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

We were greatly heartened by the news that Forestry England and Forestry and Land Scotland had purchased Camping in the Forest (CiTF) from The Camping and Caravanning Club, because this seemed to present a great opportunity to review campsites in the New Forest with a fresh start in their management.

However, with the publication of tender documents for campsite management the Friends of the New Forest are now gravely concerned that the process of appointment of an operator of campsites on the Crown Land is failing to have proper regard to the particular circumstances of the Forest. We have made our concerns known to the Chief Executive of Forestry England and to the Deputy Surveyor in the New Forest in the letter reprinted below.

CHAIRMAN reply to:
22nd June 2022

Mike Seddon
Chief Executive
Forestry England
620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane
Bristol
BS16 1EJ

John Ward

[ADDRESS SUPPLIED]
chair@friendsofthenewforest.org

 

Dear Mr Seddon

Tender for the operator of New Forest campsites

We were greatly heartened by the news that Forestry England and Forestry and Land Scotland had purchased Camping in the Forest (CiTF) from The Camping and Caravanning Club, because this seemed to present a great opportunity to review campsites in the New Forest with a fresh start in their management. Likewise, Craig Harrison, Deputy Surveyor, commented, “Taking greater control of these [campsites]will allow us to continue to offer this experience and support local businesses, whilst working more closely with our local partners to plan and develop their future”; and the New Forest National Park Authority expressed the view that, “A number of these sites are located in environmentally sensitive areas and longer term, we are keen to explore with Forestry England and partner organisations whether some of these pitches could be relocated to less sensitive areas.”

However, with the publication of tender documents for campsite management the Friends of the New Forest are now gravely concerned that the process of appointment of an operator of campsites on the Crown Land is failing to have proper regard of the particular circumstances of the Forest. We question whether the proposed terms of a lease are lawful, we are certain that the process is inappropriate. There is a risk that a future operator of campsites will compound existing harms to the Forest and will find themselves in conflict with those concerned with the conservation of the Forest. We therefore request that Forest Enterprise suspend the current process of appointment and take time to work with partners to review their strategy for camping in the Forest.

Our broad areas of concern are set out below.

We question whether Forestry England, on behalf of the Secretary of State, has the lawful authority to enter into a lease with campsite operators as set out in the draft Heads of Terms. Our understanding of the tenure of the Secretary of State in the New Forest is that it is insufficient to enter into such agreements.

We had expected to see any arrangement with campsite operators being fully compliant with the laws and legislation governing the New Forest, particularly incorporating the role of the Court of Verderers and the rights of Commoners. This absence infers that Forestry England do not properly appreciate those roles and rights.

We are alarmed at specific provisions in the Heads of Terms, notably those relating to provisions for ‘year-round’ camping (rather than the limited open season in the New Forest) and provisions for removing a percentage of trees each year from the campsite without any reference to aesthetic and nature conservation obligations. Furthermore, we regret that the Heads of Terms do not set out a campsite operator’s obligations to deliver the statutory and policy commitments of Forestry England arising from designations, nor advise prospective campsite operators that they will become an ‘occupier’ of the designated sites and therefore will be regulated by the relevant authorities.

Consequently, we are concerned that the documentation accompanying the Heads of Terms fails to clearly advise prospective campsite operators of obligations arising from the status of the New Forest as a National Park, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Natura 2000 site (both a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area) and a site designated under the Ramsar Convention. In the past, Forestry England have recognised some of their obligations to these designations, not least in their signing the 2001 Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Management Plan together with the agreement of 1995 that the Crown Lands will be managed as if they were a National Nature Reserve.

Over twenty years have passed since the Forestry Commission recognised the need for closure of selected campsites due to the damage they have done to the internationally important habitats of the New Forest. Not only have those closures not happened but other remedial works agreed with Natural England have not been delivered, nor have the baseline surveys and monitoring of the condition of campsites been delivered. The Friends of the New Forest sought to assist the establishment of baseline surveys through our report of 2004, unfortunately Forestry England have not adopted this methodology on other sites, nor have they used our work as a baseline for monitoring. In the meantime, we have experienced a continual deterioration in the condition of campsites, with decades more attrition to their character.

