that information.  I have certainly not been able to find any other information provided, down to this level, about that, so perhaps you could explain wherever that’s come from.

[a Burley Parish Councillor, then pressed a leader of Friends of Latchmore, in attendance representing another organization, to make a statement ]

FoL: The information came from the top of Natural England. The press release was “passed”. It was understood that there was to be a joint statement today from the Forestry Commission and Natural England, that there would be a review. There’s obviously some confusion somewhere. I’ve no idea quite how why what’s occurred there, but that’s where the information has come from.

BR: Through what channels …?

FoL: Board of Natural England.

BR: And how was that released to you, your knowledge?

FoL: Through somebody that is in touch with them, and released through the environmentalist that’s been advising them, which I gather Steve’s had a letter from telling him all about it. So I was a little bit surprised that Steve said he didn’t know anything about it so there’s obviously confusion. Let’s say that. I can say no more, that’s the information I’ve had.

[shortly afterwards, Steve Avery was asked for a final comment]
SA:  In the last week, out of 283 representations we received, one of them was from a gentleman called Tom Langton who referred to an imminent review of the scheme and withdrawal of the application, but it’s not grounded or sourced at all as to where that information has come from. The document is on our website, for everyone to see. But, like Bruce, I’d be interested to know where that information has come from, whether from the Forestry Commission or Natural England as alleged.

Tom Langton is the Consulting Ecologist that the Friends of Latchmore hired for their “rapid review” (as we know, rapid is how all the best science is done). After the Consultative Panel closed, panel members speculated that it was possible that either Langton or the Friends of Latchmore had become confused about the review of the New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016.

The New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016 published in April 2006, is (and was already at the time of these events) undergoing its end of term review.  The big clue is in the “-2016”.  The review is being done internally within Natural England with the participation of the Forestry Commission.  The Management Plan is available on the New Forest HLS website. It’s difficult to conceive that the leaders of Friends of Latchmore would not be aware of this important document.

In Tom Langton’s letter to the Planners he sites “threats to geological SSSI features and Odonata interests of international importance”, strange when you consider that the British Dragonfly Society (the Odonata in question) support the project. 

It is my understanding that the Chief Executives of the FC and NE have agreed in recent days to undertake an independent inquiry/review of the Latchmore and other restorations and that this will be put in place later this year. …

I think you may agree on reflection that, in any case, the need for a review in effect casts sufficient doubt over the Latchmore plans.

It would be helpful if the application is withdrawn before this Friday 2nd September, the close of the consultation period.

He doesn’t seem to be at any pains to explain how he reached his “understanding”, and at no point does he, in the words of Steve Avery, ground or source his statements.  The actual review is a standard end of plan exercise, not caused by a negating “need”, and as it is a review of the work carried out under the management plan 2006-2016, it won’t include Latchmore as that hasn’t happened yet.  His strangely presumptive sign off continues his baselessly strong suggestion that the application be withdrawn.

On 17th of September, FoL issued a further press release which attempted, poorly, to reconcile statements, allegedly from the statutory bodies.  Strangely it shows that they don’t know the difference between an independent review (denied) and an internal assessment (confirmed).  They seem to be happy that the fact the word “review” was used at all somehow corroborates their original fantasy.  The Lymington Times of 17th September published a story that partially continued to credit the refuted press release, and the Salisbury Journal ran an article which quoted much of it word for word.

On the 19th September a Forestry Commission Communication Manager confirmed several things to us:

  1. The statements about the alleged agreement to an independent review between the Chief Execs of FC and NE, and the withdrawal of the planning application in the Friends of Latchmore 30th August 2016 press release are total fiction.
  2. The Forestry Commission had further denied the statements directly to the reporters from the Lymington Times and the Salisbury Journal before their deadlines for the pieces that ran anyway erroneously continuing to credit those statements.
  3. The New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016, as mentioned, has already been in preparation — but there has been a decision to speed up finalising this document so that it is done in the next two weeks.  It will then get an extra peer review, as described below:

Statement from Natural England:
Over 140 wetland restorations have been undertaken in the New Forest since 1997. Ongoing reviews of evidence, experience and lessons learnt are an integral part of any long term nature conservation project such as this.

During the past 12 months, Natural England has been working on an Assessment of the evidence supporting wetland restoration projects in the New Forest.

The Chief Executives of the Forestry Commission and Natural England recently agreed to prioritise finalising this Assessment.  The next stage for the Assessment is an independent peer review through Natural England’s Science Advisory Committee.  The objective is to ensure that the evidence and justification for wetland restorations reflect the most recent developments and that any gaps in our knowledge are identified. 

