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England Coast Path: What you need to know

The consultation on the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch of the England Coast Path closes on Wednesday 9th May.  We’ve been discussing the possible negative impacts of the proposed route since 2016 when it was mooted that this Consultation would happen in March 2017.  We’ve shared some aspects here through presentments to the Verderers, statements to the National Park Authority, and our letter to the Access Forum.  However, it’s worth putting the project into perspective, what it is and why we’re concerned.  We’ll start with this overview of the bare basics.

Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 mandated the The England Coast Path (ECP).  The Act’s other aims created a new Marine Management Organisation, made alterations to marine licensing and fisheries management, and provided the set up for marine conservation zones.  In addition to the establishment of an English coastal walking route, it also included rights of access to land near the English coast.

So far, so benign.  There are existing Coastal Routes, the South West Coast Path, Norfolk Coast Path, Wales, etc. and here the Solent Way.  To a certain extent it hardly seems necessary.  The key problem comes from the creation of requirement known as “Coastal Access Duty”,  including not just providing the route, but also the creation of new access land called “Coastal Margin”.  Coastal Margin was left undefined in the 2009 legislation, but since has come to be broadly defined as the entire seaward side of the route (with certain exceptions, and possible discretionary landward additions).  That definition encourages land owners to allow the path placed as close to the coast as is practical.

This becomes problematic as our coast includes a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected habitats of international importance alongside which the route will necessarily skew inland.  Sending the route inland to avoid habitat, has the simultaneous effect of designating that habitat, seaward of the route, as access land, which defeats the purpose of avoidance.  Some land, such as arable, private buildings and their curtilage, are considered “Excepted Land”, and Natural England have the discretion of creating “directions to Exclude” on the basis of habitat or public safety, together these are the slim protections from Coastal Margin access.

Increased use and disturbance

Creation new non-historically based Rights of Way and joining up of existing routes, increasing their use will impact on tranquility and habitat disturbance.  There is funding for path upgrades, signs and rudimentary barriers, but no funding for parking, other infrastructure, or any other mitigation measures (as a developer creating the same access would be required to provide).  Some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast would exacerbate the verge parking problem.

Signs explaining exclusions will not make up for the Ordnance Survey’s decision (with the alleged fiat of a “stakeholder group”) to show all potential Coastal Margin as Access Land, disregarding whatever Excepted Land, or Exclusions may be in place.  A conservative estimate of the current proposal would have 75% of our Coastal Margin fall under these prohibitions, but the Ordnance Survey will show them as access anyway, despite their standing as providers of a definitive map.

Sensitive Features

In the current proposal Natural England have not sufficient excluded our designated habitats and have created new Rights of Way adjacent and through SSSI designated land.  They have not made directions for dogs on lead aside or through habitats, or land used for livestock including back-up land vital to commoning.  They have not provided maps that show the vital spatial relationships of the route to protected, vulnerable or excepted land.

The Sensitive Features Assessment for our coast is the largest of the 31 stretches published to date.  At 222 pages it is twice the size of the next largest, and five times larger than the average (excluding itself).  The report is fraught with inaccuracies and errors, including misquotes from some of our ecologists.  Natural England have not performed a full Habitats Regulation Assessment to judge the impacts, they use a get out from their own guidance which allows them to conclude that their own mitigation proposals (signage, willow screens) are sufficient. That self determining logic was just slammed in the European Court in April (the judgement required that full HRA be performed).

The guidance creates a principle, not based in the legislation of “least restrictive option” for conflicts between Coastal Access Duty and other interests, including habitat, favouring recreation, where in a National Park, the Sandford Principle, enshrined in the legislation would indicate the opposite.  The over interpretation of Coastal Access Duty, particularly the Margin, by Natural England shows no regard for the National Park Purposes or Special Qualities.  It also fall far short of subsequent policies, including the Government’s flagship 25 Year Environment Plan.

Conclusion

The particularly large size and sensitivity of the New Forest Coast was clearly not foreseen by those framing the legislation, which is ill suited to application of its subsequent all encompassing Coastal Margin definition.  Natural England have not provided adequate proposal for consultation, including poor mapping, inaccurate and incomplete Assessments. The poor decision by the Ordnance Survey to serve up protected areas as accessible is a gross misrepresentation.  Taken together, and in some cases separately, this will lead to unacceptable damage to habitats.  All the worse, as it should be avoidable, not intentionally planned.