Since the signing of the 2001 SAC Management Plan, the New Forest has been declared a National Park, with its own statutory obligations relating to the aesthetics and special qualities of the landscape. With National Park status comes the Sandford Principle, setting out the pre-eminence of the conservation of the Special Qualities of the National Park. We regret that this principle is not reflected in Forestry England’s appointment process.

Fifty years ago removing unfettered camping on the New Forest was a bold and essential move, although establishing some designated campsites on the open Forest perpetuated problems of conflict including with semi-feral roaming stock. And much has changed in half a century, not least a rising appreciation of environmental issues, the biodiversity crisis and our understanding of the harmful impacts arising from poor locational or management decisions for some aspects of recreation in a fragile landscape. Now could be an opportunity to review historical decisions in that context – it should not be lost. We remain committed to participating in planning a fresh start with camping and working with whoever becomes the operator in the New Forest.

Yours sincerely

 

John Ward

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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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Damaging and Illegal Activities Revealed in the New Forest

  • 1,100 reports of litter and dog mess
  • 550 reports of cyclists away from designated tracks
  • 500+ reports of cars parked on open forest verges away from car parks
  • 50 reports of livestock being chased and/or attacked by dogs
  • 150 reports of livestock being fed by the public
  • 140 reports of cars blocking access to the open forest
  • Multiple reports of drone flying, wild camping, open fires/BBQs, fly-tipping, and the picking of large quantities of fungi

A survey co-ordinated by Friends of the New Forest has highlighted a lack of understanding and enforcement of New Forest byelaws, and a prevalence of damaging and illegal activities that are harming the special qualities of the New Forest.

The ‘New Forest Byelaw Watch’ was launched by FoNF with the aim of raising awareness of Forest byelaws and generating independent data on byelaw breaches. During a six-week period in autumn 2021, over 2,700 breaches were recorded by FoNF members and volunteers within the National Park, with observers on average noting about 11 individual breaches per visit.

The detailed results indicate that litter and dog mess are ubiquitous across much of the forest, with a combined total of nearly 1,100 reports and highest abundance around popular car parks and along roadsides. There were also 550 reports of cyclists away from designated tracks, and over 500 reports of cars parked on verges away from designated car parks.

Of particular concern were 50 reports of livestock being chased and/or attacked by dogs, suggesting this illegal activity is far commoner than official reports would suggest. There were also 150 reports of livestock being fed by the public, and nearly 140 reports of cars blocking access to the open forest. Other infringements recorded on multiple occasions included drone flying, wild camping, open fires/BBQs, fly-tipping, and the picking of large quantities of fungi. About three-quarters of recorded breaches were on the Crown lands, which cover roughly half of the National Park and are managed by Forestry England. However, a Freedom of Information request to Forestry England by FoNF confirmed that there have been no formal investigations or prosecutions of byelaw breaches since at least 2015 (see here).

“We are grateful to everyone who contributed data to this initiative. The results are startling and show that current forest initiatives focussed on educational activities and volunteering alone are insufficient to protect the forest from harm, and that we urgently require updated byelaws that are appropriately promoted and enforced by the forest authorities.”

John Ward, Chairman

This latest survey follows a detailed report produced by the FoNF and provided to Forestry England last year that documents the various impacts of recreational activities on the special qualities of the New Forest, including internationally protected habitats and species.

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New Forest Byelaw Watch

The New Forest is in theory protected by byelaws that aim to conserve the forest, preserve its tranquillity, and regulate recreational use. However, the increase in local recreational pressure associated with COVID-19 travel restrictions has highlighted issues around limited public awareness of the byelaws and a general lack of enforcement by the appropriate authorities; this is not a new problem, but it is generating increased concern amongst the local community.

Last year the Friends of the New Forest produced a  Report highlighting the various negative impacts caused by recreational activities on the Special Qualities of the New Forest and provided this to the relevant forest authorities to inform future management action. Unfortunately, although we recognise that most forest users do behave responsibly, the actions of a minority (who deliberately or unwittingly breach the relevant byelaws or guidance) are unfortunately continuing to contribute to some of the impacts outlined in our report.

It is also clear that the byelaws that cover the largest areas of the New Forest, specifically the Forestry Commission byelaws (established 1982) and the National Trust byelaws (established 1965) urgently require updating and/or clarifying to take account of the evolving nature of recreational activities; pertinent local examples include the increased use of drones, paramotors, e-bikes, and e-scooters in and around the New Forest in recent years.

