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Tender for the operator of New Forest campsites: Our Letter to Forestry England

We were greatly heartened by the news that Forestry England and Forestry and Land Scotland had purchased Camping in the Forest (CiTF) from The Camping and Caravanning Club, because this seemed to present a great opportunity to review campsites in the New Forest with a fresh start in their management.

However, with the publication of tender documents for campsite management the Friends of the New Forest are now gravely concerned that the process of appointment of an operator of campsites on the Crown Land is failing to have proper regard to the particular circumstances of the Forest. We have made our concerns known to the Chief Executive of Forestry England and to the Deputy Surveyor in the New Forest in the letter reprinted below.

CHAIRMAN reply to:
22nd June 2022

Mike Seddon
Chief Executive
Forestry England
620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane
Bristol
BS16 1EJ

John Ward

[ADDRESS SUPPLIED]
chair@friendsofthenewforest.org

 

Dear Mr Seddon

Tender for the operator of New Forest campsites

We were greatly heartened by the news that Forestry England and Forestry and Land Scotland had purchased Camping in the Forest (CiTF) from The Camping and Caravanning Club, because this seemed to present a great opportunity to review campsites in the New Forest with a fresh start in their management. Likewise, Craig Harrison, Deputy Surveyor, commented, “Taking greater control of these [campsites]will allow us to continue to offer this experience and support local businesses, whilst working more closely with our local partners to plan and develop their future”; and the New Forest National Park Authority expressed the view that, “A number of these sites are located in environmentally sensitive areas and longer term, we are keen to explore with Forestry England and partner organisations whether some of these pitches could be relocated to less sensitive areas.”

However, with the publication of tender documents for campsite management the Friends of the New Forest are now gravely concerned that the process of appointment of an operator of campsites on the Crown Land is failing to have proper regard of the particular circumstances of the Forest. We question whether the proposed terms of a lease are lawful, we are certain that the process is inappropriate. There is a risk that a future operator of campsites will compound existing harms to the Forest and will find themselves in conflict with those concerned with the conservation of the Forest. We therefore request that Forest Enterprise suspend the current process of appointment and take time to work with partners to review their strategy for camping in the Forest.

Our broad areas of concern are set out below.

We question whether Forestry England, on behalf of the Secretary of State, has the lawful authority to enter into a lease with campsite operators as set out in the draft Heads of Terms. Our understanding of the tenure of the Secretary of State in the New Forest is that it is insufficient to enter into such agreements.

We had expected to see any arrangement with campsite operators being fully compliant with the laws and legislation governing the New Forest, particularly incorporating the role of the Court of Verderers and the rights of Commoners. This absence infers that Forestry England do not properly appreciate those roles and rights.

We are alarmed at specific provisions in the Heads of Terms, notably those relating to provisions for ‘year-round’ camping (rather than the limited open season in the New Forest) and provisions for removing a percentage of trees each year from the campsite without any reference to aesthetic and nature conservation obligations. Furthermore, we regret that the Heads of Terms do not set out a campsite operator’s obligations to deliver the statutory and policy commitments of Forestry England arising from designations, nor advise prospective campsite operators that they will become an ‘occupier’ of the designated sites and therefore will be regulated by the relevant authorities.

Consequently, we are concerned that the documentation accompanying the Heads of Terms fails to clearly advise prospective campsite operators of obligations arising from the status of the New Forest as a National Park, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Natura 2000 site (both a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area) and a site designated under the Ramsar Convention. In the past, Forestry England have recognised some of their obligations to these designations, not least in their signing the 2001 Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Management Plan together with the agreement of 1995 that the Crown Lands will be managed as if they were a National Nature Reserve.

Over twenty years have passed since the Forestry Commission recognised the need for closure of selected campsites due to the damage they have done to the internationally important habitats of the New Forest. Not only have those closures not happened but other remedial works agreed with Natural England have not been delivered, nor have the baseline surveys and monitoring of the condition of campsites been delivered. The Friends of the New Forest sought to assist the establishment of baseline surveys through our report of 2004, unfortunately Forestry England have not adopted this methodology on other sites, nor have they used our work as a baseline for monitoring. In the meantime, we have experienced a continual deterioration in the condition of campsites, with decades more attrition to their character.

Since the signing of the 2001 SAC Management Plan, the New Forest has been declared a National Park, with its own statutory obligations relating to the aesthetics and special qualities of the landscape. With National Park status comes the Sandford Principle, setting out the pre-eminence of the conservation of the Special Qualities of the National Park. We regret that this principle is not reflected in Forestry England’s appointment process.

Fifty years ago removing unfettered camping on the New Forest was a bold and essential move, although establishing some designated campsites on the open Forest perpetuated problems of conflict including with semi-feral roaming stock. And much has changed in half a century, not least a rising appreciation of environmental issues, the biodiversity crisis and our understanding of the harmful impacts arising from poor locational or management decisions for some aspects of recreation in a fragile landscape. Now could be an opportunity to review historical decisions in that context – it should not be lost. We remain committed to participating in planning a fresh start with camping and working with whoever becomes the operator in the New Forest.

Yours sincerely

 

John Ward

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Campsites on the Crown Lands: Presentment to Verderers Court June 2022

We agree with and support the Commoners Defence Association’s position on campsites in their presentment today. We strongly share concerns about the campsites’ impact on commoning, habitat, and the correct involvement of the Verderers as specified in the 1964 and 1949 New Forest Acts. We welcome the more direct role of Forestry England, and the imminent surrender of the problematic lease with Forest Holidays.

