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Friends of the New Forest help to purchase ‘a secret forest’ in the north of the New Forest National Park.

RSPB Franchises Lodge - credit Terry Bagley

The trustees, members and supporters of the Friends of the New Forest (New Forest Association) are celebrating the purchase of a nature reserve, near Nomansland in Wiltshire, which is being hailed as a significant opportunity to create a nature rich bridge between two already internationally important areas.

Franchises Lodge, is a 386 hectare (almost 1,000 acres) woodland of deciduous and conifer trees. National wildlife charity RSPB, which has been the lead organisation for the project, describes it as a “secret forest” that – because it has largely been inaccessible to the public for many years – is home to a wide range of birds, invertebrates and plant life. The acquisition has been facilitated through a gift in respect of a settlement between the previous owners and HMRC, a generous legacy, and support from the New Forest National Park Authority and the Friends of the New Forest.

Mike Clarke, the RSPB’s Chief Executive said: “This is one of the most significant purchases in our 129 year history.  It is also our first nature reserve in the New Forest. We are delighted to take on the land from its previous owners who we know are passionate about the site, its woodlands and wildlife and we hope to build on their work over the years, safeguarding it for future generations.”

In its vision for the near 1000-acre site the RSPB will be focusing on maintaining the existing broadleaf woodland, enhancing areas of wood pasture and recreating open heath.

To date, the site has been under the careful stewardship of the previous owners.  Initial surveys confirm the site has a good woodland bird community, including wood warbler, hawfinch, spotted flycatcher, firecrest and redstart.  These woods are also known to be fascinating botanically, with an internationally important lichen community. It’s also good for a range of invertebrates, from beetles to butterflies.

John Ward, Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest said:

“I am delighted to see the successful outcome to a process which we helped inaugurate.

The Friends of the New Forest were a primary influence in initiating and motivating the project.  Some of our Council members were able to provide expertise and guidance to the partnership group that was set up under the leadership of the RSPB. The team at the RSPB has put in a tremendous amount of work over the past five years. We are inordinately grateful to them for managing the project and achieving the significant result we are celebrating today.

The Friends of the New Forest could immediately see the benefit from an extended ‘New Forest’ on several grounds, including heathland habitat restoration, potential to reduce pressure on existing lands, and an opportunity for links with other areas through wildlife corridors and were able to contribute £25,000 towards the purchase of the site.

I would like to thank our members and pay tribute to those who have given donations and gifts in their wills that have enabled us to support this worthy project. We feel this justifies their faith in our work of protecting and restoring the unique character of the New Forest. This is a great day for the New Forest and I am exceedingly proud of what has been achieved by collaborative working.”

The RSPB is now working with partners on an ambitious 25 year vision for Franchises Lodge. To realise the site’s full potential for people and wildlife the RSPB will be launching a major public appeal in May.

Although there are public rights of way through the site, there is no car parking or facilities on the reserve and these are limited nearby. The RSPB is therefore not encouraging visitors at this time.

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Presentment: Recreation Events at Night


Last month the Commoners Defence Association noted problems with the planned 2nd December, Hampshire Maverick Silva Dark Series trail running event.  It is in early evening, but in hours of full darkness (starts an hour after sundown, and a quarter hour after end of twilight). It is sponsored by a headlamp manufacturer promoting a range of LED headlamps that emit 250 lumens over 65 metres [1] (The top of their current range outputs 1500-2000 lumens over 175 metres! [2]).

The nocturnal disturbance of both livestock (as noted by the CDA) and wildlife by a mass event on the Forest, alone, is of concern, but use of high powered LEDs will greatly compound that disturbance. The NFA object to the event as an inappropriate precedent for both reasons. This is, as well, a fundamental conflict with all aspirations to maintain tranquility within the Forest and night-time dark skies above it.

Research on light disturbance has shown bats, amphibians and plants affected by relatively low levels of light. The route comes as close to the A337 as 1500 metres, which could prove fatal to motorists if easily spooked deer bolt towards the road.

This event, if held in daytime, or more appropriately off the SSSI, would be relatively benign [3]. The Forestry Commission have clearly worked hard to mitigate a bad situation created by the event’s organizers, and their permission [4] explicitly states that this is a one-off and that “any future night time events would need to be run at other venues off the New Forest” suggesting Moors Valley as an alternative. Head torches are restricted to Max 250 lumens, max beam length 50m, and must be angled downwards.

A FC spokesperson informed me that the permission would not have been granted if the event were a later time in the evening, or if it was outside the short window of hibernation for many local species. Unfortunately, nature isn’t that simple. At least 11 bat species have been recorded in the route area, including some of the most light-averse. All these bats move in and out of hibernation November to March, rousing to feed when the weather is mild, with early evening as their peak time in winter [5].

The media have lost all the nuances: the route restricted to the gravel tracks in Inclosures (from original plan on open forest), limitations on lighting, and that the FC regard this as a one-off.  The reporting has oversimplified the FC assessment to suggest it “poses no negative impact on the SSSI”. A hard to support statement, which without the context of the prescribed restrictions, sends an erroneous, dangerous message.

This official FC permission will beget the expectation for more large scale after dark events, from the public unaware of even minimal limitations which should be observed, and encourage greater after dark usage both organized and unorganized, at even more damaging times of the year. Creating new unprecedented levels of disturbance on protected habitat at a time where there would be little or none is simply unacceptable.

The NFA hope the Verderers will join us in asking the Forestry Commission, and those who would sensibly enjoy the Forest, to let it, in the name of tranquillity, the livestock, and the wildlife, have a well deserved rest.

Annotations below refer to the bracketed numbers in bold above [n]….

[1] The event offers participants free test use of their previous slightly weaker range (170 lumens over 50 metres), which they no longer produce. The route starts and ends at Foxlease, goes through Clayhill and deep into Denny Wood, Parkhill and Standing Hat inclosures.
[2] That’s roughly the same as a single standard H1 Car head lamp on main beam. 12 Runners with the highest permitted beams will emit approximately as much light as a single car.
[3] …presuming it is well run, safe and considerate to other Forest users, and tidies up after itself.
[4] The Permission includes the following non-boiler plate requirements:

  • “Competitors will be restricted to using head torches with Led bulbs, Max lumens 250, max beam length 50m. All torches must be angled down. Marshals must keep lighting to a minimum as well as per runners.”
  •  “The permit is for this event only please note any future night time events would need to be run at other venues off the New Forest – we will look to offer Moors Valley as an alternative.”
  • “The route as agreed…. It is vital to keep to the tracks and paths as details on the maps provided.”
  • “All gates must be manned to prevent ponies and cattle going through and to ensure that there is no access by vehicles. Gate must be closed after use.”
  • “All litter must be cleared up and signs removed by the following day at the latest.”