Coming Soon:

We will be fleshing out many of the points made above, for those who may doubt any of our claims, or if you just want to dig deeper to see what should have been a harmless, if unnecessary project, put through the legislative and government grinder to become a fiasco, warning, some of this will illicit anger.  (Links will go live as each article is posted, watch this space and/or our facebook page)

England Coast Path:
What’s At Stake : Our Coastal Habitat, how precious it is, how you might not have known that.
Consultation and Complexity : How is our stretch more difficult?
MisGuidance : Natural England’s Playbook for Coastal Access has problems.  LIVE
Out of Order : One of the worst features of this was not consulted on publicly.  Ever.  LIVE
Margin of Error : When is something inland somehow part of the Coast?
Not A Whitewash (Magenta, Actually) : The Ordnance Survey’s Rubberstamping of a Bad Idea  LIVE
Up An Estuary, Without a Paddle : No one really knows what to do about an Estuary.
Sense and Insensitivity : What happens when Sensitive Features Appraisal doesn’t live up to its title?
Do we need it? : In which we might have to argue with a Rambler (no one wants to do that).
What can I do about it? : We suggest some representations you might wish to make. LIVE

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CDA Letter to Members Relating to Localised Excessive Poaching

This letter was written by New Forest Commoners Defence Association Chair Tony Hockley to CDA members, following concerns during the wet winter of 2017-2018.

Dear Member

You should by now have received letters from the Official Verderer and Deputy Surveyor relating to localised excessive poaching. The CDA welcomes these interventions. Commoning rests on the principle that we share a responsibility to exercise our rights in ways that are mutually beneficial.

The CDA is working hard to ensure that we have a system of financial support after Brexit that It is locally designed and locally led, unlike the BPS. For the next few years, however, we must work within the existing system. We must demonstrate that the New Forest is up to the task of leading a future bespoke scheme and to take full responsibility for its implementation.

It is clear that the vast majority of commoners take these responsibilities to each other and to the Forest very seriously indeed. We cannot, therefore, allow the actions of a very small number to destroy what we are achieving and what we hope to achieve in the future (In the short term we also face the risk of removal of approval for cattle feeding areas on the Open Forest). The letters from the Official Verderer and the Deputy Surveyor set out some of the powers that can be used by them to ensure good grazing practice. Our own CDA Rule 33 states that: “The committee may suspend or terminate the membership of any member who is deemed to have acted in a way which is prejudicial to the interests of the commoners or the Association”. Wilful and unnecessary damage to the grazing would be prejudicial to all of our interests.

The CDA will be calling on the Verderers to use their powers to support good grazing practice and compliance with existing regulations. We will also be asking for the Verderers Grazing Scheme Advisory Group to be convened to discuss the general topic of grazing levels and policies.

Our partnership work on a future support scheme for the New Forest is generating significant goodwill for commoning. i am very confident that if we continue to demonstrate the best of commoning over the next two or three years, based on our genuine concern for the Forest, we will be able to achieve a sustainable and lasting solution.

Yours faithfully

Tony Hockley

Chairman

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Presentment April: England Coast Path

England Coast Path proposal shows new Rights of Way on one map (middle right), Habitat Exclusions on another in a different document (top), and both maps do not show the relevant Site of Special Scientific Interest (bottom), a small fraction of which is in the Exclusion.

I’d hoped that my previous presentment on the England Coast Path would be the last, and thank the court yet again for its inclusion in unusual circumstances.

The complexity of the proposal demands a bit more, the longest of the 31 (of 66) published to date, including a Sensitive Features Appraisal running 222 pages, nearly 5 times larger than the average (excluding itself), and twice the size of the next largest (Burnham-on-Crouch to Maldon). The maps Natural England provide are misleading as they do not adequately reflect the key spatial relationships between the path, protected habitats and coastal margin. At a minimum Natural England should provide useable maps for comment, and extend the consultation proportionately to reflect the scale of the proposal. They should also be at pains to perform a complete Habitat Regulation Assessment and resolve the rife inaccuracies in the features appraisal.

As for issues under the Verderer’s remit: fields that may come into or out of management as backup grazing are not excepted land (as it is not arable), but Natural England have not required dogs on leads on the route adjacent or through potential backup land. They have not followed their own guidance from the Coastal Access Scheme [*]:

Guidance 2.4.6 As on other land with access rights under Part 1 of CROW, a person with a dog must keep it on a short lead in the vicinity of livestock. The purpose of this provision is to prevent dogs from approaching livestock.

We hope the Verderers, in their statutory role on behalf of commoning, will request that this is applied in all possible instances. The NFA, for our part, will go further asking that dogs be kept on leads for any portion of the route that is adjacent to protected habitat, grazing which may be used by livestock, or spreading room leading to either habitat or grazing.


