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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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Verderers View: Dog Attacks / Presentments

At September’s Verderers Court, in his Announcements and Decisions, the Official Verderer, Dominic May, spoke of a recent successfully prosecuted dog attack, and affirmed the rules for length and relevance of Presentments to the Court.

Dog Attack

On April 21st, two bull mastiff dogs, owned by a visitor to Holland’s Wood Campsite, chased and viciously attacked a Shetland pony.  The pony was chased so far from the campsite that she was not found until the next day.  At first it was hoped she could be saved, but due to the severity of the injuries inflicted by the dogs, a vet recommended that she should be destroyed.

The owner of the dogs, Thomas Allen from Slough, was successfully prosecuted and has been fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £884 compensation to the pony’s owner and costs of £250.  

Northern end of Hollands Wood camp site, New Forest - geograph.org.uk - 43408
Northern end of
Hollands Wood camp site, New Forest.

We are very grateful to the staff at the campsite, to Forestry Commission Keeper Jonathan Cook, and to the police, for their actions and evidence which resulted in this successful prosecution.

We also thank the campers and staff at Holland’s Wood for their brave efforts in trying to drive off the dogs.   In doing so they undoubtedly risked being seriously injured themselves.

One of the dogs suffered a broken nose as a result of being kicked during the incident.

This successful prosecution sends a clear message to all dog owners that they must keep their animals under close control at all times when in the Forest.

Presentments

We have recently suffered some irrelevant or over-long presentments from the public, so please may I remind the Court of our rules.

Presentments must be relevant, and should only address matters that are the responsibility of the Verderers or the Forestry Commission as set out in the various New Forest Acts and Forestry Acts, namely Conservation, Landscape, Governance, Management and Animal Health.

Secondly, presentments must be brief: no longer than five minutes. 

Thirdly, presentments must be moderately phrased and free of any express or implied abuse.

As chairman of the Court, I will stop any presentment from the public which is not relevant, brief or moderate.

Thank you.

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.

Here is the dog attack as covered by the Daily Echo.

Many visitors to the Forest do not take account of both the unpredictability of the Forest’s livestock, nor their own dogs facing their novelty.  Even though you are your dogs are allowed off lead, that does not make it always appropriate.  All are requested to have dogs under “close control” which may include use of the lead. The FC Byelaws state: “No person shall in or on the lands of the Commissioners:-…(xiv) permit a dog for which he is responsible to disturb, worry or chase any bird or animal or, on being requested by an officer of the Commissioners, fail to keep the dog on a leash;”.

Here is the National Park’s page on the New Forest Dog Walking Code.

It should be noted that an NFA representative swiftly tested the five minute limit on Presentments, and was duly cut short, as was one other presentment at Wednesday’s Court.