[5] from nearby Busketts Lawn there have been records of at least 5 species in late December.

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Recreation Management Strategy Survey Response

Our response to the Future Forest RMS Survey launched by the New Forest National Park Authority.  We call for priority projects to address outdated infrastructure, boost regard for protecting the Forest with neighbouring authorities, and education focusing on the Forest status as a National Nature Reserve and working commoning landscape.  We sidestepped the unintentionally restrictive and misleading elements of the survey (including categories and canned language from the previous Strategy document) to focus on demand for plans for action with clear goals and realistic time frames.

Recreation Management Strategy Survey Response

The New Forest Association welcomes this opportunity to feed into ongoing Recreation Management on the New Forest and this survey meant to guide the Strategy’s next incarnation. We hope this process will deliver a more focussed strategy that yields high priority projects to reform our outdated recreation infrastructure, and elevates the discussion of the National Park as a protected natural landscape requiring a duty of care from ourselves and our neighbours.

Reference to Park Purposes and Special Qualities

Both the New Forest National Park and its younger sibling, the South Downs, are the two most densely populated national parks in the UK, and have significant populations in environs for regular use and day visitors. Unlike the less populated, more remote parks, the recreation management goals should firmly be based on the purpose to Protect.

This is summed up in English National Parks and the Broads UK Government Vision and Circular 2010:

However, in light of research published in 2005 (20), the Government recognises that not all forms of outdoor recreation are appropriate in each Park and that activities which would have an adverse impact on the Parks’ special qualities and other people’s enjoyment of them may need to be excluded (in order to meet the requirements of section 11A(2) of the 1949 Act).

All of the “Special qualities”: outstanding natural beauty, habitat, heritage, commoning / working forest, free roaming livestock, tranquillity, quiet recreation, low levels of urbanisation are under threat from increased recreation pressure which disturbs and destroys habitat, creates wear and tear on the fabric of the Forest and interrupts tranquillity. The aim is not to invite more recreation than the Forest may sustain, but to protect the Forest by managing the recreation that takes place here, and honour the Sandford Principle as enshrined by the 1995 Act.

An Actual Management Strategy

We need more focus on practical, achievable goals, along with a plan that can achieve them within defined timeframes to which the Park and its stakeholders may commit. It’s all very well and good to list our many aspirations as the current strategy does, but few of the “within 5 years” goals have been achieved in its first seven years.

The main way we can control where recreation happens within the Forest is where people park and camp. Outside of the Park we can call for greater alternative recreation provision, and less development that swells the population and moves a hard urban edge toward the park boundaries. Priority projects must be chosen and developed from our aspirations, to achieve significant gains to Protect the Forest, particularly the open access areas of the Crown Lands and their adjacent Commons.

Infrastructure Within the Park

(Sustainable services and facilities / Camping and caravanning / Joined Up Routes / England Coast Path)

We’ve inherited an outdated infrastructure imposed in the 1960’s that replaced the previous free for all with over 130 Forestry Commission car parks and 10 camp sites. While these disperse activity throughout the Forest, and have come to be relied on by their users, no one can say that they are in the best places to protect our more sensitive habitats and species from disturbance. We do know that the campsites in the A&O Woodlands of Holland’s Wood and Denny were slated for removal under the SAC Management Plan 2001 (their management for camping has degraded their habitat, our campsite survey showed these have less than half the canopy they ought).

Practical steps to make this provision fit for purpose must be taken. A straightforward assessment of the current provision could easily be carried out ASAP. A well designed assessment of the habitat to create the evidence base against which to model future proposals for recreation infrastructure placement would be the next highest priority. Discussions may include charging for car parks to cover maintenance and on the ground resources, models for camping provision both elsewhere on FC land and/or on private land. Delivery of “joined up routes” and The England Coast Path would be subject to the results of any relevant habitat assessments and should not go forward in their absence.

Infrastructure Outside the Park

(Influencing recreational provision beyond the boundaries of the National Park)

A huge wave of development is proposed on our borders, given little strategic consideration for the Park, unreasonable housing targets from Central Government for all local authorities, token mitigation which does not adequately reflect the value of the Forest, we’ve little hope for avoiding a substantial increase of recreational activity that will be dumped on the Forest. The Forest is under a palpable threat, and needs influence on both development and recreation provision outside the Park.

Our adjacent and concurrent authorities have shown little respect to their Environment Act 1995 Section 62 duty to have regard to National Park purposes. Sometimes the opposite, Test Valley Borough Council once proposed using National Trust Foxbury (adjacent to Common and an SSSI candidate) within the park as SANG mitigation for one of their housing schemes. Section 62 must be considered by our neighbours, not merely for mitigation purposes but for all development.

The mitigation regime is limited, flawed, and does not proportionally value the New Forest. SANG mitigation schemes are based on figures developed by Natural England regarding the Thames Basin Heaths SPA which has a fraction of the notified features that the New Forest possesses, if these were properly scaled up to reflect the Forest’s relative habitat value, many SANG’s on offer would need to be nearly the size of the Forest itself. SANG sites themselves may have their own designated habitats that are sacrificed, and many are proposed with no long term plan or funding for their maintenance.

We must make the debate about these allocations more visible, more public. The New Forest is the last stand for many of its habitats throughout the UK, it is of national and international importance, our neighbours and central government need to be constantly reminded of this.

Education

(Raising awareness and understanding)

Whilst this is already the National Park’s strongest suit, there are certain nuances missing. The National Park has made great inroads in areas such as social media. However, even at our own 150th Anniversary keynote event in January 2017, the audience of very engaged locals clearly included many who still did not understand the Park’s purposes, functions or capabilities. This perhaps suggests that the Park still has work to do piercing the bubble beyond their current success.