However, we have wider concerns that Forestry England are allowing continued damage to the Forest to mar their legal obligations under the Habitat Regulations and the Minister’s Mandate, and existing agreements with Natural England and the National Park.

Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 prescribed the closure or relocation of three of the Crown Lands campsites. This is part of the agreed management scheme to address the Unfavourable Declining condition of those SSSI units, the Pasture Woodlands of Hollands Wood, Denny Wood, and Longbeech. Unfavourable Declining means “special features are not being conserved or are being lost, so without appropriate management the site will never reach a favourable or recovering condition”. The Plan required action by the Forestry Commission by 2003. Those Pasture Woodlands have seen a further two decades of decline. Our 2010 survey showed they retained less than 50% canopy than comparable woodland. During those 20 years Forestry blithely ignored the prescription for closure, the agency entered into a 75 year lease without consulting the Verderers, including those sites, and planned but thankfully dropped measures to further urbanize Hollands Wood with more infrastructure and a mobile shop.

It is also probable that over this time, growth of facilities off the Crown Lands may have already provided or exceeded provision necessary to replace capacity potentially lost from closing unfavourable sites.

While the establishment of campsites on the Crown Lands half a century ago was seen as an improvement on the previous free for all, they would likely not be permitted under modern regulation; nor would they be conceivable with our richer understanding of the importance of these habitats. Even now we are just beginning to appreciate other impacts including camping as a vector for invasive plant species. There is also more work to be done to evaluate the effects of noise and light pollution.

The SAC Management Plan narrowly considers only damaging factors within each SSSI unit, and so does not look at proximity. Forestry England’s policy closes Car Parks [i] (10 out of 130) in relation to Ground Nesting Bird sites from March to August. Forestry England already have the data in surveys they’ve commissioned, including data from Hampshire Ornithological Society, Wild New Forest and others, to be able to determine which further campsites should be closed for the protected SPA species Ground Nesting Birds by the exact same criteria.

Natural England should serve a management notice [ii], their legal recourse to enforce the actions in their agreement with the Forestry Commission. In February 2010, the National Park adopted the Recreation Management Strategy 2010 – 2030 to which the Forestry Commission agreed as partners. This included actions to audit campsite provision, and the phased removal of the more damaging sites (explicitly referencing the three SAC Plan campsites) [iii]. Forestry England should honour these agreements before engaging in new arrangements for the campsites.

The three campsites marked by Natural England for closure, Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech, as well as any other campsites which would be shut if they were merely dawn to dusk Forestry England Car Parks should be phased out as quickly as possible. An impact assessment equal to that which would be required by the planning process should be performed on the remainder. Forestry England should commit to changing or removing campsites as indicated.

At May’s Court the Deputy Surveyor announced that the tender process for a new operator had already begun. This should not have been done without prior agreement with the Verderers, and other stakeholders. Damaging campsites should not have been included in this tender, or only offered on limited terms. The campsites to be shuttered should be excluded from any tender or lease offer, or limited to a maximum of two years, the deadline for closure originally offered by the SAC Management Plan. Those rest requiring further assessment should have a maximum of five initial years to allow their impact to be judged.

Forestry England are in the untenable position of relying on revenue from an activity which is unquestionably damaging to the habitat that they are legally bound to protect. The nation must invest in the protection of this precious national asset, not sell it cheaply while driving it into further disrepair. This is the case that, sadly, must be made to government by Forestry England, by their Partners in the National Park, the Verderers and by all of us.

ENDNOTES

[i] Car Park Closures – From FE Website https://www.forestryengland.uk/article/new-forest-car-park-closures

Burbush, Clayhill, Crockford, Crockford Clump, Hinchelsea, Hinchelsea Moor, Ocknell Pond, Ogdens, Shatterford and Yew Tree Heath are closed to protect critical breeding locations for ground nesting birds. Alternative car parks are located near to all these areas.

Protecting ground nesting bird breeding locations

From March until the end of August, special quiet zones will be established at critical breeding locations to help reduce the likelihood of ground nesting birds abandoning their nests and exposing chicks to predators. A small number of our car parks, listed above, near to these areas will be closed.

In the quiet zones, people are asked not to disturb the ground nesting birds by sticking to the main tracks and not to venture onto open, heathland areas where birds will be nesting. Those with dogs are asked to lend their support by keeping dogs with them on tracks and where necessary using leads to keep them under close control.

From FE Email Release 7 Jun 2022 at 12:04 —

Subject: Car Park update

To:

Good afternoon,

I am writing to update you on some positive news regarding this year’s ground nesting bird season. One of our Keepers who has been closely monitoring the bird’s progress has reported a significant number of hatched Lapwing and Curlew chicks in one of the Forest’s key nesting locations in Burley.

These birds are extremely rare and surviving the next few weeks is critical. The campaign to support the birds allows us to be flexible and respond to the pattern of breeding as it develops during the season. Given the success of the birds in this area we are looking at ways to help as many as possible chicks successfully fledge. One measure we will be taking is to temporarily close Burbush Car Park in Burley. This brings the total number of car park closures due to ground nesting birds to ten, out of a total of 130 car parks across the Forest.

The car park at Burbush will close from Wednesday 8 June. We will closely monitor the progress of the chicks over the coming weeks and advise on reopening accordingly. During this time, alternative parking is available at nearby Burley and Burley Cricket car parks as alternatives.