The Friends of the New Forest have therefore launched New Forest Byelaw Watch to 1) help promote local New Forest byelaws, guidance, and the New Forest Code, and 2) generate independent data highlighting which recreational and/or commercial activities are of most concern. We are asking forest users to complete a simple recording form between 15 Sept and 31 Oct 2021 and will use the results to inform the relevant authorities of particular ‘hotspots’ of damaging activity, and areas where increased enforcement and/or clarification of existing byelaws may be required; we also welcome any photos showing evidence of negative impacts of recreational activities.

The recording form can be accessed and completed online or downloaded in pdf and doc format from the links below; Forms can be completed and returned digitally on a smartphone or tablet or printed for use in the field and photographed or scanned for return by email. Although we prefer digital submission, we can also accept postal contributions at the address below.
Online Survey Form
Download Survey Form (.pdf version)
Download Survey Form (.doc Version)
The raw data will only be accessible to Council Members of the Friends of the New Forest and will be compliant with GDPR requirements, and only appropriately anonymised and aggregated data and photos will be provided to the forest authorities and released to the public.

Thanks in advance for taking part in New Forest Byelaw Watch and helping to inform the future protection of the New Forest.

Sarah Nield (FoNF Secretary)
Green Oaks
Wilverley Road
Brockenhurst
SO42 7SP

A summary infographic of the New Forest Code is provided below,
and links to the full Forestry England and National Trust byelaws are below that:

Forestry England byelaws

National Trust byelaws

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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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Presentment: Close The Campsites That Harm Habitat

Denny Wood Caravan Site, New Forest - geograph.org.uk - 36636

Close Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech Campsites as Natural England Intended

The Friends of the New Forest support a comprehensive review of the campsites on the Crown Lands, their infrastructure and impact on habitat and livestock, and action taken to implement protection of the designated habitats, including the 2001 prescription of Natural England to close three campsites.

Citing fundamental incompatibility within close proximity of veteran trees[i], 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 [ii].

We are at present expanding our recent consideration of evidence on recreation impact [iii] , to focus on campsite impacts and develop a spatial model of proximity of the sites to key species and SPA features.  For now it is worth noting:

  • 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].
  • Some campsites are in such close proximity to protected nesting bird habitats, that if they were merely car parks, they would be closed from March to August under current Forestry England policy.
  • Our 2010 Campsite Survey[v] showed the campsites in pasture woodlands, (those identified for closure in the 2001 SAC Plan), have less than half the canopy they ought.
  • Unwelcome, invasive plant species have been recorded at campsites throughout the UK and the New Forest in particular. [vi]

We are gathering further evidence and will report by this Autumn.

We ask that the Verderers use their position as a key partner in the National Park’s new Partnership Plan, whose draft lacks any meaningful initiatives to address the impacts of campsites [vii], and abandons previous aspirations [viii].

The Partnership Plan provides an opportunity, not just to assess the campsites on the Forest, but also for the National Park Authority with New Forest District Council to more comprehensively track, manage and establish standards for temporary campsite provision as granted under Permitted Development Rights.  The growth of the pop-up / temporary campsites, and other facilities off the Crown Lands may have already provided or exceeded provision necessary to replace the capacity which would be lost from possible closures.  With consistent standards for mitigation and sustainability, off Forest campsites would directly benefit the rural economy and commoning, as well as disperse tourist spending throughout the district.

For many years it has been known that some campsites are incompatible with the habitats they occupy.  In addition, the CDA and Verderers now believe that camping on the Crown Lands is incompatible with livestock.  It is possible to meet the desire of visitors to camp and enjoy the Forest without causing harm to its valuable  habitats and commoning way of life. We ask everyone who cares for the Forest to join us in demanding action from Forestry England, and both the New Forest National Park and District Council to bring this about.

This Presentment follows on the heels of other calls made by the Verderers and the Commoners Defence Association to review the Campsites on the Crown Lands.

It should be noted that these are only roughly a fifth of the campsites in the New Forest area.  They are of concern as they are directly on protected habitats on public lands where commoners livestock freely roam and graze.  When they were established in the 1960’s there was less understanding of the impacts on habitat from recreation.  This outdated infrastructure urgently needs reevaluation as we face the catastrophic declines in species and effects of climate change.