One of the key problems the National Park has to overcome, is the word “Park” in its name, which too often is taken for “a large public garden or area of land used for recreation” . Explaining the legislation that gives the “National” prefix its protective connotation, and the slew of habitat designations and their acronyms does not thoroughly dispel that erroneous notion. The message up front should be simplified, the Crown Lands have the status of a National Nature Reserve, a Working Farm and Forest. With that in mind we can then ask “what activities are appropriate there”, “in order to protect such a place, what are you willing to do differently or do without?” “We have the privilege of open access to this place, what responsibilities must we take on?”

Conclusions

The next RMS should include the following priority projects:

  • National Park Infrastructure –
    • Parking and Camping Provision Assessment
    • Habitat Assessment / Evidence Base
    • Actions to lead to provision design Fit For Purpose
  • Adjacent Authorities and Communities –
    • Raise the profile of development on our borders that will affect the Forest
    • Brief Decision makers on impacts on the Forest and Section 62 Duties
    • Make nearby communities aware of their representatives responsibilities
    • Promote adequate, proportional mitigation
    • Petition Central Government for more strategic targets to take pressure off the Forest
  • Education –
    • Develop clearer more straightforward messages
    • Look to reach other audiences
    • Easily highlight the Forest’s need for protection
      • National Nature Reserve
      • Working Farm
      • Working Forest
      • In context of the ongoing Habitat Loss in the UK

Whilst other aspirations remain, solid plans and policies addressing these areas will have the most impact. Consultation over future versions of the RMS should include messages consistent with the National Park’s purposes and priorities, and not be shy in making a case for resources and changes necessary for implementation. The NFA hope to be able to support this Authority in its efforts to Manage Recreation in The New Forest, and willing to lend our time, knowledge and resources towards achieving these priority tasks in provision redesign, influence on strategic planning and mitigation, and education.


ADDENDUM:

English National Parks and the Broads
UK
Government Vision and Circular 2010

4. Priority Outcomes for 2010 – 2015 and suggested actions
4.1 A Renewed Focus on Achieving the Park Purposes page 10

  1. The Parks contain a variety of landscapes, capable of accommodating many different types of leisure activity. Authorities should continue to identify and promote new access and recreational opportunities and ways of delivering them, working proactively with a range of statutory and non-statutory interests such as local access forums (see section 5.6), Natural England, English Heritage, voluntary sectors and, particularly, farmers, commoners and landowners. However, in light of research published in 2005 (20), the Government recognises that not all forms of outdoor recreation are appropriate in each Park and that activities which would have an adverse impact on the Parks’ special qualities and other people’s enjoyment of them may need to be excluded (in order to meet the requirements of section 11A(2) of the 1949 Act).

(20 Demand for Outdoor Recreation in the English National Parks – Countryside Agency October 2004 (updated March 2005 and published alongside a Guide to Good Practice in managing and promoting outdoor recreation in the Parks) )

NFNPA/RPC 51/08 Page 1

The National Park’s special qualities
The New Forest National Park’s landscape is unique; it is a ‘living’ and working remnant of medieval England with an overwhelming sense of continuity, tradition, and history. It is the survival of not just one special quality but a whole range of features that brings a sense of completeness and integrity.

These features include:

  • the New Forest’s outstanding natural beauty: the sights, sounds and smells of ancient woodland with veteran trees, heathland, bog, autumn colour and an unspoilt coastline with views of the Solent and Isle of Wight
  • an extraordinary diversity of plants and animals of international importance
  • a unique historic, cultural and archaeological heritage from royal hunting ground to ship-building, salt making and 500 years of military coastal defence
  • an historic commoning system that maintains so much of what people know and love as ‘the New Forest’ forming the heart of a working landscape based on farming and forestry
  • the iconic New Forest Pony together with donkeys, pigs and cattle roaming free
  • tranquillity in the midst of the busy, built up south of England
  • wonderful opportunities for quiet recreation, learning and discovery in one of the last extensive, gentle landscapes in the south including unmatched open access on foot and horseback
  • a healthy environment: fresh air, clean water, local produce and a sense of ‘wildness’, low levels of urbanisation
  • strong and distinctive local communities with real pride in and sense of identity with their local area

 

  • SUMMARY: outstanding natural beauty, habitat, heritage, commoning / working forest, free roaming livestock, tranquillity, quiet recreation, low levels of urbanisation, local communities
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Recreation Management Strategy Survey / England Coast Path NFNPA July 2017

This Statement was made to the New Forest National Park Authority at their meeting on 13th July 2017. Whilst we welcome the review of the RMS, the emphasis and approach of the survey used to launch the review process left much to be desired.

Recreation Management Strategy Survey

Brevity required here dictates some bluntness, so I won’t speak at length about the fuzziness of a survey with canned answers, two tweets worth of space for comment on complex issues. Our main concern is the cart firmly misplaced before the pony. A clear example from the “Join the Debate” page which asks for our help to:

  • “provide the best recreational experience for local people and our visitors”
  • “protect the very thing people come to see – the spectacular, yet fragile landscape which is a haven for many rare wildlife species” [*]

You can’t promise the best recreational experience, or do a survey which at least in part is a call for a wish list for recreational interests, with the implication demand could be met, when you still haven’t determined what level of recreation is appropriate. The purpose of this exercise is to develop and implement a Recreation Management Strategy, not a Recreation Delivery Menu. Apt messages on the “Putting the Forest First” page should have been incorporated into the survey where they might have a chance of being read.

What we’d like to see first is an accounting on the current Management Strategy: which of the goals have had little or nothing done? Many targets are driven not by public demand, but from statutory obligations to the habitats and to the working Forest, and should not change. We need more focus on practical, achievable goals. The main way we can control where recreation happens within the forest is where people park and camp.

A worthwhile exercise could start by pointing to the Crown Lands as a National Nature Reserve, a Working Farm and Forest, and ask “what activities are appropriate there”, “in order to protect such a place, what are you willing to do differently or do without?”

The NFA hope to be able to support this Authority in its efforts to Manage Recreation, but we need to see a clearer indication of leadership that delivers the more difficult purposes of the Park, instead of focusing on the path of least resistance offered by the last and least, “enjoy”.

With the then promised August publication of the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch of the England Coast Path (originally mooted for Feb 2017, — eventually delayed to March 2018), we highlighted some basic issues with the Path for the New Forest.