[*] The Coastal Access Scheme 2013, page 14 – this guidance document was mandated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 Section 298 The coastal access scheme. The first version of the Scheme (NE268) was approved on 23rd March 2010, under section 298(2) of the 2009 Act. Section 299(2) of the Act required Natural England to complete an initial review of the Scheme within three years, which they did, publishing that result 11th July 2013. However, by that time they had only had three stretches published, and one of those approved.


ADDENDUM:

We have secured an agreement with one of the statutory consultees that we will request that the Ordnance Survey not depict “coastal margin” the spreading room associated with the route at all for our stretch of the coast. As noted previously, the OS policy would be to show the entirety of the area seaward of the route, which is potentially coastal margin, under a “magenta wash”.

A conservative estimate of the proposal shows that at least 75% of the potential margin will fall either under excepted land (arable, buildings and their curtilage, etc) or excluded land designated by Natural England for either Public Safety reasons (S25) or Habitat Protection (S26). This would make the OS default depiction grossly inaccurate.

Consultation Map Issues

The maps provided do not adequately reflect the key spatial relationships between the path, protected habitats and coastal margin, and make it exceedingly difficult to make judgements. There is only one map that depicts the entire route (index map), within each chapter separate maps show sections numbered for comment, no map showing the route for each entire chapter is provided, and only landward spreading room is depicted, no excepted or excluded areas are shown. Maps of exclusions appear in the separate Overview document and don’t show path or even other exclusions that overlap the map area depicted. None of the maps of paths or exclusions show the relevant areas of habitat designation (SSSI, Nature Reserves, SAC, SPA, Areas of Special Protection and Ramsar Wetlands).

ECP with Exclusions, SSSI, SAC
As an example of what would be useful, you’ll find attached my approximate overlay map of the route shown in orange (part of Chapter 3, and all of Chapters 4 and 5 of the proposal, the Orange diamonds showing the chapter divisions). The North Solent Site of Special Scientific Interest is outlined in magenta pink with diagonal hatch, and the Solent & Southampton Water SPA is shown in orange with vertical pinstripe. Areas wholly excluded from Coastal Margin year round under Section 26 Nature Conservation are depicted with a grey overlay. Section 25a Exclusions under Public Safety are not depicted, but to the Salt Marsh and Flats portion of the SSSI along the Beaulieu estuary (but not its terra firma), and similar areas from the mouth of the Lymington river and including Keyhaven (not on the map) and Solent shore. It would also be useful to have maps in each chapter clearly delineating which sections are “new” as opposed to those that are part of existing Rights of Way, Highways etc.

Coastal Margin

Throughout the documentation and guidance Natural England refers to coastal margin including the entire seaward side of the route, however this definition does not exist in the primary legislation, but is created by a subsequent statutory instrument. This means the definition of coastal margin was never consulted upon leading to the legislation. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 Section 3(3) defines “coastal land” as “the foreshore, and land adjacent to the foreshore (including in particular any cliff, bank, barrier, dune, beach or flat which is adjacent to the foreshore).” Section 3A(1) (inserted by the 2009 Act) specifies “The Secretary of State may by order specify the descriptions of land in England which are coastal margin for the purposes of this Part.”

That order “The Access to the Countryside (Coastal Margin) (England) Order 2010 No. 558” was discussed by the Delegated Legislation Committee by 17 MPs on 23 February 2010 for twenty minutes, and was discussed at unspecified length by the Lords Grand Committee on 9 February 2010 during a 3 hour meeting which included five other items of legislation. Here’s the definition from the Order:

Descriptions of coastal margin
3.—(1) Land in England is coastal margin for the purposes of Part 1 of the CROW Act (access to the countryside) if it falls within one or more of the following descriptions.
(2) The first description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of an approved section of the English coastal route passes,
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line, and
(c) land which is seaward of the line of an approved section of the English coastal route and lies between land within sub-paragraph (b) in relation to that approved section and the seaward extremity of the foreshore, if the land within sub-paragraphs (a) to (c), taken as a whole, is coastal land.

(3) The second description of land is land which—

(a) is landward of the line of an approved section of the English coastal route,
(b) is—

(i) foreshore, cliff, bank, barrier, dune, beach or flat, or
(ii) land of any other kind, which is treated by section 15(1) as being accessible to the public apart from the CROW Act, and

(c) when taken together with land within the first description in relation to the approved section, is coastal land.

(4) The third description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of an official alternative route which is for the time being in operation passes, and
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line.