During the current breeding season we can all support ground nesting birds. We ask everyone spending time here to stick to the main tracks and keep dogs with them, using a lead if necessary, during this critical time. The efforts of the community and those spending time in the Forest this breeding season can help make an important contribution to the future survival of these birds in the UK. More information can be found at https://www.forestryengland.uk/ground-nesting-birds

[ii] Management Notices – may be issued by Natural England to land managers who do not carry out works agreed in their management scheme to resolve unfavourable SSSI conditions, and require the work to be carried out within two months. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/protected-areas-sites-of-special-scientific-interest

[iii] New Forest National Park Recreation Management Strategy 2010 -2030, February 2010, pg.57

Priority actions for the next five years

6.4 Camping and caravanning

  • 6.4.1 Audit the provision of camping in the National Park and maintain the unique experience the New Forest offers; sustain the significant contribution it makes to the local economy whilst ensuring that campsite management does not adversely damage the Park’s special qualities.
  • 6.4.2 Work with partners to identify potential alternative sites to which the phased relocation of the more damaging campsites (e.g. Hollands Wood, Longbeech and Denny Wood) might be achieved whilst providing a similar quality of camping experience. It must be recognised the difficulties in finding alternative sites; many issues will have to be taken into consideration, including the local economy, transport links, access to facilities (e.g. villages, shops) and the camping experience.
  • 6.4.3 Work with campsite operators to reduce the environmental footprint and impact of camping and caravanning on sensitive areas to enhance landscape and visitor satisfaction by:
    • preventing the extension of existing and development of new camping and caravan sites.
    • restricting the spread of new supporting built facilities.
    • ensuring that any built facilities that are provided reflect their surroundings.
    • securing more sympathetic conservation management of existing camp sites.
    • monitoring the condition and operation of the sites on designated areas.
  • 6.4.4 Explore opportunities to develop campsites as substitutes to those displaced from the commonable lands as a valuable form of farm and business diversification in robust locations.
  • 6.4.5 Provide further guidance on the future management of campsites to reduce the dependency on car use, for example, by encouraging campers to leave their cars on site whilst visiting the National Park and continuing to promote alternatives to the private car for travel around the Forest.
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Damaging and Illegal Activities Revealed in the New Forest

  • 1,100 reports of litter and dog mess
  • 550 reports of cyclists away from designated tracks
  • 500+ reports of cars parked on open forest verges away from car parks
  • 50 reports of livestock being chased and/or attacked by dogs
  • 150 reports of livestock being fed by the public
  • 140 reports of cars blocking access to the open forest
  • Multiple reports of drone flying, wild camping, open fires/BBQs, fly-tipping, and the picking of large quantities of fungi

A survey co-ordinated by Friends of the New Forest has highlighted a lack of understanding and enforcement of New Forest byelaws, and a prevalence of damaging and illegal activities that are harming the special qualities of the New Forest.

The ‘New Forest Byelaw Watch’ was launched by FoNF with the aim of raising awareness of Forest byelaws and generating independent data on byelaw breaches. During a six-week period in autumn 2021, over 2,700 breaches were recorded by FoNF members and volunteers within the National Park, with observers on average noting about 11 individual breaches per visit.

The detailed results indicate that litter and dog mess are ubiquitous across much of the forest, with a combined total of nearly 1,100 reports and highest abundance around popular car parks and along roadsides. There were also 550 reports of cyclists away from designated tracks, and over 500 reports of cars parked on verges away from designated car parks.

Of particular concern were 50 reports of livestock being chased and/or attacked by dogs, suggesting this illegal activity is far commoner than official reports would suggest. There were also 150 reports of livestock being fed by the public, and nearly 140 reports of cars blocking access to the open forest. Other infringements recorded on multiple occasions included drone flying, wild camping, open fires/BBQs, fly-tipping, and the picking of large quantities of fungi. About three-quarters of recorded breaches were on the Crown lands, which cover roughly half of the National Park and are managed by Forestry England. However, a Freedom of Information request to Forestry England by FoNF confirmed that there have been no formal investigations or prosecutions of byelaw breaches since at least 2015 (see here).

“We are grateful to everyone who contributed data to this initiative. The results are startling and show that current forest initiatives focussed on educational activities and volunteering alone are insufficient to protect the forest from harm, and that we urgently require updated byelaws that are appropriately promoted and enforced by the forest authorities.”

John Ward, Chairman

This latest survey follows a detailed report produced by the FoNF and provided to Forestry England last year that documents the various impacts of recreational activities on the special qualities of the New Forest, including internationally protected habitats and species.

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New Forest Byelaw Watch

The New Forest is in theory protected by byelaws that aim to conserve the forest, preserve its tranquillity, and regulate recreational use. However, the increase in local recreational pressure associated with COVID-19 travel restrictions has highlighted issues around limited public awareness of the byelaws and a general lack of enforcement by the appropriate authorities; this is not a new problem, but it is generating increased concern amongst the local community.

Last year the Friends of the New Forest produced a  Report highlighting the various negative impacts caused by recreational activities on the Special Qualities of the New Forest and provided this to the relevant forest authorities to inform future management action. Unfortunately, although we recognise that most forest users do behave responsibly, the actions of a minority (who deliberately or unwittingly breach the relevant byelaws or guidance) are unfortunately continuing to contribute to some of the impacts outlined in our report.