England Coast Path

Legislation has mandated the England Coast Path, which in other regions may provide useful alternative recreation, pleasant views and tourist destinations. For the New Forest it will serve to invite more disturbance into our most precious coastal habitats (a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected zones of international importance).

There is no funding for mitigation and little regard for infrastructure; some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast, precisely where we wouldn’t want to exacerbate the verge parking problem.

The Ordnance Survey will inaccurately show spreading room (the entire seaward side of the path) as accessible, disregarding the need to delineate excluded areas (as much of our coast will be). Arguments will be had with visitors assured by the allegedly definitive map that they (and their pets) may trespass on bird nesting grounds regardless of what the signs say.

We hope the authority will resist the worst excesses of this arbitrary unnecessary exercise.


ADDENDUM:

Please note, if time allowed I’d add many provisos pointing to some more positive examples of work which we support.

We are disappointed in many of the failures to act on the current strategy. Despite the prescription from the SAC Management Plan for removal, we still have campsites destroying Ancient and Ornamental Woodland, the campsite survey showed these have less than half the canopy they ought, and this Authority’s Landscape Action Plan doesn’t even have the word campsite in it, let alone a consideration of their impact. Even a straightforward assessment of car parking provision, which we’ve spec’ed out as not particularly costly, has not been done.

Credible enforcement of any rules developed, or even the existing byelaws, would require an investment in personnel that may not find funding, although we hope our support of the Ranger programme is a start.

A huge wave of development is proposed on our borders, given little strategic consideration for the Park, unreasonable housing targets from Central Government for all local authorities, token mitigation which does not adequately reflect the value of the Forest, we’ve little hope for avoiding a substantial increase of recreational activity that will be dumped on the Forest. The Forest is under a palpable threat. So forgive us for not mincing words in pursuit of brevity.

[*] Editor’s (sour) note : “the spectacular, yet fragile landscape which is a haven for many rare wildlife species” is a very underwhelming description for highly protected habitats and ecosystems – this suggests a pretty place that a handful of rare things happen to live in. The Forest is a mosaic of habitats, many of which have dwindled to nearly nothing in the rest of the UK. It is the entire precious fabric of these ecosystems which needs our protection, not merely a few birds and lizards. It is a last stand for many habitats and species.

The full text, including the Addendum (not read to the Authority) was provided to Authority Members. Statements in the Public Questions section of Authority Meetings are limited to 3 minutes, even if multiple subjects are addressed. The statements are often necessarily terse, brusque and assume knowledge by the Authority Members of the issues addressed.
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“Look, Don’t Pick” – The Arguments

Over the months since the Forestry Commission announced their “Look, Don’t Pick” Policy for Fungi on The New Forest SSSI on the Crown Lands under their stewardship, we’ve heard a number of arguments against this move.  The NFA support the Forestry Commission’s policy as an important step to honouring the protections the habitat of the New Forest has, and ought to have in practice.  In that spirit we offer our rebuttals below:

Foraging is wonderful and magically connects people to nature.

Fine, just not fungi + here, please.

The New Forest is amongst the most highly protected habitat we have.  Would you challenge the existing prohibitions on fungi foraging on Wildlife Trust or National Trust land? The New Forest SSSI has the status of a National Nature Reserve.  

We could quibble that you shouldn’t need to ingest nature to enjoy and appreciate it, but then again Chris Packham once said he started his journey eating tadpoles he’d found.  No accounting for tastes. Foraging can foster a relationship for many with nature, but this is a protected habitat, we’re just asking those who actually care about nature, to respect its protection and find their fungi elsewhere. 

We’ve done this for thousands of years (Entitlement vs loss of habitat)

You speak of what’s been done for “thousands of years”, that includes loads of behaviours that are no longer appropriate in the face of unprecedented population growth, habitat loss and climate change.  Butterfly collectors once showed their appreciation of Lepidoptera by popping them in killing jars then mounting them on pins.

More than one in ten UK species is now threatened with extinction.  The house is burning, and you’re concerned with raiding the larder.

Where is your proof of the so-called gangs? (Denial)

They and their effects have been seen  by the Forestry Commission Keepers and Ecologists, the National Trust Rangers, the Hampshire Fungi Recording Group, other local surveyors, and many of our members.  Last Autumn the Forestry Commission intercepted 140 groups and/or individuals as part of their “disruption” campaign, seizing and destroying amounts over the then “personal” limit.

You’ll forgive us if those of us out walking don’t whip out our cameras and ask strangers engaged in illegal activities to pose nicely to satisfy your curiosity.  Or that we haven’t photographed every square fungi populated inch of the Forest ahead of time so that when it is subsequently stripped of fungi we could provide a before and after (hopefully recorded at exactly the same angle for the before and after).  The experiences and observations of many individuals, seem to count for nothing to those in denial.  

If you are that sceptical would a photo of a group of people holding bags in a wood convince you of anything? Or before and after pictures? If the FC put wildlife monitoring cameras by some patches of rare fungi, that would be rightly deemed too big brother (although police have said a private land owner doing this to catch similar acts would be perfectly legal).

You are criminalising ordinary people.

Similar bans already exist, the inclusive language of the Epping Forest byelaws have allowed the Keepers employed by the Corporation of the City of London to enforce its policy against fungi forage.  Meanwhile the CROW Act which opened up larger areas of countryside to Ramblers has an overarching ban on foraging on the nationwide network of Rights of Way, and the Right to Roam areas.

This is a SSSI, the FC already had the right to authorise picking of fungi under the consents they have from Natural England.  Their byelaws ban removal of a range of things that are not currently enforced, and it is only a trick of taxonomy that fungi are excluded (FC byelaws prohibit: dig up, remove, cut or injure any tree, shrub or plant, whether living or not, or remove the seeds therefrom, or dig up or remove any soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals of any kind).  It is as much a policy decision to choose not to enforce all the elements of the byelaws as to restrict fungi foraging under their SSSI consents and the precautionary principle to protect the entire habitat.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the legislative instrument that defines the protections for wild animals and plants and defines Sites of Special Scientific Interest along with their extra protections and the statutory obligations of their landowners.  Rare species found on the Schedule 8 list, often referred to as the Red Band or Red List Species, are protected from being picked, uprooted or destroyed (section 13 subsection 1), and further from being sold, transported for sale, or even advertised for sale (subsection 2).  These are arrestable offences, the CPS guidance for prosecutions :

Most offences are punishable on summary conviction by six month’s imprisonment and/or by a maximum fine of £5,000 (level 5). Where an offence is committed in respect of more than one bird, nest, egg etc the maximum fine shall be determined as if the person had been convicted of a separate offence in respect of each such item.