Click Background Notes for the references made throughout this Presentment.  The article also expands some of the points.  We will be giving further coverage of this debate in the coming weeks, as well as reviewing the broader implications of Natural England’s 2010 SAC Management plan on the Campsites.

 

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The Power of the Press?

A Saturday article in the Daily Telegraph extolling walking in the New Forest and suggesting some Forest honeypots to visit, school half term, a dry, if not sunny, Sunday in October. Which of these was the dominant factor is hard to say but dry days and half term come around fairly regularly in the New Forest without always causing quite so much chaos and harm.

On Sunday, yesterday, I cycled through part of the New Forest, from Lyndhurst via Emery Down to the Bolderwood car park, returning along the Bolderwood and Rhinefield Ornamental Drives to Brockenhurst.

I had hoped to cycle gently along enjoying the Forest landscape in early Autumn colour, perhaps seeing a few pigs on the way – but it was not a happy experience.

All the way along the road from Emery Down there were sporadic groups of a few cars or individual vehicles pulled off the road to park on the Forest beside the road. There were also concentrations of on-Forest parking at Whitemore, the Portuguese fireplace and Millyford Bridge, even though the nearby car park did not seem to be full. I commented on this to my companion because this extent of on-Forest parking is not something we are used to seeing on this road.

At Bolderwood car park itself it was not surprising to find it full, but there was extensive overflow on-Forest parking along the roadside beside the car park and adjoining lawn.

Turning left into the Ornamental Drive was difficult because a camper van was parked on the junction itself followed by an unrelieved string of cars parked on the Forest beside the road from there until the cattlegrid, both damaging the Forest and substantially blocking the road.

From the cattlegrid beside the car park entrance on there were only a few cars pulled off the road, but some determined motorists unable to park alongside the road had turned off and driven into the Forest to park their cars.

Cars had overflowed the Knightwood Oak car park and were parked on the Forest beside the road. After crossing the A35, unfortunately things became even worse. Blackwater car park was a scene of chaotic congestion. The car park was full and cars had been parked on the Forest beside the road nose to tail with no gaps for several 100 yards. I got off my bicycle and walked, but because the parked cars effectively reduced the highway enough to prevent oncoming cars passing each other these motorists were driving off the road to pass and in so doing were destroying a one to two yard strip of the New Forest opposite the parked cars, churning it into a muddy mess.

At none of these spots could I see any sign of a Forestry England or National Park Ranger. They might have been there, but out of my sight, and given their limited resources perhaps to be expected on a Sunday.

There was not a lot of tranquillity, landscape beauty or wildlife, and for me not much ‘well-being’ either – but maybe it was my own fault for venturing near to New Forest honeypot sites on a Sunday.

Is there anything to be done, or are selected areas of the Forest to be written off as visitor concentration areas? When some essential highway works are carried out (such as those currently proposed at Ipley cross roads) there is, quite rightly, an expectation that land lost to the Forest will be compensated by other land being thrown open to the Forest. But there is no redress or compensation for the damage done to the Forest by visitors, particularly with their motor vehicles.

Certainly, the one thing that is clear is that whatever amount ‘information’, and ‘education’ is produced it will always be overwhelmed by the power of some burst of “Go to the New Forest’ publicity in the national media.

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Recreation Management and the Special Qualities of the New Forest

Life in the Forest been very much a year of two different halves with Covid19. Initially with Lockdown in force the Forest was unusually quiet and undisturbed, with breeding wildlife enjoying a less disturbed existence than usual.

But then Lockdown restrictions were relaxed and suddenly the Forest was hit with an unprecedented deluge of uncontrolled and seemingly unstoppable recreation activity.

Local fire fighters, police, conservationists, rangers and commoners were among those who reported repeated incidents of unacceptable behaviour by some visitors who ignored the measures in place to protect the fragile habitats of the area. Cars were found parked irresponsibly, blocking gateways that are used by the emergency services, park rangers, and commoners accessing their livestock. Grass verges that have international conservation designations upon them were driven over or used for parking. Visitors were found wild camping, lighting fires or using disposable barbeques, and some of the New Forest’s most important ponds for wildlife were used for swimming, kayaking and even paddle boarding.