The draft Assessment has been authored by Natural England staff, including a Senior Freshwater Ecologist and Senior Wetland Specialist.  Scoping and commission of the peer review is about to commence and we expect it to be completed during October.  Once completed, the Assessment will be published on the Natural England Access to Evidence website.

Unfortunately this leaves us with some speculation as to how they arrived at this, it looks like Tom Langton may have heard about the existing review of the wetland management plan, put two and two together and came up with five. Then either he potted it up as truth which he presented to his one time masters who embraced it as a dream come true, or passed it on as rumour which the leaders of FoL felt no compunction in passing off, uncorroborated as truth.

Even had an independent review been in the offing, would the leaders of FoL have been happy with any result that didn’t go their way?  As far as we can tell, this project has received more scrutiny than any other project of its kind.  The voluntarily done Environmental Impact Assessment shows the planning authority how well the application fits the required criteria.  The leaders of the FoL won’t be happy with anything except stopping the project.

What’s so dangerous about either of the speculative scenarios is that they both point up the leaders of the Friends of Latchmore “special” relationship with the truth.  We’re used to their lack of fact checking, their disproportionate elevating of minor issues into cause célèbre, and general hyperbole that sadly obscures the few valid points they may raise.  We have, and will continue to point these out here and elsewhere.  But this feels like new territory, releasing uncorroborated rumours as Press Releases, with their usual unearned authoritative tone, and even after public denial, getting two local media outlets to swallow this guff.  That’s steering towards the land of fabrication.

That brings us onto a third possibility.  They intentionally cooked this up with their lackey Langton, to press for what didn’t already exist, and perhaps lead everyone on a merry chase.  Are they that calculating, canny?

So you judge, Rumour, Wishful Thinking, or Utter Fiction?

(although noted within the text, speculative passages have been italicised)

Brexit and The Forest

NFA Presentment for the Verderers Court 20th July 2016

However we feel about the Brexit referendum, its aftermath has introduced a vast array of uncertainty, including many elements key to the future of the Forest.

At last Thursday’s National Park Authority meeting, several members stressed the need to express our concerns about keeping the Forest’s levels of protection, investment and subsidy to government as soon as possible. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Environment Secretary will be contacted. The NFA offer our support and input, and hope that the Verderers will join this effort.

There will be much to consider: commoners subsidies past 2020; retention of the important landscape scale habitat designations of the SAC and SPA (Special Areas of Conservation / Special Protection Areas); what we may want from a new British Agricultural Policy, together with reformed Habitats and Birds Directives. New legislation may be necessary to back-stop these protections before the ties to the EU directives might be cut. There’s every reason for having the same levels of protection – or better – enshrined directly in United Kingdom law, policy and implementation.

The New Forest Acts and the role of the Verderers remain the bedrock safeguarding the Forest, and our National Park has unique qualities and demands. This must be recognized and respected at the highest levels going forward.

There will be clarifications needed. There is work to be done, and a timely and united forest would help put our vital points across.

Presentment made at the Verderers Court by Brian Tarnoff, Chair, NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee.

NFA President’s Report 2015-16

We leave the last word before tomorrow’s Annual General Meeting to our esteemed President, Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre. He sets this year’s work against the backdrop of developments in conservation and planning on the national stage.

In last year’s report I mentioned the growing financial challenges that beset the Forest’s publicly funded bodies such as the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the National Park Authority. At that time we had yet to get through the general election and the future was shrouded in uncertainty. However, the election is now far behind us and in his public spending review statement before Christmas last year the Chancellor delighted conservationists by singling out England’s National Parks as organisations that would be protected from any government cuts for the next five years. Not only that, the existing grant would be increased each year by almost 2%. The only other organisation to receive this special treatment was the police force.

Whatever the Chancellor’s reasons were for this welcome decision, we must not squander our moment in the sun. We must not assume that the goodwill that seems to currently ooze out of Defra is something that will be either perpetuated or repeated, and all the Forest’s bodies must combine forces to extract the most that we can from this opportune climate.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Liz Truss, is very keen to make some lasting decisions for conservation, and has commissioned a Plan for National Parks in England, and a brisk period of consultation has now started with a view to launching the plan later this spring. This is running parallel to the creation of a separate and broader 25-year conservation plan for the whole country. It is still very much on the drawing board, but at present its focus is, I am happy to report, on reinforcing the special status that places like the New Forest have as protected landscapes.