In addition to offences being multiplied by number of items taken, the law also gives power of forfeiture: 

Under s.21 (6) b a court may in the same circumstances order the forfeiture of any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing used to commit the offence found in the offender’s possession. Forfeiture of a vehicle is often likely to be an effective means of deterring repeat offences relating, for example, to rare birds and eggs as well as of incapacitating an offender’s future ability to conduct such activities. ….

The section 13 protections apply ANYWHERE in the Wild, not just SSSI.  The Red List includes fungi species such as the tasty, targeted and allegedly medicinal Hericium erinaceus (bearded tooth).

Hericium erinaceus in the New Forest

On SSSI’s intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging flora or fauna by reason of which land is of special interest is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 28 (P).   The New Forest is one of the few SSSI which have fungi as one of these notified features of special interest. Whether or not the fungi harvested is one of the notified species, the ancillary consequences of the activity of foraging, including trampling and disturbance may be covered by this as well. Hefty penalties invoked here may give prosecutions considerable bite.  Damage to SSSI could be prosecuted, and yield realistically punitive fines (£10k-20k).  Of course the burden of proof is less straightforward than the section 13 offences, but I’m describing this to show the extent to which some fungi foraging activities were already criminal, and the legal basis which obligates the Forestry Commission to protect the notified features of the SSSI it manages.

This is Common Land – don’t we have the right to forage from it as part of rights of Common?

The Crown Lands are not actually registered commons as applies under the Commons Registrations Act, and so would not implicitly include any rights that may be extended to registered commons either under that act or in common law.

The modern legal framework for the Forest rights as applied to the New Forest are in the New Forest Acts which clearly defines rights of Common for the Crown Lands, these 1) don’t include Foraging 2) can only can be claimed by those occupying land with registered rights attached.

The ban is not scientific, because we have studies that show that harvesting fruiting bodies doesn’t have a detrimental effect.  (Selective research)

Compared to botany, mycology is positively medieval.  Not enough is known. We’re only just now coming to appreciate the complexity of the relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and the trees they service symbiotically.

There are only have a handful of studies on a few species, some not in comparable locations/habitats, that show negligible effect on individual fungi organisms of picking fruiting bodies, but not much on the long term viability of a given species and genetic diversity over time given the disruption to dispersal mechanisms.  

These studies do not consider the knock on effects on the rest of the ecosystem, putting aside the fruiting bodies as a food source, at least 600 (likely over 1000) species of invertebrate are reliant on them for their life-cycle (many are species specific).  Committed eggs don’t have the luxury of jumping to unpicked neighbours.  There are no studies showing ancillary effects on the rest of the ecosystem, therefore no substantial body of evidence for sustainability.  

Furthermore, the “sustainability” argument shouldn’t even apply on a SSSI with fungi as one of its notified features.  An attitude that recognises only supporting science in isolation, claims an absent weight of evidence, and ignores the bigger picture, is utterly self-serving.

Europe is a free for all.

This is simply not true.  France and Spain have no go areas.  There are licensing schemes in Italy and Poland and other eastern European Countries.  It is unlikely you would be allowed to pick fungi at all in Poland’s National Parks which include Strict Protection Zones, no go areas for any human interaction — reasons given include fungi conservation along with other habitat considerations, some parks even have buffer zones excluding people from an area outside the park.  Other European countries have similarly strict regimes if they have signed up to the level of habitat protection promoted by the IUCN and the Biosphere initiative.

Just because European cultures supposedly favour a tradition of fungi forage doesn’t mean they are blind to the need for conservation.  The Crown Lands of the New Forest have the highest levels of habitat and landscape protections and designations available in UK law.

And Finally, that old, ahem, chestnut: It’s just like picking Blackberries!

NO IT ISN’T (sorry for shouting):

  • Blackberry population is much greater and currently sustainable.
  • Blackberry pickers take only the fruit, not the entire visible portion of the plant.  In the protected landscape of a National Park the autumn display of fungi should be left for all to see.
  • Blackberry fruits are only harvested by pickers when they are ripe, they may be eaten by wildlife before this, and when pickers miss the optimal ripeness opportunity, after. Fungi are being removed when they are seen, not left for an optimal ripening.  If picked when still at “button” stage, they have not released spores.
  • The seeds in blackberry fruit are part of its distribution mechanism, the amount left unpicked, and fed upon by wildlife sustainably spreads the next generation.  Fungi fruiting bodies contain spores that go unreleased if they are picked, and may contain insect eggs, interrupting both distribution mechanisms, depleting the next generation of invertebrates.
  • Blackberries tend to conveniently, for pickers, grow on the sunny side of rides and paths, much blackberry picking is done from here, an inherently more robust location, without, or with much less disturbance to undergrowth.  Fungi are spread throughout the woodland floor. The trampling damage by harvesters alone is of grave concern, and contributes to potentially damaging operations which are restricted on SSSI.
  • The fruiting mechanism in plants is much better understood.  While there are studies that allege sustainability of picking based on individual mycellium continuing to produce the fruiting bodies, there is no body of work to show the extent to which this may stress the mycellium, or degree to which the organisms other ecosystem functions are altered by the energy and nutrient that must be expended in that process.

So again, NO IT ISN’T!!! (sorry for shouting, again).  To be glib (but no less right): no one is worried about the decline of the blackberry, get back to us if this changes.
 
If you are using the blackberry analogy, you are either willfully ignorant, or presume your audience is gullible. You should drop that line of argument, it makes you sound like an idiot or a con man.

Limited apologies if you feel we’ve oversimplified the case against (done for style, and attempted brevity).  We’ll welcome nuanced discussion, and well founded arguments, should they arise.

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The Wild Trout Trust and New Forest River Restorations

For some perspective on some of the issues raised by river restorations we contacted the Wild Trout Trust, themselves deliverers or partners in many river restoration projects addressing similar issues to those met by the Latchmore proposal.  As it turns out, they had made an advisory visit in September 2015; this was undertaken by their Conservation Officer, Mike Blackmore.