We feared that this might be a glimpse of things to come as the Forest becomes ever more closely encircled by a growing urban population. Our Council met to discuss a whole range of recreation management issues and this week we have published a report that aims to remind decision-makers about the Special Qualities of the New Forest and the urgent need to protect them from the effects of recreational activity. The Special Qualities considered in the report include habitats and species of international importance within designated wildlife sites.

The authors of the report, FoNF Council members, Clive Chatters and Russell Wynn, have stated that 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 recommends that a long-term monitoring process be adopted to ensure that recreational policies are evidence-based and flexible to future change.

We are concerned 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.

It is intended that this contribution to the debate will assist in the development of an appropriate recreational management strategy for the New Forest, supported and implemented by Forestry England and the New Forest National Park Authority.

We have offered the support of Friends of the New Forest with future monitoring that underpins this strategy. 

You may read or download the report from the link below:

A CONTRIBUTION TO UNDERSTANDING THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE RECREATIONAL USE OF THE NEW FOREST WITH ITS SPECIAL QUALITIES

Eyeworth Pond
Parking on the Forest to picnic
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Proposed tree felling at Slap Bottom Burley

Statement Issued 20th December 2019

The Association’s attention has been drawn to concerns raised about proposed tree felling within the New Forest at Slap Bottom, Burley. We note comments made by objectors, the intervention of local MP, Sir Desmond Swayne and recent press reports. Some objectors have sought our support.

As Forestry England know well, we are the first to object to any of their proposals for forest operations that we consider not to be in the best interests of the long-term protection of the New Forest. In making these judgements we take the best scientific advice available regarding the implications, overall effects and likely long-term consequences for the New Forest.

In this case we have visited the site and reviewed the proposal together with the necessary consents obtained by Forestry England. These include the Felling License application with associated maps, the habitat restoration purpose of the works, proper consideration under any appropriate assessment requirements of Regulation 63 of the Habitats Regulations, and the views of Natural England that the whole proposal, as submitted, is directly connected to or necessary for the management of this European Site for the interest features for which The New Forest Special Area of Conservation, New Forest Special Protection Area, New Forest RAMSAR Site has been designated. 

In conclusion this proposal is one that is fully supported by the Friends of the New Forest as a well-considered and moderate proposal to restore habitats without harmful landscape impacts.

In a relatively small area an invasive exotic tree, Scots Pine, is being removed from valuable open wetland habitat, which is being damaged by their shade. However, retention of evergreens, both Scots Pine and Holly, is proposed for the neighbouring properties. This is not a large-scale felling but a necessary one to restore degraded habitat, which is internationally threatened and in itself makes a valuable contribution to carbon fixing. The scheme is already a compromise and has been modified to retain a landscape screen for the neighbours.

One of the stated reasons for objection that has been widely circulated by objectors concerns the loss of trees at a time of Climate Crisis, when trees should be planted not felled. The general view that trees are an important part of carbon capture is to be lauded, but in this case it is simplistic and misguided, based on not understanding the interaction of different types and ages of trees and other habitats to maximise opportunities for carbon fixing.

So far as the Climate Change Crisis is concerned, science tells us that removing trees from organic-rich soils will enhance the capacity of that landscape to absorb carbon. If that tree removal is accompanied by wetland restoration then that capacity is further enhanced. More carbon is held in organic-rich soils than in standing trees. In addition, the world (and the New Forest) is facing a Biodiversity Crisis with species extinction, and the Forest’s bogs and heaths have an international importance for wildlife that depends on them being kept free from invasive species such as Scots Pine.

The proposed works will both improve the habitat and prevent the drying out of wetland, so increasing the retention of stored carbon with an overall gain in terms of carbon capture.

www.friendsofthenewforest.org www.facebook.com/NewForestAssociation Registered Charity No: 260328           Hon Secretary: Tara Dempsey secretary@friendsofthenewforest.org Chair: John Ward chair@friendsofthenewforest.org
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Presentment: New Forest Crown Freehold Properties

Here we welcome a guest post from Dr Tony Hockley, Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

I would like to begin with a quotation from the only person I have yet encountered with 100% confidence in their own knowledge of this landscape:

“It is not the flowers, not the birds or the deer or the badgers or the butterflies that are in most urgent need of conservation here but the people, the real people of this place.” *

Chris Packham’s wise words are deeply relevant to what I have to say.