We must watch the process carefully, and ensure that the new plan avoids entering in to the territory of actively promoting tourism and ever more visitors to the Forest. We are the smallest of the country’s national parks, and yet we have the most visitors for our size by far. Indeed, when looking at the large centres of population that surround the Forest the term “besieged” could sensibly be used! However, if the new plan is properly written and intentioned it will, I hope, be good news for the Forest.

looking at the large centres of population that surround the Forest the term “besieged” could sensibly be used!

In the meantime the Council’s laudable efforts to influence the Forestry Commission in its decisions on how to control fungi picking continue. Prompted by the excellent public statements recently made by this Association, there is strong support for the view that the Commission should copy the bold action taken by the National Trust and ban all picking until it can be shown that no harm is being done by uncontrolled gathering of mushrooms in the Forest. This would follow the precautionary principle which is the conservationist’s touchstone, including (one would hope) that of Natural England as the Government’s advisors on such matters. It does seem to be totally illogical that the Commission’s byelaws strictly and quite rightly prohibit the unauthorised removal of any plants and trees from its land, which is enforced, and yet mushrooms are somehow not deemed to be worthy of the same protection.

The Council continues to very effectively monitor the constant flow of planning applications in the Forest, and selectively lends its support or objections for applications with great effect whenever necessary. This year sees a full blown review of existing planning policy. An in-depth consultation is underway with all concerned parties to ensure that any changes are properly thought through and supported.

Our Association is heavily involved in this process, and is keeping a very close eye on the flow of new national planning proposals that are coming from the Government, many of which are designed to encourage a rapid nationwide acceleration in the building of new houses. We need to ensure that the New Forest is exempt from those measures which would potentially damage the landscape and its special qualities. Nobody doubts the need for more housing in England, but we must continue where necessary to persuade Ministers that some of the new ideas are definitely not appropriate for highly sensitive and protected places like the Forest. The work continues.

As ever, on behalf of all the members of the Association, I would like to conclude my report by thanking the Council for its vigilance and hard work over the year.

— Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre, President, New Forest Association

NFA Habitat & Landscape 2015-16

Highlighting tomorrow’s NFA AGM, further amended excerpts from our Habitat and Landscape Committee’s Annual Report

Our ecologists have had a very busy year, and I hope they will forgive me if this report cannot hope to capture the full scope of their efforts. They have my, and I presume the Association’s, deepest thanks.

Site Visits

HAL members attended site visits and provided feedback for a variety of Forestry Commission led habitat restoration and maintenance project proposals. This has included:

  •     Linford Bottom
  •     Norley Mire, Bagshot Moor, Upper Crockford Bottom,
  •     Three Beech Bottom and Horseshoe Earth
  •     Ogdens Mire and Sloden Inclosure
  •     Lyndhurst South (Coxlease Lawn, Brick Kiln Mire, Allum Green)
  •     Waters Copse, Withycombe Shade
  •     Broomy/Ocknell Plain (Suburbs Wood Mire, Broomy Bottom, Linford Brook Mire)
  •     Dibden Bottom, The Noads Mire, Ferny Croft

We continue to support the FC’s restorations. We would like to see more resources for monitoring, a more procedural basis for prioritizing the schemes with clear reference to the framework provided by the habitats regulations and the SAC Management Plan and a cohesive grand design for habitat restoration across the whole of the Forest.

The Forest Design Plan

In July 2015, we were one of a select group of conservation organizations invited by the Forestry Commission to comment on their earliest draft of the next Forest Design Plan. With a shift towards much more broadleaf planting, it represents a huge sea change for the foresters. In a much appreciated move, the FC is actively seeking our input and expertise. We hope to see more detail and nuance as the plan is further developed this year, with public consultation this Autumn. Much of this committee’s work over the last decade has been preparing research and evidence to bolster the NFA’s vision for the inclosures as presented in Recovering Lost Landscapes, and has been aided further by changes in government policy as evidenced in the Lawton Report and the Policy on Ancient Woodland Sites.

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

Busketts and Felling Licenses

In Autumn 2015, Neil Sanderson, one of our leading ecologists, spotted veteran and woodland edge trees marked for felling at Busketts Lawn. Whilst this had been done as part of a scheme to improve grazing – and had been granted a felling license – many trees of value, but not detrimental to the lawn, had been marked including glade edge Oaks, nectar source Crab Apples and Hawthorns.