Their advisory visit programme is “very much focussed on identifying good and poor trout habitat and what can be done practically to make the poor good. Mike looked at a 1 km reach of the Brook and a 500m reach of a tributary, the Thompson’s Castle Stream.” 

Their key findings were:

  • Valuable wild trout habitat is under threat by the status quo condition of the Latchmore Brook and tributaries.
  • Channel incision and accelerated morphological processes as outlined by the JBA Consulting report and as observed during the site visit are limiting the abundance and quality of marginal habitat (important for freshwater invertebrates and juvenile trout). These factors are also likely to be significantly impacting the viability of spawning habitat in the main channel.
  • Reconnecting paleo-meanders will result in a net increase in habitat for wild trout (as a result of increased channel length) and is likely to help protect existing spawning habitat by reducing the rate of channel incision and the magnitude of cut and fill events.
  • The overall paucity of in-stream and low-level bankside woody habitat features significantly limit the abundance, diversity and quality of cover and refuge habitat for trout.
  • Habitat quality and diversity is being significantly reduced by over-grazing and bank poaching by livestock.
  • Further habitat enhancement, including tree planting and the introduction and retention of woody habitat features, will be required to provide a good quality and diverse habitat for wild trout.
  • Improvement in the wild trout population of the Latchmore Brook and the aquatic ecosystem upon which it is dependent will require a significant change in land management including improved protection of the riverbanks from grazing livestock.

Their conclusions recognize the problems with the status quo and acknowledge the benefits of the project to fish species and wildlife. They also suggest measures which would make the habitat optimal for trout species, promotion of stream shading scrub, and fencing to prevent livestock poaching scrub and vegetation bankside, which would fly in the face of traditional forest management, and would even restrict the amenity in ways to which even the protesters would object.  How would Forest users react to the sight of a fenced off stream, with access only through gates?

Scrub does vary over time, and we know that historically there has been, at times, little scrub along stretches of the stream on the open forest.  Even now, there is about a kilometre stretch with next to no riparian shade.  The Commoners often push for active scrub removal to create more grazing (The NFA will usually push for key nectar species to be left where possible), and of course the livestock themselves will have nibbles that hamper growth.  

So, neither the current stream nor the proposed change would be absolutely ideal for fish species, but here’s where the point is being missed by objectors’ narrow focus.  Habitats are complex.  What benefits some species may be detrimental to others.  The biodiverse rich habitat of the New Forest is not managed solely for any single species.  Scrub removal may warm some of the unshaded water, but this will benefit the Dragonflies, even if it narrows the tolerances for the fish.

Despite the insufficient scrub, both historically and at present, fish tolerate the conditions in the Brook.  Restoring the meanders will recreate the more natural morphology that benefits these species.  The claim that changing the stream will frighten away shy fish, is refuted by many the projects elsewhere aimed at wild fish habitat improvement which restore meanders (some other successful projects go even further and create meanders), including projects directed at fisheries (over 900 in the RRC database), and even more strikingly here in the New Forest, by the fish themselves.  Brown Trout were recorded spawning in a restored section at Harvestslade within three months of the completion of that project.

We thank the Wild Trout Trust for their permission to share their findings (particularly their director, Shaun Leonard who provided the bullet point summary quoted above), and for their candour and generosity in response to our queries.  We commend them for their fine works in implementing and promoting habitat restoration. According to Environment Agency monitoring, their upper Itchen project has produced a four-fold increase in trout biomass, compared to unimproved, control sites.

For further information on some of their projects, and ways to help, on the WTT website: http://www.wildtrout.org/content/projects-1. 

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Fracking the Forest?

 

With the Government taking the decision on fracking away from Lancashire County Council on 6th October 2016, this brief review of our position and the possibility of hydraulic fracturing in this region could be of use.

The NFA support the position of the Campaign For National Parks, that fracking in or under our National Parks has significant environmental impacts – polluting groundwater, damaging the landscape and ruining tranquility, and is inappropriate for the setting.  While we’ve been given to understand that the New Forest’s geology would not be attractive to fracking, we do not want to see this for any of our National Parks or other protected areas. Additionally the precedent it establishes for putting supposed infrastructure demands over these designations is truly chilling. 33 years ago an application by Shell UK to drill for oil and gas in Denny Inclosure was seen off, a battle we shouldn’t have to fight all over again.

Last year, when the Government was in the midst of its U-Turn on a promise not to license fracking in National Parks (eventually arriving at the position that they would allow drilling from just outside National Parks to go under them), Durham University published an article ranking the Parks likelihood for hydraulic fracturing.

New Forest National Park: (Geology: http://bit.ly/1zPvEi0)
A relatively young geology and the rocks close to the surface have no shale gas, shale oil, or coal bed methane potential. Oil and gas have been found in rocks beneath areas close to the New Forest, and there has been exploration in the national park, but there is no evidence of any oil- or gas-bearing shales that would be of interest to fracking companies.

The Briefing Note puts the Forest in its middle Amber (fracking unlikely) category (along with Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, and Northumberland).  It listed four national parks as Red (fracking possible): North York Moors, Peak District, South Downs, and Yorkshire Dales (rocks of possible interest to companies looking to frack for shale gas, shale oil, or coalbed methane).

Whilst researching other goings on at the Verderers Court, this item from 2014 popped up that suggests that fracking could come closer to the Forest than we had supposed:

2014/
7364
HAMPSHIRE MINERALS & WASTE – OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT – REPORT ON MEETING ON 5TH JUNE 2014

Mrs Westerhoff attended the meeting on behalf of the Court. The discussion centred around fracking. Two areas have been identified as potential sites, one being The Weald (as far west as Winchester) and the other is in Dorset reaching east to Thorney Hill adjacent to the New Forest. Whilst the New Forest could be fracked in the future, Mrs Westerhoff understood it would only happen under exceptional circumstances and would be subject to the European legislation protecting the SAC.

–Verderers Minutes June 2014
DISCHARGE

With the unknown shape of the Brexit plan, the reassurance of protection from the SAC (Special Area of Conservation, a European designation), is under threat unless those protections are formally and thoroughly back-stopped in UK legislation and policy.

