|Habitat and Landscape Chair, Brian Tarnoff reviews with uncharacteristic brevity the past year on the Forest Design Plan, Recreation Management Strategy and the England Coast Path. Part of our series of Annual Reports relevant to our AGM on Saturday 21st April 2018. Updates since original publication, reflecting these ever changing issues, are provided below each section.|
Once again I am full of gratitude and amazement at the generous contributions of our committee members this year. This included countless hours volunteered to pour over one of the most vital consultations we’ve seen in some time, and days spent trudging the Forest in all weathers on site visits for works proposed by the Forestry Commission on the open Forest.
The Forest Design Plan
Consultation continued this year. Our ecologists took part in round table discussions on this year’s draft, a palpable improvement over the March 2016 version. The detail, which had concerned us previously, now was much more in line with the commitment from the 1999 Minister’s Mandate (strongly supported by subsequent policy) to restore pasture woodlands, heathlands, valley mires and Ancient and Semi-Natural native woodland, and favour broadleaves over conifer. In these meetings, Forestry Commission staff expressed sound underlying principles that would serve this plan, both in its current form, and going forward, to manage towards these goals.
Our main quibble is that the documentation of the plan does not adequately express those principles. This may seem a small thing, given how close the detail plan is to delivering many of our Association’s goals, but without them in place the plan may not be able to show its logic adequately to stand on its own against Habitats Regulations Assessment, or possible changes in future management of the Forest which could veer away from the promise this plan holds.
After the public consultation on the plan, the Forest Services review determined that consent under EIA regulations is required for the deforestation proposals (some areas being returned to open Forest habitats). Forest Enterprise has been tasked with producing an Environmental Statement for consideration, and we are amongst the stakeholders invited to a scoping exercise in January 2018. DEFRA have agreed to roll forward some elements of the FC’s expired felling license, which was dependent on the now unknown date for approval of the plan by the Inspectorate for renewal.
|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.|
Wetland Restoration Strategy
In a similar spirit of openness the Forestry Commission proposed a Wetland Restoration Strategy at a well-attended December workshop including representatives across the spectrum of the debate. In addition to more constructive engagement with all stakeholders, we hope this will lead to a monitoring program that is apt, affordable and will adequately support future efforts.
|The FC have just updated us (12/04/2018) with a view of present and future monitoring plans. We believe these will be robust and adequately adapt and augment standard river monitoring techniques to the unique challenges of the New Forest’s streams and wetlands. We hope sufficient funding will be allowed to cover a range of catchments including both restored and untouched.|
England Coast Path
Understandably our section of Coast, with a nearly uninterrupted series of very protected habitats (some garnering between four and five layers of designation, nationally and internationally), has been a very thorny problem for Natural England, who have nudged the consultation forward throughout the year. Once mooted for March 2017, now February 2018 (the original target date for implementation was March 2018).
Although a habitat adjacent inland route may be viable, the coastal margin created by the default spreading room designated in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 would potentially create up to 3,500 acres of new access land on these easily disturbed habitats, where it would cause irreparable damage. We hope that Natural England will exclude these, but even if they do, the Ordnance Survey will not show those exclusions. Our main role currently seems to be to remind one and all of the immense importance of our Coast with greater fragility and importance than the precious habitats of the Crown Lands that typically draw our focus.
|The eight week consultation on the Highcliffe-Calshot stretch finally began on 14th March 2018 and is due to run until 9th of May 2018. The route itself (barring some quibbles) is reasonable, however the exclusions for spreading room are either incomplete or lacking classification for habitat protection. The consultation documents themselves are of greater scale and complexity (the sensitive features appraisal alone, at 215 pages is three times larger than the equivalent document for any of the other published stretches), and yet we’re expected to comment on them within the standard 8 week consultation window. The Sensitive Features Appraisal is rife with error and stops short of a full Habitats Regulation Assessment (relying on flimsy mitigation measures which have failed elsewhere). We could go on (and we will elsewhere….), but in short, the needs of our habitat point up severe flaws in the legislation, specification and consultation processes.|
Recreation Management Strategy
The welcome review of the NPA’s Recreation Management Strategy has been mentioned above in this annual report. Unfortunately the public survey reiterated paragraphs from the current strategy alongside each potential subject heading, leaving some confused as to whether to respond to these remarks or implicitly approve them? For our response we asked that the next RMS should feature priority projects with clear objectives and timeframes. We proposed a comprehensive review of recreation infrastructure within the park, including surveys of habitats, campsites and parking, with actions leading to a provision that is ‘Fit for Purpose’. We proposed initiatives to raise the profile of the National Park so the decision makers of adjacent Authorities and communities become more aware of their impacts on the Forest and ‘Section 62 Duties’, create adequate, proportional mitigation, and petition Central Government for more strategic targets to take pressure off the Forest. We also asked for clearer messages in Education that would easily highlight the Forest’s need for protection as a National Nature Reserve, Working Farm and Working Forest.
|Our full response to the RMS survey is here. Subsequent remarks on the Park Authority’s flawed draft interpretation here.|
Going Forward — Other areas of concern to address in 2018:
Dibden Bay (ABP) / Fawley Power Station (Fawley Waterside Ltd)
Along with Associated British Ports revisiting their goal of a deep-water container port at Dibden Bay, our Association and the whole of the Forest will be facing many challenges for renewed development of the already heavily urbanised Waterside. This includes the proposal by Fawley Waterside Ltd for the development of a new town, with an estimated population of 3,500 on the site of the Fawley Power Station. The development on the brownfield portion of the site, originally exempted from the National Park, might be hard to resist, but the current proposal includes a ‘village’ built out into the National Park on Tom Tiddler’s Ground*, which is a young coastal grazing marsh and forms a rough habitat that is prime for rehabilitation.
|— excerpted with updates and links from the NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee Annual report, by Committee Chair, Brian Tarnoff
* Tom Tiddler’s Ground is considered over several pages in committee member Clive Chatter’s tome Flowers of the Forest.
Finally, we should note that many of our committee members were involved in steering the process which led to the purchase by the RSPB of a major landholding in the Forest, now to be known as RSPB Franchises Lodge. We’ve been embargoed from discussing this effort as it has unfolded over the years (and at long last announced on 23 Mar 2018). I wish to thank the RSPB for the purchase, and the members of our committee who identified and shepherded this opportunity to fruition.