It is also clear that the byelaws that cover the largest areas of the New Forest, specifically the Forestry Commission byelaws (established 1982) and the National Trust byelaws (established 1965) urgently require updating and/or clarifying to take account of the evolving nature of recreational activities; pertinent local examples include the increased use of drones, paramotors, e-bikes, and e-scooters in and around the New Forest in recent years.

The Friends of the New Forest have therefore launched New Forest Byelaw Watch to 1) help promote local New Forest byelaws, guidance, and the New Forest Code, and 2) generate independent data highlighting which recreational and/or commercial activities are of most concern. We are asking forest users to complete a simple recording form between 15 Sept and 31 Oct 2021 and will use the results to inform the relevant authorities of particular ‘hotspots’ of damaging activity, and areas where increased enforcement and/or clarification of existing byelaws may be required; we also welcome any photos showing evidence of negative impacts of recreational activities.

The recording form can be accessed and completed online or downloaded in pdf and doc format from the links below; Forms can be completed and returned digitally on a smartphone or tablet or printed for use in the field and photographed or scanned for return by email. Although we prefer digital submission, we can also accept postal contributions at the address below.
Online Survey Form
Download Survey Form (.pdf version)
Download Survey Form (.doc Version)
The raw data will only be accessible to Council Members of the Friends of the New Forest and will be compliant with GDPR requirements, and only appropriately anonymised and aggregated data and photos will be provided to the forest authorities and released to the public.

Thanks in advance for taking part in New Forest Byelaw Watch and helping to inform the future protection of the New Forest.

Sarah Nield (FoNF Secretary)
Green Oaks
Wilverley Road
Brockenhurst
SO42 7SP

A summary infographic of the New Forest Code is provided below,
and links to the full Forestry England and National Trust byelaws are below that:

Forestry England byelaws

National Trust byelaws

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Proposed tree felling at Slap Bottom Burley

Statement Issued 20th December 2019

The Association’s attention has been drawn to concerns raised about proposed tree felling within the New Forest at Slap Bottom, Burley. We note comments made by objectors, the intervention of local MP, Sir Desmond Swayne and recent press reports. Some objectors have sought our support.

As Forestry England know well, we are the first to object to any of their proposals for forest operations that we consider not to be in the best interests of the long-term protection of the New Forest. In making these judgements we take the best scientific advice available regarding the implications, overall effects and likely long-term consequences for the New Forest.

In this case we have visited the site and reviewed the proposal together with the necessary consents obtained by Forestry England. These include the Felling License application with associated maps, the habitat restoration purpose of the works, proper consideration under any appropriate assessment requirements of Regulation 63 of the Habitats Regulations, and the views of Natural England that the whole proposal, as submitted, is directly connected to or necessary for the management of this European Site for the interest features for which The New Forest Special Area of Conservation, New Forest Special Protection Area, New Forest RAMSAR Site has been designated. 

In conclusion this proposal is one that is fully supported by the Friends of the New Forest as a well-considered and moderate proposal to restore habitats without harmful landscape impacts.

In a relatively small area an invasive exotic tree, Scots Pine, is being removed from valuable open wetland habitat, which is being damaged by their shade. However, retention of evergreens, both Scots Pine and Holly, is proposed for the neighbouring properties. This is not a large-scale felling but a necessary one to restore degraded habitat, which is internationally threatened and in itself makes a valuable contribution to carbon fixing. The scheme is already a compromise and has been modified to retain a landscape screen for the neighbours.

One of the stated reasons for objection that has been widely circulated by objectors concerns the loss of trees at a time of Climate Crisis, when trees should be planted not felled. The general view that trees are an important part of carbon capture is to be lauded, but in this case it is simplistic and misguided, based on not understanding the interaction of different types and ages of trees and other habitats to maximise opportunities for carbon fixing.

So far as the Climate Change Crisis is concerned, science tells us that removing trees from organic-rich soils will enhance the capacity of that landscape to absorb carbon. If that tree removal is accompanied by wetland restoration then that capacity is further enhanced. More carbon is held in organic-rich soils than in standing trees. In addition, the world (and the New Forest) is facing a Biodiversity Crisis with species extinction, and the Forest’s bogs and heaths have an international importance for wildlife that depends on them being kept free from invasive species such as Scots Pine.

The proposed works will both improve the habitat and prevent the drying out of wetland, so increasing the retention of stored carbon with an overall gain in terms of carbon capture.

www.friendsofthenewforest.org www.facebook.com/NewForestAssociation Registered Charity No: 260328           Hon Secretary: Tara Dempsey secretary@friendsofthenewforest.org Chair: John Ward chair@friendsofthenewforest.org
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Presentment: New Forest Crown Freehold Properties

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.

I would like to begin with a quotation from the only person I have yet encountered with 100% confidence in their own knowledge of this landscape:

“It is not the flowers, not the birds or the deer or the badgers or the butterflies that are in most urgent need of conservation here but the people, the real people of this place.” *

Chris Packham’s wise words are deeply relevant to what I have to say.

It is now more than two years after I succeeded Dr Ferris as Chair of the CDA. Since then nothing has caused me greater and more consistent concern than the challenge of ensuring that there will be affordable land and homes available for the next generation of commoners – in Britain’s least affordable National Park ** .

We are fortunate that we have a keen and active young commoners group in the CDA. Young people who are willing to commit their lives to sustaining the grazing of the New Forest – An incredible vocational commitment, amongst all the other pressures of modern life, upon which everything that is so special about this landscape depends.