The most recent Hampshire Minerals and Waste Plan was adopted in 2013, before the more recent changes in policy and legislation. Subsequently, December 2015 they updated the On-shore Oil & Gas FAQs  (60 pages) and in February 2016 the Hampshire Authorities adopted the Oil and gas development Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) (90 pages).  From the FAQ:

Oil and gas exploration in National Parks

There are known oil and gas resources within Hampshire’s two National Parks and exploration already takes place within the South Downs National Park. There are other examples nationally of where oil and gas development takes place within designated areas. This includes western Europe’s largest oilfield at Wytch Farm, Dorset and sites in Surrey all of which are located within designated areas for nature conservation. The potential impact of a proposal on designations will be taken into account in detail at the planning application stage. The Government has recently announced new planning guidance on unconventional oil and gas development in areas of designation such as National Parks, AONBs and heritage sites (see question 23). There are also policies in the adopted Hampshire Minerals & Waste Plan in relation to minerals developments in designated areas (including Policy 4: Protection of the designated landscape) which will be used to guide whether planning permission should be given in such locations.

In December 2015, there was a vote in the House of Commons regarding hydraulic fracturing in National Parks. MPs voted in favour of allowing hydraulic fracturing to take place 1,200 metres below National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, as long as the drilling (and associated infrastructure) takes place from outside the designated areas.

There are no licences in the New Forest National Park administrative area.

The Weald in the South Downs National Park is a target for fracking, and would be a potential testbed for the 1200 metre rule.  In September 2016 their Authority rejected a plan for horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing.  The applicant believes “this proposal would be supported by the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State in the event of an appeal.”  Given that the British Geological Survey (BGS) estimate 2.2 and 8.6 billion barrels of shale oil beneath the Weald Basin, that appeal could be in with a chance as that may be deemed nationally significant.  We may need to lend our support to our neighbours should this go forward.

The “Reverse the decision to allowing fracking under our national parks.” parliament petition closed on June 19th 2016, with just 38,732 signatures, not enough to be granted a debate(>100k), but enough (>10k) to trigger a Government response, which includes these provisos about protected areas that leave us feeling much less protected:

The protected areas in which hydraulic fracturing will be prohibited have been set out through the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations, which were formally approved by both Houses of Parliament in December 2015. These regulations ensure that the process of hydraulic fracturing cannot take place above 1200 metres in National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), World Heritage Sites and areas that are most vulnerable to groundwater pollution.

Rather than enabling operations in protected areas, these regulations introduce an additional protection to our most sensitive areas and complement the strong protections already provided by the planning system. Moreover, it is worth emphasising that the regulations do not in themselves grant any form of permission for “associated hydraulic fracturing” to take place under any of these sites. They simply establish the principle that hydraulic fracturing should be prohibited by legislation in the specified areas and down to the specified depth. A company looking to develop shale will still need to obtain all the necessary permissions, like planning and environmental permits – and any proposals will necessarily be subject to further detailed consideration and scrutiny under our legal and regulatory regimes.

Orwellian newspeak at its finest “an additional protection to our most sensitive areas”, these sensitive areas would not need additional protection, if they weren’t under threat from this activity in the first place.  They should simply be removed from the equation entirely.  Putting an arbitrary depth of 1200 metres also ignores the fact that those 1200 metres (and the water table) will be drilled through to get to that level, that hole, however well engineered will be connected to the area into which fracking fluid will be pumped at high pressure.  What could possibly go wrong?  Fracking was temporarily suspended in 2011 after earthquakes were caused near Blackpool.

In the 16th December 2015 vote on the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015 — Extension of Prohibition of Shale Gas Extraction, New Forest East MP Dr. Julian Lewis spoke against the regulation publicly, but abstained from the vote. New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne voted with the Government to allow fracking under National Parks. This is all the more troubling as the west of the Forest is in closest proximity to proposed sites, as noted by David Harrison, Lib Dem councillor, member of the New Forest National Park Authority, “I imagine the west of New Forest will be mainly affected.”

The NFA discussed fracking issues at the November 2015 Council meeting, and although it is unlikely that the Forest’s geology would attract fracking per se, we’re completely against this approach both in principle, and the possibility that it would open the door to similar exploitation. These fights are perennial and ongoing.

The protections offered to designated landscapes and habitats, National Parks and SSSI, et.al. must  be honoured and remain meaningful.

The Forestry Commission’s New Forest Fungi Policy

The New Forest Association are pleased that the Forestry Commission are implementing a “Look, Don’t Pick” rule regarding fungi foraging on the New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest under their stewardship. This affirms the protection our habitat deserves. This is consistent with their obligations to the protections of the SSSI, their management of the New Forest SSSI as a National Nature Reserve and their powers to authorise or deny picking of fungi under consent from Natural England.  This brings the FC policy in line with the ban on fungi foraging on the Commons the National Trust, and the Nature Reserves the Wildlife Trust manage within the Forest.

We hope that enforcement may be hard hitting on  pickers taking undue advantage of the forest whether commercial or not.  Enforcement may also be soft and educational for casual foragers.  The message is the same, this is a protected habitat and landscape, leave the fungi to nature and the autumn display for all to see.

It brings the FC back in line with the guidance 1998 Wild Mushroom Pickers Code of Conduct, the misreading of which was the source of the arbitrary 1.5 kg “limit”, which has absolutely no basis in law. The code clearly meant the limit for undesignated habitats, not SSSI  or National Nature Reserves.  An allowance should never have been implemented at all in this protected habitat.

NCC Consent 25 January 1988 (subsequently under Natural England)
The Nature Conservancy Council issued the following consent to the FC regarding the above operation:-  “The collection of fungi as authorised by the Forestry Commission, subject to periodic review by the FC and the NCC.”

FC/Verderers/English Nature Declaration of Intent 25 July 1995
“The Forestry Commission will continue to manage the New Forest as an area with the status of a National Nature Reserve and to maintain the nature conservation interests for which it is designated under national and international legislation or agreements.”

In July 2015 the NFA launched its campaign for a very specific ban on fungi harvest from the SSSI on the Crown Lands of the New Forest.  In doing this we’ve sought to bring about best practice under existing laws, byelaws and guidance.  After careful consideration we decided that calling for an Epping Forest style ban was the most clear cut solution, with its obvious precedent.  We’re taking the precautionary principle that on a SSSI, especially one including fungi amongst its notified features, under heavy pressure from recreation and other use, that the fungi should be protected, part and parcel with the whole of this habitat.