The NFA had not previously been aware of the plans due to the sparse detail available in the list of works we receive through our membership of the Open Forest Advisory Committee, and the equally slim notification of the felling licenses through the parish councils. To the FC’s credit they did manage to arrange a site visit before the works commenced and took on board some of our advice. Whilst from our point of view this was damage limitation rather than success – we saved some trees and shrubs and a large mature Oak – we were also able to make suggestions that were accepted as useful going forward: we got some Oak pollarding, preventing loss of grassland to shade, not previously considered as a tool in lawn management; and by cutting back Holly from former wood edge trees, we agreed to maintain a transition from lawn to wood, both aesthetically, and functionally within the habitat, desirable.

We will be pressing for improvements in the way the FC and Natural England notify felling licenses and document works of this type on the open forest.

New Forest Water Blitz 2016

We did a trial email shot to our members looking for volunteers for the New Forest Water Blitz, a survey taking place during the four week period of 12th March – 10th April 2016. This was a trial run survey taking place as part of the larger Clean Water for Wildlife project. The NFA are promoting this study as a member of the New Forest Catchment Development Group, a clean water initiative between the National Park and the Freshwater Habitats Trust. Over twenty volunteers administered very easy to use water test kits, collecting two samples from assigned locations within the New Forest during the four week period.

Whilst nearly all the Association’s work is done through our council and committees by volunteers from our membership, this was the first time we were able to offer a small scale, “Citizen Science” style volunteer opportunity to engage our members. We were very heartened by the enthusiastic response we received. There will be further opportunities for all to volunteer both as the New Forest Water Blitz is due to be extended (popular demand!) and as the Clean Water for Wildlife project moves forward.

Naomi Ewald of the Freshwater Habitats Trust will be one of the Association’s guest speakers at our post AGM members event. She will be discussing the New Forest Catchment Project and the New Forest Water Blitz.

Going Forward — Other areas of concern to address in 2016:

Countryside Stewardship Scheme – This new version of the HLS funding will need our particular attention. We were very disappointed in the NELMES consultation that produced Natural England’s Countryside Stewardship Statement of Priorities. As funding may be targeted based on the erratic outcomes of the consultation, we are hoping to have these refined or corrected.

Having received negative feedback, Natural England are duly redrafting the document. The NFA are happier that this is being addressed, but will be reviewing the result still wary of the process that produced the original version.

Night Disturbance from LEDs – As part of our tranquillity remit, we want to see the nocturnal disturbance to wildlife and infringement of the New Forest byelaws cease. With our neighbouring conurbations, it is unlikely that we’d ever qualify as an International Dark Sky Reserve (a designation held by 3 other National Parks), but any steps in this direction would be welcome.

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

NFA Fungi Campaign 2015-16

With the upcoming NFA AGM this Saturday, we look back at some of this past years works. Here is an amended excerpt from our Habitat and Landscape Committee’s Annual Report

After years of increasing damage from commercial pickers, and more than two Autumns passing with much talk, but no subsequent action from the Forestry Commission and National Park Authority, the NFA Council took the lead and tasked our committee to develop the NFA’s policy and campaign to protect fungi from foragers.

At both the Verderers Court and National Park Authority meetings in July 2015 we called for the Forestry Commission to impose a ban on fungi harvest on the Crown Lands of the New Forest, the Site of Special Scientific Interest under their stewardship. This is in keeping with existing bans in Epping Forest and at many of the Wildlife Trusts’ Nature Reserves. A blanket ban will assist enforcement by removing the need to prove commercial intent and weigh amounts against the arbitrary allowance. With discretion Keepers could target those who are over harvesting, whether for personal or commercial use.

The National Trust imposed the ban on the Northern Commons that they manage within the Forest. The Forestry Commission stopped short of the ban, but did engage in a series of disruption events targeting commercial foragers, some harvests were seized and destroyed. We believe the FC missed a trick by not moving forward with prosecutions which should further deter commercial criminals. Foraging fungi for any commercial purpose is seen as theft in the Theft Act 1964. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 if they have taken any rare protected species they face summary conviction for 6 months + £5k fine, or if Natural England determine that a group of pickers have engaged in potentially damaging operations on SSSI, fines of up to £20k may be levied.