In 1991, after a thorough review of the challenges and all options to sustain grazing, the Secretary of State determined that the 65 Crown holdings should be prioritised for those who would commit to New Forest grazing, and that they should be kept truly affordable to them. Since the time of the Illingworth Report these holdings have enabled families with a long history of commoning to maintain the practice, from one generation to the next. We all benefit from their love of the New Forest, their deep knowledge of the livestock and the landscape, and their lifelong commitment to commoning. The Crown holdings have been crucial in this.

In 2016 all that changed – on a whim. The Forestry Commission simply decided that market rents would help fill the coffers: To cash in on property values in Britain’s most expensive and least affordable National Park. In 2017 Sir Desmond Swayne prompted ministers to remind the Commission that such a change of policy would require a formal and inclusive review, and a decision by ministers. Since then we have caught the Commission advertising cottages to the highest bidder, with no mention of grazing, and allocating them to its own managers however it sees fit.

Forestry England is now attempting to entrap this Court in its disgraceful strategy of privatisation by stealth. By selecting just one small part of the Government policy, for one cottage at New Park; this is the involvement of Verderers in tenant selection. Clearly, it hopes that the Court will not notice:

  1. Every other holding has been auctioned or allocated to staff. With no consultation with this Court: Powdermill, Kings Hat, Longbeech, Springfield.
  2. The rent for Little New Park has been fixed at more than 100% of many young commoners’ household income. Not the 15% stipulated by Government. With no consultation with this Court.
  3. An arbitrary qualification has been set, that at least 10 ponies will be turned out from Little New Park’s 1.3 acres of back-up land. With no consultation with this Court
  4. It has separated the barn from the property: Again with no consultation with this Court.
  5. For Little New Park it is demanding income statements from anyone interested, to check they can afford £18,000 a year in rent alone and to deter all those commoners who cannot.

Tenant selection is, therefore, just a trap that the Court would be wise to avoid. This is simply a diversion along the route to effective privatisation of the Crown freeholds; removing them from support for commoning.

This open defiance of government policy for Crown property is shameful from a public body. It not only defies policies that have worked well to sustain Forest grazing over a quarter century. It also defies the Ministers Mandate to the Commission; that it should put the Forest first, ahead of its corporate financial interests. And it defies the 2018 Accord with National Parks England. I am very sorry to say that we no longer have confidence in the Deputy Surveyor to put the Forest first in this regard.

This is a matter of the utmost gravity for the future of commoning in the New Forest. We have tried for three years to work with the Forestry Commission – willing to discuss update the Illingworth policies, but their ears are deaf to the voice of the Forest. They will push on regardless of all due process. Standing idly by whilst Forestry England misappropriates these Crown properties, so that tenancy is a matter of income rather than the good of the Forest, will have lasting consequences for the conservation of this precious landscape. We are very grateful to the Friends of the New Forest for their support.

I have written to the Secretary of State to ask him to put a stop to this disgraceful episode. I would urge the Court and the National Park Authority to do likewise.

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.

The Friends of the New Forest fully support this position, and have and will continue to stress the importance of all initiatives to maintain affordable housing stock for practicing commoners which is essential to commoning’s continuing service to the Forest.

The CDA Blog post detailing more of the history including the Illingworth report may be read here.

* Chris Packham, Foreword to Clive Chatters “Flowers of the New Forest” WildGuides (2009), p9
** Average property values within the National Park boundary are now 15.9 times average local income.

 

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Presentment: Commercial Dog Walking

Our Vice Chair, Gale Gould made this Presentment at this month’s Verderers Court, clarifying our position about Professional Dog Walkers and Commercial Exploitation of the Forest.

The Verderers may or may not know that last week the Lymington Times published a correction to their previous article about Commercial Dog Walking Charter, which incorrectly reported the position of the Friends of the New Forest (New Forest Association).

For the avoidance of doubt the views of the Friends of the New Forest are similar to those that have been expressed by the Verderers.

Friends of the New Forest does not support the charter because it does not effectively regulate a commercial activity that is taking place on the Forest.

Failing to take early control of activities that have a serious detrimental effect on the Forest results in it being very difficult to control them in the future.

Commercial dog walkers should be required to obtain permission. This would ensure reasonable controls can be put in place including, for example, restricting to four the number of dogs that an individual can walk.

Dogs should be on leads during the bird nesting season, which would bring the Forest in line with the ‘Countryside and Rights of Way Act’, as observed in many other national parks.

It is our view that all commercial activity carried out on the New Forest should be regulated and require consent on a personal and individual basis. This enables the recording and registration of the person to whom consent is given, so that scale, location and the effects of the activity may be monitored. Consent would be accompanied by conditions (for dog walking this might include the things in this charter, such as numbers of dogs on one lead and when or where dogs should be on a lead).

In contrast, simply issuing a code of behaviour in the form of a Charter for a commercial activity, with no regulation, tacitly accepts the activity as being one that has a general, blanket approval with no means to monitor numbers or have any information about those carrying it out.  It would also serve as an unintentional precedent.

In his subsequent Presentment on the subject of stallions and geldings, Dr Tony Hockley, Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, added on the spot support for our Presentment.

The Lymington Times correction printed in their 12th April 2019 issue: “it was incorrectly stated that Hampshire Police, Natural England, Friends of the New Forest and the RSPB had declared their support for a professional dog walking charter.”  The reporter at fault did offer a personal apology to our vice chair at the Verderers Court.