(5) The fourth description of land is—

(a) land over which the line of a temporary route passes, and
(b) land which is adjacent to and within 2 metres either side of that line, to the extent that the land is within section 55I(4)(d) of the 1949 Act(b) (land over which the owner has agreed the temporary route may pass).

We believe that Natural England have been overly inclusive in their interpretation, 1) the order has no scenario to reflect what to do with the coastal margin should the “coastal land” the foreshore etc., be excluded for habitat or safety reasons, it should not follow that the margin leading up to excluded areas should be included 2) this becomes even murkier where the path must travel away from the coast up an estuary to the first foot crossing, particularly one so protected as the Beaulieu – Natural England have the option to terminate the path either side, but avoid this to keep the route contiguous and not create demands for honey pot infrastructure and the terminal points.

The Natural England consultation on this stretch runs until 9 May 2018, more information, criticism and analysis may be found on our website newforestassociation.org.

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Presentment: England Coast Path Consultation

ECP with Exclusions, SSSI, SACWe are now one week into the consultation on the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch of the England Coast Path. This well meaning but unnecessary project will create non-historic rights of way with new access rights to the seaward side of the route. This will bring disturbance to the most remote areas of the National Park, will exacerbate the verge parking problem, and potentially threatens to convert over 3500 acres of protected habitats into coastal access.

Natural England has the power to exclude sensitive habitat from automatic inclusion in coastal margin access, but their proposed exclusions are incomplete. There are gaps such as one through National Nature Reserve at Simm’s Wood and Steerley’s Copse where walkers emerging suddenly onto the Beaulieu estuary from the woodland screen would cause a widespread startle response, serious disturbance to the wintering birds on the eastern shore, where surveys have shown nearly double the population of the west side, likely due to less disturbance. Salt Marshes and Flats are excluded under Section 25 Public Safety where Section 26 Nature Conservation exclusions should have priority and permanence. Elsewhere, vulnerable wader roosts on vegetated shingle beaches, including one of the most provably undisturbed, have not been excluded. In the context of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan which promises stronger conservation of both designated and undesignated habitats, not enough has been excluded to fully protect these fragile areas.

Worse, any exclusions are made a nonsense by the Ordnance Survey decision to show all potential spreading room in coastal margin as access land [under a purple “wash”]. Estimate of the current proposal excludes at least 75% of this area. As many online and smartphone apps license the OS data, this grotesque misrepresentation will mislead visitors into those areas we most need to protect. It is vitally important that all interested parties deter the Ordnance Survey from inaccurately depicting our coastal protected habitats as access land on the allegedly definitive map.

Whilst many of its problems do not directly fall under the Verderer’s remit, So far, one commoner has noted the Path route cuts through fields used both for back up grazing and seasonal running of stallions with mares. This finds the route and seaward coastal margin access unwelcome and unsafe. We hope the Verderers, not just through their direct responsibilities on the Crown Lands, but as supporters of commoning and as a member of the National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy Steering Group, will call for resolution of these problems before the route is approved and implemented.

The Natural England consultation on this stretch runs until 9 May 2018, more information, criticism and analysis may be found on our website newforestassociation.org.

On the above map the approximate ECP consultation route is shown in orange (part of Chapter 3, and all of Chapters 4 and 5 of the proposal, the Orange diamonds showing the chapter divisions).  The North Solent Site of Special Scientific Interest is outlined in magenta pink with diagonal hatch, and the Solent & Southampton Water SPA is shown in orange with vertical pinstripe.  Areas wholly excluded from Coastal Margin year round under Section 26 Nature Conservation are depicted with a grey overlay.  Section 25a Exclusions under Public Safety  are not depicted, but apply only to the Salt Marsh and Flats portion of the SSSI along the Beaulieu estuary (but not its terra firma), and the similar area from the mouth of the Lymington river and including Keyhaven (not on this map).

This presentment was given unusual consideration by the Verderers, as the Court had opened with no announcements, the brief report on animal accidents, and no other presentments, and was closed in record time, just as our presenter appeared.  It was suggested that perhaps the Court had started early (before the 10 am chimes from the  Church of St Michael and All Angels, Lyndhurst), so the Official Verderer allowed the late entry.

We thank the Court once again for that kind indulgence, and wish to convey our suitable mortification to all those present in the court who bore with the ensuing delay as one of the Elected Verderers was then recalled from his hasty exit to the Queen’s House Library.  A similar, but less dramatically sited, statement about the England Coast Path was given the following day at the New Forest National Park’s Authority Meeting under its Public Questions agenda item.