The ban would also be in keeping with guidelines the FC itself subscribed to in 1998, the Wild Mushroom Pickers Code of Conduct published by English Nature, which says culinary foraging is inappropriate on SSSI and National Nature Reserves. That code is also the source of the supposed 1.5kg limit (which has no basis in law) which there is suggested “per foray” for culinary harvest, but which the FC have erroneously repeated as “per person / per day”, ignoring the code’s SSSI prohibition. The NFA have asked that all FC leaflets and posters compounding this error be withdrawn until a revised code is established.

The Forestry Commission’s latest The New Forest Essential Guide for 2016 has this more helpful message:

“Fungi: The New Forest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest with over two thousand varieties of fungi, many of which are rare and internationally-important species. We appeal to people to look, but don’t pick. Commercial harvesting is not permitted and foray leaders must obtain a licence. We’re reviewing the guidelines on picking for personal consumption. New restrictions will be trialled to lessen the impacts on this very special habitat, visit forestry.gov.uk/newforest or call 0300 067 4601 for the latest details.”

However, the website referenced above has yet to be updated and carries the unreviewed guidelines and leaflets. This includes the 1.5kg “personal limit” and noisome parenthetical congratulations to those treating it as a goal rather than a limit: ” (and if you’ve found this much you’ve done well!) “. This hardly gibes with the more welcome “look, but don’t pick”. Baby steps? Perhaps.

The NFA have continued to press for a new code of conduct, and with the full support of the members of the National Park Authority will be included in the stakeholders tasked with its development. We have stressed that a plan needs to be in place by the New Forest Show 2016 to have coordinated messages and actions for this Autumn. We will also campaign for improved protection when Wildlife laws are next revised (the Law Commission has published a draft, we do not know when it will be brought forward).

The display of fungi in the New Forest is as essential a part of the experience of Autumn in this protected habitat as the pannage pigs, and should remain for all to see and enjoy.

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

Fungi Forage Ban on New Forest SSSI and Code of Conduct

NFA Presentment to September 2015 Verderers Court — The NFA reveal the source of the 1.5kg limit, and the flawed logic that allowed the FC to incorrectly apply this as a daily allowance on the protected habitat of the SSSI. This followed up the July 2015 Presentment calling for an Epping Forest style ban on culinary fungi foraging on the New Forest SSSI. [Annotations have been added below as here in square brackets]
500g punnet of mushrooms,
1/3rd of the daily amount suggested in erroneous advice.

Fungi Forage –clarification and update

The NFA are seeking a very specific Epping Forest style ban on fungi foraging on the Crown Lands of the New Forest, the Site of Special Scientific Interest which is in the stewardship of the Forestry Commission.  Epping Forest Keepers are empowered to seize harvests from fungi foragers and in 2013 brought twenty successful prosecutions.  The NFA believe a similar regime would make it easier to deter commercial foragers who would no longer have recourse to pretend they are picking for personal use.

Wild Mushroom Picker’s Code of Conduct

We are also concerned about out-dated and erroneous advice which the Forestry Commission continues to distribute about personal foraging on the New Forest.  Their leaflets and website suggest that everyone may collect up to 1.5 kg of fungi per person / per day.  This has absolutely no basis in law.  It is derived from a misreading of The Wild Mushroom Picker’s Code of Conduct Published 3rd September 1998 by English Nature developed in conjunction with Forestry Commission, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, the Association of British Fungus Groups and the British Mycological Society.

In the section on Collecting for the pot:

Only collect from plentiful populations and take no more than you want for your personal consumption. In line with codes in most other European countries. we recommend that you pick no more than 1.5 kg per visit or no more than half of the fruit bodies of any single species present. whichever is the lower amount.

On some SSSIs. most nature reserves and other protected areas it is unlikely that culinary collecting is allowed. Always consult the site owner or manager before collecting.

[This is the source of the 1.5kg “limit”, note a lower amount may be taken, but requires an almost super human ability to scan the unspecified area and instantly calculate half, also leading to the you take half the next person takes half of what’s left and so on until little remains.  However the subsequent advice suggests that culinary collecting is not allowed on SSSI or Nature Reserves, this advice is ignored in the Forestry Commission’s version.]

In the section on Advice for Landowners & Managers:

If the land is a National Nature Reserve. other nature reserve or protected area. or an [sic] SSSI. it will probably be appropriate to limit picking to scientific collecting.

On SSSIs. picking fungi may require consent in writing from the statutory nature conservation body. [Natural England]

Keep taking half,
quickly approach zero

Ignoring the tentative language and the Zeno’s paradox baiting “take half” suggestion.  The 1.5kg limit is “per visit” which in context seems to cover a foray, but has been misapplied to mean “per person per day”.  This ignores the guidelines for SSSI which deems personal culinary use inappropriate and requiring consent from Natural England.  The 1.5kg “allowance” applicable to unprotected habitats is irrelevant.