The Forestry Commission does administer a permission system for commercial and events use of the Forest, however it is not comprehensive and does not currently include licensing or permission for commercial dog walkers.

We and other organizations, including the RSPB, Commoners Defence Association, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and the Verderers have had input into both the Draft Professional Dog Walkers Charter and the generic Dog Walkers Code through the National Park Authority’s Dog Forum.  Friends of the New Forest continue to maintain that the commercial exploitation of the Forest element must be addressed for the guidance to have any useful value.  All commercial exploitation of the Forest should also be addressed more fully under any future Recreation Management Strategy.

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Chris Packham Pushes For Unicorn Rewilding in the New Forest

Unicorn in Puckpitts Inclosure drift pound circa 1700.

This article originally appeared in the 1st April, 2019 edition of the Lymington Tomes / Miltonian Adverteaser and is reprinted without any regard to their permission.

Miltonian Adverteaser / Lymington Tomes correspondent Olivia Narwhall.

Celebrity naturalist, and tadpole tapas enthusiast, Chris Packham has demanded that Natural England reintroduce unicorns to the New Forest.

“We are living at a time when there is catastrophic species decline, loss of habitat, and still no definitive method for eating Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and although I can find no correlation between those problems and the absence of unicorns, I feel this is a solution that will really work.

“Unlike the marauding ponies which have turned the Forest into a hellscape which SSSI * condition Natural England have rated as 10% above average, the unicorn’s horns prevent them from browsing trees. The rainbows they emit will be a welcome additional benefit in climate change drought periods.

The Forestry Commission was sympathetic, “our attempt to breed Gruffalo at Bolderwood did not go well, and could have made us elf-shelve our literary mission to fictionalize 20% of the Crown Lands by 2022. Many members of the public support this unfounded reintroduction because unicorns are ‘Shiny!’.

Official Verderer, and syndicated advice columnist, Lord Willie Manners expressed concerns over DEFRA’s handling of the issue. “At this time we have little confidence that DEFRA could resolve the unicorn subsidy post-Brexit, although they have submitted one proposal by tapestry. Also, despite having the requisite stature, our Head Agister is unwilling to undergo species reassignment to become a Centaur.”

Commoners Defence Association head, Tony Hockley, who once successfully talked a leprechaun out of his gold, “Packham continues to undervalue the contribution that Commoning makes to the Forest. He has made similar claims before. In 2008 he suggested overgrazing was responsible for the disappearance of faerie rings, that was shown to be commercial fungi foragers, in 2016 incidents blamed on ponies of barking of beech trees were traced to a donkey possessed by the conifer goddess Pitthea.

“On the other hand, the Commoning community is fully up to the challenge of Forest run unicorns, which will require its own set of breeding and stallion programmes and drifts. We can certainly see the promise of future Beaulieu Road sales with Fantastic Beasts.

Eleanor of Castille and Unicorn at Queen’s Bower, New Park circa 1340

Local historian who’s never been mistaken for a warlock, Richard Reeves, blames the media. “Those documentary makers kept goading me for a soundbite, I told them the Forest was ‘Magical’, townie middleclass idiots literally didn’t understand that was figurative.” Then, citing dozens of primary sources, including Borges , Richard regaled the room with a complete cryptozoology of the New Forest, which caused one of our reporter’s heads to explode with the rapid influx of information.

The Freshwater Habitats Trust has opposed “Unfortunately, the glitter unicorns produce, in the same ways cattle exude methane, degrades into microplastics which would sully the otherwise pristine waters of the New Forest Catchments.”

Friends of the New Forest Chair, John Ward sighed, “It is disappointing that this proposal seems slightly less mythical than the Park Authority’s Strategy for Recreation Management.”

New Forest Association Habitat Committee Chair, and man who continues talking 30 seconds after you stopped listening, Brian Tarnoff objected, “We are appalled that this should be a priority when New Forest District Council are in the process of destroying the green belt, which will harm biodiverse network connectivity, this will deter visitors such as the Pegasus on its migration between Greece and Iceland. §” He then outlined the generational crisis which will be caused by the NFDC Local Plan, but we thought that unimportant to our vital stoking of this celebrity unicorn controversy.

Ministry of Magic Appointed Verderer Anthony Pasmore, hastily shuffling parchment maps of leylines between New Forest barrows, tumuli and boiling mounds to the bottom of the pile, called the move “too little, too late! There was a time when visitor numbers were kept in check by simple warding spells and the Forestry Commission’s Werewolf Keepers. The disturbance by dog walkers, spread of monkshood, decline in leeches and ban on newt harvest have put paid to those hallowed traditions.”

“A few impalings might also warn off detectorists, once they learn how sensitive unicorns are about ancient monuments.” Pasmore added with a wry, withering look.

Brockenhurst resident, Observer Film Critic, and ex-member of The Railtown Bottlers, Mark Kermode, who often refers to the New Forest as “Narnia”, did not comment, but cryptically offered greetings to Lucius Malfoy.

In other news: Worshippers erect Pylon Sized Wicker Man at Hale Purlieu and invite a National Grid representative to assist search for missing schoolgirl. National Park one step closer to creating Green Halo after radiation leak. ABP Withdraw Application For Deep Water Port at Dibden Bay, submit Plan for Affordable Housing For Mer-people in its place. Man engaged in recreational activity on the Forest annoys other people doing other recreational activities on Forest. Film at 11.