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Public Pressure on the Forest : Presentment from the New Forest Young Commoners Group

Here we welcome a guest post from Oliver Cook, Chair of the New Forest Forest Young Commoners Committee, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

As Young Commoners, we recognise the vital contribution that tourism plays in the local economy and through the very definition of “Commoning” we very much understand the concept of sharing this remarkable area that we are fortunate enough to live and work in with others.

Despite this we too are genuinely concerned by the effect that ever increasing public pressure is having on the Forest’s Landscape, ecology and traditional practices (particularly commoning). Greater visitor numbers is not something that is going to change, nor should it, however we believe that actions must be taken now to help manage the associated impact.

This is not the responsibility of any one body. We believe that it is the responsibility of all individuals and organisations that have a management role or other interest in the Forest. The commoning community is currently looking into how social media can help educate visitors of the Forest to ensure that they are better informed on how the commoning system works and how they can come and see our livestock without inadvertently putting themselves or our animals in danger. We are here today to call for support from the key Forest Authorities to assist us in our challenge, and we make the following four requests and recommendations:

  1. We believe that the quality of the experience for all users should be prioritised over the quantity of visitors that we can get to the Forest. Whereas other National Parks may struggle to attract visitors to support the tourism industry, our problem is how to manage the large volume of visitors that we already receive. Our first request therefore is that there is a shift in policy away from the Forest’s Authorities proactively marketing the New Forest as a tourist destination, which includes promoting arranged events/attractions.
  2. We echo the CDA’s concerns with the increasing number of organised events in the Forest and their impact on commoning activities. The difficulties of trying to navigate the Forest roads with a livestock trailer when there is yet another organised cycle event on or being prevented from “drifting” a particular area due to concerns that there is another organised event on or that there are simply too many people, are specific examples of activities which are collectively beginning to reduce the enthusiasm of the next generation of commoners to get involved. Clearly the implications of this do not need to be explained.We suggest that an effort is made to encourage organised events to take place on Private land which is not as environmentally sensitive and where events are not going to provide obstacles to commoning activities.
  3. We are very concerned by the lack of understanding that our visitors (from both nearby and afar) have about the New Forest. We feel there needs to be a greater effort to inform and educate people on the “do and donts” of our “working Forest”. We urge all Forest Authorities to be more proactive in this regard, whether it be at the Forest Campsites, carparks or on various social media platforms.
  4. The enforcement of the Forestry Commission’s bylaws should be a method of last resort, however, we believe that their profile should be raised and their messages promoted. Also, their enforcement must be one of the tools in the toolbox to be deployed in certain circumstances when there is a clear repeated breach due to a lack of respect for the Forest. We believe that there is currently an impression given that there is no will for them to be enforced, surely this is not a healthy impression to give.

Let me be clear, we are not asking to have the Forest to ourselves, we are simply asking for help with mitigating the impacts of a problem, which if not addressed, we believe will see a decline in the enthusiasm of the next generation of commoners to get involved.

Oliver Cook. a practicing Commoner, is Chair of the New Forest Forest Young Commoners Committee. This has been shared with his express permission, and represents the view of the New Forest Young Commoners Group.

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Recreational Harm : Presentment from the Commoners Defence Association

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.

The September court heard several presentments on pressures and abuse of the New Forest. The CDA supports such concerns.

Commoners have long been involved in educational efforts. But education alone will not suffice for companies that see the Forest as a profit opportunity, or for those who care only for their own entertainment.

Enforcement action is a sad necessity. In 2005 the Forestry Commission prosecuted one of the kite-buggy riders using Wilverley Plain*.  That sent a warning to others.  Similar resolve is needed on other routine breaches of the byelaws.

I would highlight two current issues that typify the challenges that can only be resolved by the Forestry Commission:

  • The Ordnance Survey, another public body, has started to facilitate mountain-bike trespass; allowing subscribers to its online mapping service to upload their routes for others to follow. The Forest is now covered with these unlawful routes.
  • On 2nd December the Forest will face its first commercial event in the hours of darkness. It is sponsored by a headtorch company, and hosted by Foxlease. For £30 entrants are offered the thrill of a night-time incursion into Forest. The company says that the racer will have: “a wealth of wildlife to keep your mind occupied”.  **

Both of these are abuses of the Forest that the Forestry Commission could and should stop. It seems that the tranquility of the Forest is being sold to anyone capable of making money from it whilst we all stand by. Our livestock and this special place deserve much better and we would urge to Court to do whatever it can to make this case.

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.

* Verderers Court minutes, January 2006 (item 2006/2082).
** This event is promoted by Maverick Race as part of their Silva Dark Series of night time trail running events, Silva is the headtorch sponsor.  http://www.maverick-race.com/races/silva-dark-hampshire-2017

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