It is now more than two years after I succeeded Dr Ferris as Chair of the CDA. Since then nothing has caused me greater and more consistent concern than the challenge of ensuring that there will be affordable land and homes available for the next generation of commoners – in Britain’s least affordable National Park ** .

We are fortunate that we have a keen and active young commoners group in the CDA. Young people who are willing to commit their lives to sustaining the grazing of the New Forest – An incredible vocational commitment, amongst all the other pressures of modern life, upon which everything that is so special about this landscape depends.

In 1991, after a thorough review of the challenges and all options to sustain grazing, the Secretary of State determined that the 65 Crown holdings should be prioritised for those who would commit to New Forest grazing, and that they should be kept truly affordable to them. Since the time of the Illingworth Report these holdings have enabled families with a long history of commoning to maintain the practice, from one generation to the next. We all benefit from their love of the New Forest, their deep knowledge of the livestock and the landscape, and their lifelong commitment to commoning. The Crown holdings have been crucial in this.

In 2016 all that changed – on a whim. The Forestry Commission simply decided that market rents would help fill the coffers: To cash in on property values in Britain’s most expensive and least affordable National Park. In 2017 Sir Desmond Swayne prompted ministers to remind the Commission that such a change of policy would require a formal and inclusive review, and a decision by ministers. Since then we have caught the Commission advertising cottages to the highest bidder, with no mention of grazing, and allocating them to its own managers however it sees fit.

Forestry England is now attempting to entrap this Court in its disgraceful strategy of privatisation by stealth. By selecting just one small part of the Government policy, for one cottage at New Park; this is the involvement of Verderers in tenant selection. Clearly, it hopes that the Court will not notice:

  1. Every other holding has been auctioned or allocated to staff. With no consultation with this Court: Powdermill, Kings Hat, Longbeech, Springfield.
  2. The rent for Little New Park has been fixed at more than 100% of many young commoners’ household income. Not the 15% stipulated by Government. With no consultation with this Court.
  3. An arbitrary qualification has been set, that at least 10 ponies will be turned out from Little New Park’s 1.3 acres of back-up land. With no consultation with this Court
  4. It has separated the barn from the property: Again with no consultation with this Court.
  5. For Little New Park it is demanding income statements from anyone interested, to check they can afford £18,000 a year in rent alone and to deter all those commoners who cannot.

Tenant selection is, therefore, just a trap that the Court would be wise to avoid. This is simply a diversion along the route to effective privatisation of the Crown freeholds; removing them from support for commoning.

This open defiance of government policy for Crown property is shameful from a public body. It not only defies policies that have worked well to sustain Forest grazing over a quarter century. It also defies the Ministers Mandate to the Commission; that it should put the Forest first, ahead of its corporate financial interests. And it defies the 2018 Accord with National Parks England. I am very sorry to say that we no longer have confidence in the Deputy Surveyor to put the Forest first in this regard.

This is a matter of the utmost gravity for the future of commoning in the New Forest. We have tried for three years to work with the Forestry Commission – willing to discuss update the Illingworth policies, but their ears are deaf to the voice of the Forest. They will push on regardless of all due process. Standing idly by whilst Forestry England misappropriates these Crown properties, so that tenancy is a matter of income rather than the good of the Forest, will have lasting consequences for the conservation of this precious landscape. We are very grateful to the Friends of the New Forest for their support.

I have written to the Secretary of State to ask him to put a stop to this disgraceful episode. I would urge the Court and the National Park Authority to do likewise.

Dr Tony Hockley is a Practicing Commoner and Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association. This has been shared with his express permission, and represents the view of the CDA.

The Friends of the New Forest fully support this position, and have and will continue to stress the importance of all initiatives to maintain affordable housing stock for practicing commoners which is essential to commoning’s continuing service to the Forest.

The CDA Blog post detailing more of the history including the Illingworth report may be read here.

* Chris Packham, Foreword to Clive Chatters “Flowers of the New Forest” WildGuides (2009), p9
** Average property values within the National Park boundary are now 15.9 times average local income.

 

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