Whilst the provenance of this article is without question at the time of its original publication, doubt may be cast on its validity when the noonday gun has sounded.

UPDATE (12 am 1st April) : This just in, Science says unicorns don’t exist, so apparently this article has been the act of a fabulist, and just in time for the closing of the HLS (High Level Sorcery) scheme.  Thanks to all those who have been good sports, and hope we’ve not spawned any basilisks.  Those responsible have not been sacked, but those who were responsible for sacking those responsible have been sacked.

Here’s a taste of last year’s silliness, a report on leaked plans for the Recreation Management Strategy.

* SSSI — Site of Special Speculative Imagination
Manual de zoología fantástica (later El libro de los seres imaginarios, Book of Imaginary Beings), Jorge Luis Borges with Margarita Guerrero, Fondo de Cultura Económica (1957); Dutton (1969)
Literally. Richard still refuses to pay the dry cleaning bill.
§ Olympus, Greece to Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, often stopping en route to chat to The Bisterne Dragon at Burley Beacon.

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Rewilding The New Forest?

Sir Charles Burrell, Diana Westerhoff, Debbie Tann and Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre

The growl of a large grizzly bear filled the hall at Lyndhurst Community Centre and the audience of two hundred people gasped. As curtains drew back and they were confronted with a huge picture of the bear, they listened attentively to Sir Charles Burrell’s description of his pioneering rewilding project at his family estate, Knepp, in West Sussex. At the event organised by the Friends of the New Forest, Sir Charles explained that rewilding is not currently about bringing back such major predators as we don’t have the right eco-systems. He showed how Britain has only tiny pockets of true ‘nature’, and we need to care for these but also need more, bigger, better and more joined-up areas if we are to have a real impact on nature conservation.

Sir Charles went on to describe how over a period of six years, the Knepp estate moved away from traditional arable and pastoral farming on what he said was very poor quality Wealden Clay land, whose production capacity was falling short of national averages. He divided the estate into three main areas, which were treated differently. In the southern block, formerly mainly arable land, field hedges were removed, and the land was stocked with Tamworth pigs, Old English Longhorn cattle and Exmoor ponies, while three species of deer soon made themselves at home.  Scrub developed quickly, though each former field responded differently.

The middle block where the old Knepp Castle had been was believed to be a cultural landscape, a park with a large hammer pond designed by Repton. It was re-seeded with grass and wildflowers, which deterred an exuberant explosion of scrub. The resulting grassland is stocked with ponies, cattle and deer but no pigs.

The northern block had been farmed for dairy cattle, and was re-seeded with grasses but no wildflowers, and is now stocked just with cattle. The resulting open farmscape is slowly developing a little scrub. Sir Charles explained how he had been criticised for creating scrubland, and pointed out that pollen data from 6,000 years ago reveals that only one third of Britain was covered by woodland, contrary to the popular myth that a squirrel could once pass from tree to tree without touching the ground from Lands End to John O’Groats.

The Knepp project is steered by an advisory board of international experts from many relevant fields,. In order to have a more convenient term for a ‘long-term, minimum intervention, natural process-led area’, which although accurate would hardly inspire anyone,  ‘rewilding’ was adopted. This team looked at the UK’s extinct animals and selected proxies which would be appropriate, for example, cattle to replace aurochs. Sir Charles enthusiastically described how the animals seem to complement each other, and the new habitats have drawn in huge numbers and varieties of insects, birds and animals as well as plants, many more than when the estate was farmed traditionally. The estate employs a full-time ecologist to survey, monitor and record these. They have also found that their soil biodiversity and function have improved significantly.

Perhaps surprisingly Sir Charles then demonstrated how the changes have also benefitted the estate financially. Even excluding the tourism, camping and glamping activities which he has developed, the income from the farming side of the estate now well exceeds the national average by some 30%.

Sir Charles was then joined on the platform by Debbie Tann, Chief Executive of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and Diana Westerhoff, a Verderer, to answer questions from the floor. Debbie Tann said that she has visited Knepp and been most impressed by what the estate is doing. She said that wildlife in Britain is disappearing at an alarming rate and we need imagination and new bold thinking to put nature into recovery. She reported that the Trust is looking for opportunities in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to create larger scale reserves and one or two ‘Knepps’.

Diana Westerhoff commented that while the New Forest is very different to Knepp, there have been some efforts at rewilding. The Forest Design Plan is resulting in restoration to traditional land use in some areas, while the wetland restoration programme is returning lost habitats to a favourable condition.

Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre, President of the Friends of the New Forest, noted that one of the six reasons for rewilding listed on the Knepp website was the revitalisation of communities, and wondered how this could be achieved where farms are smaller. To this question, Sir Charles responded with news of an upland farmer he had met at the Oxford farming conference. By changing his pattern of sheep farming including actually reducing stock numbers, and diversifying into holiday lets, he had managed to make his business much more sustainable.

In reply to a question about the impact of global warming on wildlife habitats, Debbie Tann agreed that there is some impact on habitats but possibly more on the food needed by wildlife. She gave the examples of a crash in insect numbers and changes in timing of bird migration having severe effects. Diana Westerhoff added an example of the falcon species, the hobby, declining in the Forest because of a decline in the numbers of house martins, a favoured food of their young. And Sir Charles gave his own example of cuckoos, which have returned to Knepp in good numbers. However they feed with swifts in sub-Saharan Africa, and if it doesn’t rain there for five weeks and there are no insects, they never arrive in Britain.