The NFA campaigns for the habitat and heritage of the Forest.  In entering into this campaign we consulted with our own ecologists and local mycologists. We’ve consulted with and had support from the British Mycological Society, the Fungi Conservation Trust, Natural England, Buglife, Plantlife and the National Trust, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (the latter two had already banned fungi foraging on SSSI land they manage).  The fruiting bodies of the fungi are not merely food for other fauna, but are depended upon by at least 600 species of invertebrate using them as micro-habitats to fulfill their life cycles.

The New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest is in one of the most densely populated National Parks, surrounded on many sides by conurbation with insufficient alternative greenspace, and mounting recreation pressure.   As open access land, it is easily accessible to all users, and an easy touch for volume foragers.  SSSI is a designation that confers habitat protection under UK law. The New Forest is also a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Natura 2000 designations or initiatives under EU law, and a National Nature Reserve.  The Natural History Museum picked the New Forest as one of two biodiverse rich sites on which to base their ongoing climate change study.  It is a gem, one of the crown jewels of natural biodiversity in Britain, Europe and the World.  We ask all to understand importance of this ecosystem and the need for its protection, and that they respect its protection and find their fungi elsewhere.

For Immediate Release

We will be examining and addressing some of the counterarguments and myths surrounding this policy and fungi conservation in “Look, Don’t Pick – The Issues”. (available soon)

Presentment: Latchmore Brook: Part 2: Wildlife, Materials and Beauty

In a feat of both irony, and good timing thematically, the presenter met the five minute limit for Presentments, and was cut short. The first part was an apology from the New Forest Association for not displaying our support for the Latchmore project “often enough, publicly enough, or possibly well enough.” allowing snide comments and poor treatment of the Verderers, Forestry Commission and National Park Authority to stand.

The second part shifts emphasis to addressing areas that concern all of us about the project, Wildlife, Material Delivery Routes and Beauty.

…I won’t make up for lost time now.  I have a critique of more than ten errors on just one of their webpages which I’ve sent separately to the Verderers (on our news page).  But I beg the courts indulgence to address a few points.  Amongst the more emotive subjects, the potential disturbance to and loss of wildlife in the implementation itself.  Of course this is of concern, but there’s a reason why we view the end-of-days prognostication of those opposed as baseless conjecture.

2119.  Two thousand One Hundred and Nineteen.  This is the non-exclusive number of completed River Restoration projects in the UK since 1994 listed in the database of the River Restoration Centre.   Some smaller, some larger: the Cumbria River Restoration Strategy (CRRS) a partnership project between Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Rivers Trusts of Eden, West Cumbria and South Cumbria won the 2016 UK River Prize. They restored 14 km of river across the three catchments to a more natural form.  Not all restore meanders, only 1593 had Habitat objectives, some were done for Flood Risk, Fisheries, etc. 120 are listed as a result of Community Demand.  But all would have had the issue of disturbance to wildlife.  Projects including hundreds of Rivers Trusts, Catchment Partnerships, private estates, the Royal Parks, the National Trust, amongst others.  When the RSPB, and the Wildlife Trusts, and their ecologists support the Latchmore Brook project and other Forest wetland restorations, they do so with their experience, including many projects on the land they manage.  If the consequences, in 22 years and 2119 projects, were as dire as the leaders of the opposition contend, I should think we’d have heard about it by now, or certainly their researches would have brought this to our attention.

We do all share concerns about the project.  The New Forest History and Archaeology Group have raised issues with the survey, we believe they are surmountable and encourage all interested parties to work towards a solution.

Movement of materials to the site may cause disturbance and inconvenience to those along the delivery routes.  I’ve seen and heard alarming figures, 70HGV movements a day or 44000 HGVs, which I’ve discovered to be ridiculously overblown.  Not that I blame anyone for getting this wrong as the planning documents do not lay out the information in a helpful way.  I’ve already had a private go at the FC and LUC over their need to provide concise and useful figures for the public to properly convey the size of the issue.  The route through Ogdens, for example, we’ve been told this will be used in three years of the project, which is worrying, but hazard a guess at how many days would be necessary for deliveries through Ogdens in 2017 – 6, 2018 – 1, that’s right in 2018 they only need to make approx 7 deliveries on that route that year, 2020 – 28, of course that will bear more discussion, but it brings perspective. For the entire project all routes all years combined there will be fewer than 10k HGV movements, fewer than 11k in the worst case scenario we’ve run.  I’ll be putting up our numbers on our newspage later today, available to all, even if you want to scare people with numbers at least you can use realistic figures.

Finally, many are rightfully concerned about the future beauty of the Latchmore Brook.  Walking along Latchmore Shade, you will clearly see the original meanders.  In some cases you will see this as gently undulating curves written as a gentle scar in the landscape, it is easy to imagine a pleasant stream flowing along this course.  Elsewhere the meanders have been eroded into unattractive ruts, and in other places the area between the current water course and the meanders become a quagmire when the drains rush water into the area, the flood in the now dysfunctional flood plain is partially contained by the meander, not allowing much onto the adjacent grazing.  Fixing this will not make the area any less beautiful.  I spoke of the prizewinning project in Cumbria, which we may begrudgingly agree is also an iconic landscape.  That project was twice the size of Latchmore.

Look at Warwickslade Cutting and Fletchers Thorns amongst many of the completed restorations which have bedded in, they look absolutely lovely now.  There are many to choose from, but don’t impatiently show up moments after the diggers left and expect an instantaneous transformation.  Give nature time to do its magic.  After all nature took its time creating those meanders before they were ruined.

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

While this second part was not read in the open court, the full presentment was distributed in written form to the Verderers, as well as the Annotated Fact Check of the Latchmore Crowdfunding Page.

Much of this half of the Presentment was repurposed in the Public Questions section of the subsequent National Park Authority meeting, with an emphasis on addressing the PR problem now faced by Wetland Restorations in the wake of the leaders of the opposition to Latchmore’s concerted campaign of misinformation, misrepresentation, hyperbole and pseudoscience.

Presentment: Latchmore Brook: Part 1: An Apology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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