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Presentment: Thanks to FC for continued Fungi policy / England Coast Path shortcomings

Fungi

The NFA hope the Verderers will join us in thanking the Forestry Commission for their continuing attempts to protect fungi vital to the habitat of the Crown Lands. As they did last year, the FC are still working to disrupt the illegal commercial picking and appealing to the public not to pick as well. In this, the Forestry Commission are fulfilling their legal duty as stewards of the Forest habitat.

The national code of conduct[*] says It is inappropriate to pick fungi from SSSI or National Nature Reserves – the Crown Lands have the Status of both. It is explicitly illegal on National Trust land under their byelaws, and would be illegal under the FC byelaws[†], but for the loophole created by reclassification of fungi as separate to the plant kingdom.  Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981[‡] on SSSI’s “intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging flora or fauna by reason of which land is of special interest” is an offence. The New Forest is one of the few SSSI’s so notified for the special interest of its fungi.

Picking any of the Red Band Rare Species of Fungi[§] is absolutely illegal by anyone, anywhere, and carries £5k fine per item with jailtime and vehicle forfeiture. The NFA believes that prosecution of these offenders would discourage commercial foragers more than lesser penalties under the Theft Act 1968.[**]

England Coast Path

I listed some of the England Coast Path’s shortcomings at the July Court, now a short update.

Currently the Natural England Coastal Team have offered a Sensitive Features Appraisal to determine exclusions for habitat, a very narrow consideration of features at risk. Unless this were to exclude the route, spreading and coastal margin from the highly protected areas out of hand, we should insist upon the more comprehensive, higher standards of a Habitats Regulation Assessment.

The new timeframe for the Consultation on the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch (set to begin between September 27th and October 19th ) unfortunately the majority of the consultation would fall before the next meetings of both the New Forest Consultative Panel, and the Local Access Forum, after next Monday’s meeting of the National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy Steering Group and with no planned meetings for the Advisory Group. This threatens to exclude any measured joint response from local stakeholders. As a member of the Steering Group, we hope the Verderers will join us in calling for an extraordinary joint meeting of both RMS groups to consider the consultation. Natural England are blaming their “parent” DEFRA for the time frame, and a looming March 2018 implementation date. We may need to remind both government departments that they should not be forcing a rush to judgement where disturbance to our most remote, isolated and protected coastal habitat is concerned.


[*] The Wild Mushroom Picker’s Code of Conduct 1998

[†] FC byelaws 1982, Section 5 Prohibited Acts: “No person shall in or on the lands of the Commissioners: … (vii) dig up, remove, cut or injure any tree, shrub or plant, whether living or not, or remove the seeds therefrom, …”

[‡] Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 28 (P)

[§] Schedule 8 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

[**] Given the indiscriminate harvesting by commercial pickers, it is likely that, if caught, their haul may include samples of rare species which may be used in evidence.

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England Coast Path: Our Letter to the New Forest Access Forum

England Coast Path

The England Coast Path (ECP) will create new non-historically based Rights of Way which may also join up existing Rights of Way, including the Solent Way. It will also provide spreading room in the form of the coastal margin defined between the route of the path and the water’s edge. This is particularly 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. The New Forest Association wish to raise concerns about the scheme, many of which will pertain regardless of the published route.

Increased use and disturbance:

New routes will impact on tranquility and habitat disturbance. Joining up of existing routes will increase their use and hence their impact. Spreading room applied to existing routes will create new access which will also cause disturbance to areas those routes avoided. With no funding for mitigation and parking infrastructure; some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast would exacerbate the verge parking problem.

Coastal Margin:

Whilst Natural England’s powers to exclude areas from the coastal margin include habitat considerations under Section 26 of the CROW Act, the protective measures are paltry (minimal signage and barriers) and the Ordnance Survey’s depiction of all potential coastal margin as one colour shading without differentiating or delineating the exclusions will mislead many into protected areas. Worrying precedents have been seen: the published proposed Portsmouth to South Hayling route appears not to have any habitat exclusions under S26, this leads to glaring omissions of vulnerable wader roosts on vegetated shingle beaches (Consultation ending Sept 13th 2017).

There are weak provisos that the OS will claim covers the depiction issue (see figure). These do not even mention exclusions for habitat protection. There is no guarantee that this language will even be included on all relevant OS maps, nor that they will be featured at any remarkable scale for legibility. Excluded areas should be the majority of the margin along our coast, and should either be shown accurately, or not shown as access land at all.

The coastal margin / spreading room model is wholly inappropriate for our coast. Setting exclusions at mean high water mark could allow access into neighbouring excluded area at all times outside of high tide. Intruders can simply walk across from adjacent accessible foreshore. Additionally as the crossing point for rivers are necessarily sufficiently inland, the model becomes unworkable, complicated by different handling of “rivers” and “estuaries” and the length of a piece of string debate as to where one definitively leads to the other.