[The code provides no lower alternative amount for culinary collecting on protected areas, because the default is none.  This provides a loophole for those who selectively read the code.]

Natural England have admitted the code “could [be] expressed more clearly and emphatically to avoid any misinterpretation.”  Both of the Fungi specialist organizations originally consulted for the code have withdrawn support.  The ABFG (now the Fungus Conservation Trust) characterise it as “ill conceived and unhelpful”.  The BMS have dropped it from their website, and now state that “a complete ban on [culinary] collection (except for scientific and educational purposes, which would require permission) should exist in the New Forest.”  All of the original consultees acknowledge that the rise in popularity of personal foraging and the uncontrolled growth of commercial picking require a clearer, stricter code.  This is in the process of being developed, in the meantime, the Forestry Commission need to stop promoting their erroneous interpretation.

Enforcement

The Deputy Surveyor has said it’s unrealistic to enforce a total ban.  Traffic enforcement doesn’t catch every motorist who speeds, but that doesn’t stop us having speed limits.  The NFA accept the limitations on enforcement, but suggest a blanket ban will assist enforcement by removing the need to prove commercial intent and weigh amounts against the discredited allowance.  Whether the FC would target everyone is up to them.  In practical terms this may only affect foragers who are overdoing it to the extent that they come to the notice of the Keepers regardless of commercial or personal use.  Having a ban in place will allow enforcement to evolve.

[To be fair Epping Forest have 9 Keepers who cover less than a tenth of the area.]

The NFA ask for the Verderer’s support in continuing to call for the blanket ban on culinary fungi forage on the Crown Lands.  We also ask for your support for our request that the Forestry Commission remove inappropriate advice including the erroneous daily allowance from all literature and websites pertaining to fungi collection from the New Forest SSSI.

We need to send the message that the Crown Lands of the New Forest are a protected habitat and landscape.  Foragers who claim to be environmentalists should respect that the Forest is different.  The rules here should favour this habitat, not commercial greed or personal entitlement.

Brian Tarnoff, New Forest Association (Chair, Habitat and Landscape Committee)

NFA Call to Ban Fungi Picking on the Crown Lands of the New Forest

Commercial picking on the New Forest is an unacceptable theft from the amenity of the autumn display, and damaging to the habitat. Commercial pickers harvest indiscriminately, taking every bit of fungi they find, and trampling everything in their way, leaving none for others or for nature. It has taken foraging to an unsustainable level.

The NFA demand an Epping Forest style ban on the Crown Lands of the New Forest, a habitat protected by law, with special designations including SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981′ Section 13 any unauthorised removal of Fungi from SSSI is an offence and any removal of rare species is an offence. All commercial foraging of mushrooms / fungi, from the wild on any land, may be viewed as theft under The Theft Act 1968 Section 4 (3). which allows the activity for personal not any commercial use.

The Epping Forest byelaws do not specifically mention fungi, yet their policy and enforcement target its removal derived from an all inclusive prohibition. Their keepers are empowered to challenge pickers, seize and destroy harvests, and in some instances prosecutions are brought. A total ban would be much easier for the Forestry Commission keepers to enforce. They wouldn’t have to prove commercial intent, or weigh amounts to an arbitrary allowance, they could challenge anyone engaged in the activity. Whether, in practice, the FC targets everyone, is up to them. The message it sends is that the commercial pickers will not have recourse to pretend they’re just harmless gatherers for personal use.

We have asked the Forestry Commission for a policy of enforcement of a ban based on the model of Epping Forest. We have asked the National Park Authority and the Verderers of the New Forest to work with Natural England and rural Policing initiatives to help the FC devise ways to implement the ban suited to the management of the New Forest.

Foraging for fungi is no more acceptable on a SSSI and a National Park than carting away bushels of bluebells, or collecting butterflies or bird’s eggs. With an increasing population, and trends in cooking shows encouraging foraging, it is unclear how sustainable this activity would be in the future. It’s up to us to be responsible now and say that it’s inappropriate on the New Forest. We’re not entitled to simply take from nature in perpetuity and not be mindful of the consequences.

The display of fungi in the New Forest is as essential a part of the experience of Autumn in this protected habitat as the pannage pigs, and should remain for all to see and enjoy.

 
All images courtesy of Brian Tarnoff.