According to the NE Coastal Team “Discussions regarding the representation of the coastal margin were held with a national stakeholder group, this involved NE, NFU, RSPB, CLA, National Trust and the OS amongst others – this representation is not within our remit.” Despite this, NE still have the obligation to protect the coastal habitats that may be trespassed upon as a consequence of the depiction issue.

Weak Habitat Protection:

There is little or no serious consideration of sea level rise and effects of erosion. Where present, again ignores coastal habitat value and frames issues solely within effects to landowners. Coastal habitats would end up being squeezed between the established path and the advancing sea.

Currently the Natural England Coastal Team have offered Sensitive Features Appraisal which narrowly considers only certain items at risk, as if in isolation. The higher standard provided by Habitats Regulation Assessment is more appropriate for this very protected stretch of the National Park. Unless the proposed Appraisal were to exclude the route / spreading / coastal margin for these areas out of hand, the Habitats Regulation Assessment should be insisted upon. We would expect this to exclude these habitats comprehensively.

Purpose:

While the path is being promoted for useful alternative recreation, pleasant views and tourist destinations, in other regions this may be desirable. Here it is:

  • Unnecessary – There is no actual need for the path.       The Forest does not want for draws to Tourism.
  • Arbitrary – The notion of a “coastal” path is merely a goal for completists, like those who want to walk Hadrian’s Wall, Land’s End to John’O’Groats etc. While a nice paper exercise for box tickers and sponsored walks, other paths / destinations are otherwise available.
  • Redundant – The Solent Way (aka Solent Coast Path) already follows much of the Hampshire coast line and passes through the New Forest; it also forms part of the European Coastal Path (E9).
  • No Benefit – Any suggestion that the path would draw recreational pressure away from other areas of the Forest is a robbing Peter to pay Paul argument, and perhaps worse as the coastal habitats have been better protected and thus more prone to fresh disturbance than other areas where sadly much damage has already been done.

Consultation on the Highclifffe – Calshot stretch:

Unfortunately the consultation timeframe (eight weeks, likely 27th September to Nov 22nd) unhelpfully falls between both the New Forest Access Forum and New Forest Consultative Panel quarterly meetings and does not take into consideration either of the pertinent National Park’s Recreation Management Strategy Steering and Advisory Groups. I’ve suggested NE move the end date to December 21st at the earliest, two weeks after the Consultative Panel, but I otherwise presume sub-groups would be formed to respond within the currently mooted dates. I respectfully offer any sub-group formed by this Access Forum, at its convenience, a presentation from one of the New Forest Association’s ecologists which would help contextualize the extremely high value of the habitats and species at risk near or on the route. I hope this would convey a more comprehensive picture of what’s at stake, than the information provided by the Natural England team tasked with delivery and promotion of the route has yielded thus far.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important Access issue,

Yours,

Brian Tarnoff
Chair, Habitat And Landscape Committee
New Forest Association / Friends of the New Forest


Update: We would now withdraw our objections about the Sensitive Features Appraisal, which should overlap sufficiently with a Habitats Regulation Assessment, however, we would still insist that the route and spreading room should comprehensively exclude the important designated habitats.

Although the timeframe of this consultation has slipped repeatedly since originally mooted for February 2017, the March 2018 launch date has fallen just after the 12th March meeting of the New Forest Local Access Forum, would have fallen after the 1st March meeting of the New Forest Consultative Panel.  The Panel was postponed by inclement weather to 19th April, giving it less than three weeks to formulate comment on the consultation (and its 72 page overview 81 pages of route detail and 213 page Sensitive Features Report).

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Presentment: 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 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 show the entire “coastal margin” (the entire seaward side of the path) as “access land”, without delineating exclusions. As the route is likely to be significantly inland and much of our coast will be excluded for habitat protections, this depiction will be grotesquely inaccurate. 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. The Ordnance Survey should restrict their illustration to the route of the path itself, and only show coastal access land as it unambiguously exists now at Calshot, Lepe Country Park and other similar extant areas.

Unfortunately these problems will be pertinent wherever it may be proposed, and we expect the consultation on the Lymington to Calshot route from Natural England later this month. We hope the Verderers will help press the case with the Ordnance Survey and will resist the worst excesses of this arbitrary unnecessary exercise which will bring not a jot of benefit to the Forest.


[Note: this is the graphic that may appear on some of the OS maps. There are weak provisos that the OS will claim covers the issue. These do not even mention exclusions for habitat protection. There is no guarantee that this language will even be included on all relevant OS maps, nor that they will be featured at any remarkable scale for legibility.

Excluded areas will be the majority of the margin along our coast, and should either be shown accurately, or not shown as access land at all.

Natural England have the unhappy task of negotiating the route, and they and the National Park Authority will be responsible for signage and maintenance of any physical barriers to nominally protect the route.
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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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