Another audience member proposed that people are increasingly intolerant of wild landscapes and incapable of being sensible round large herbivores, and wondered if rewilding as a concept would help. Maybe because visitors to Knepp understand they are visiting a ‘rewilded’ landscape, they are more respectful of the large grazing herbivores than visitors to the New Forest are with the free-roaming livestock. Sir Charles recalled a neighbouring farmer who runs educational visits finding that even young farmers could not name common trees, and he suggested that we need more nature education as part of the curriculum. Debbie Tann suggested that we need to rewild people and regretted that many children have never known the fun of running around in long grass.

Questioned about the complexities of environmental stewardship schemes, Sir Charles noted that the Rural Payments Agency uses Google satellite images to categorise landscape, resulting in confused and contradictory definitions which need to be sorted out soon. Diana Westerhoff reported that the Higher Level Stewardship scheme includes more or less all grazed land but the Rural Payments Agency excludes gorse as non-grazing land even though ponies happily eat it in winter.

Comparing the New Forest to Knepp, the next questioner noted that while Knepp has withdrawn from management, in the New Forest we manage both land and stock much more. Diana Westerhoff pointed out that the Forest starts from a very different position, resulting from biodiversity developed over thousands of years. It would be good to have other Knepps around the Forest but we could lose from emulating it in the Forest itself. Debbie Tann added that only 55% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the Forest are classified as in a ‘favourable’ condition, little better than  compared with 45% across the whole of Hampshire, and some extra wilding activity might be helpful to improve this. Sir Charles picked up the point of rewilding people and felt that this arises from inspirational things in the landscape – think beyond the box. What about bison?

Focusing on the Forest, it was suggested that the grazed areas of the forest do not enjoy the abundance of wildlife described at Knepp and the questioner asked what impact animal density has on this. Sir Charles felt that it was not necessary to worry about it. This is just a moment in time, and livestock numbers wax and wane over long periods. Diana Westerhoff endorsed this and added that even short-grazed turf may be home to species missing from other habitats. The woodlands are rich in insects like moths and in bats but we just don’t often see them.

Sir Charles was asked to explain the term ‘pop-up Knepps’ mentioned in his talk. He pointed out that farms and estates pass down the generations and landowners may not wish to tie the land forever to specific conservation designations like SSSIs. So a commitment to plan for 10 or 20 years would enable people to choose to return to conventional farming in the future. The Knepp estate has footpaths crossing it and Sir Charles was asked how he manages the public. He stated that longhorn cattle were useful in deterring people from straying from paths, but that dog-walkers were a problem for ground-nesting birds.  He suggested that good paths, routes, maps and signs were all needed.

Thinking again of the Forest, two questions raised the effect of grazing levels on the possible decline in wildlife and growth of new trees, issues welcomed by the audience with applause. Diana Westerhoff noted that studies on the impact of grazing on ground-nesting birds showed that it was hard to separate it from other factors like deer numbers, dog-walking, predators and climate change. But she commented that it was hard to control over-grazing. Tree regeneration is a long-term business and the Forest includes pasture woodland rather than dense canopy woodland.

At this point John Ward, Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest, said that he did not feel comfortable at being told we don’t have enough information so cannot take action, and asked the panel whether, nonetheless, it might be possible to divide the Forest into areas and exclude recreational access to part of it in order to test rewilding. Sir Charles responded positively, saying that the Forest is large enough to do this. Joking, he even suggested bringing back wolves to control the deer! But he felt that it was possible to amend stock intensity and deer density. He also pointed out the value of thorn bushes which protect young trees, quoting an ancient forestry saying: ‘the thorn is the mother of the oak’. An audience member added that a 400-year old oak only needs one seedling produced during its lifetime to replace itself.

The next question raised the issue of recreational pressure. Debbie Tann agreed that for the New Forest this is the greatest current problem. The words ‘National Park’ mislead the public, and some rewilding might make the nature and purpose of the Forest clearer. We need to be braver, for example in challenging plans for housing development, and local authorities should be providing alternative green space for recreation outside the Forest.

Finally Peter Roberts, previous Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest, enquired what would be the smallest area which could engage in rewilding, with the large estates around the Forest and the Forestry Commission in mind. Sir Charles gave examples of the area which a pig needs per week, because scale matters. The smaller the area, the more management you have to do. The bigger you get, the more you can sit back and leave it alone.

At the end of a stimulating and wide-ranging discussion, Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre thanked Sir Charles for his talk and admired his courage in rewilding Knepp, also thanking Debbie Tann and Diana Westerhoff for their contribution and finally urging the audience to join the Friends of the New Forest to support its fight for the Forest’s sustainable future.

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Forestry Commission response to BBC Inside Out South

This is the Forestry Commission Press Release in response to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

Deputy Surveyor for the New Forest, Bruce Rothnie, at the Forestry Commission, said:

“Those who work every day within the New Forest and observe its cycles of management know that its condition is best judged over decades of time and not year by year. Its diversity of plants and animals comes from traditional practices that have been continuing for hundreds of years including the grazing by animals and burning of heathland. Without the New Forest’s unique grazing system and land management we could not sustain the quality and nature of the landscape we all enjoy today.

The fluctuating density of grazing season by season and year by year is exactly what creates the special nature of the Forest. The habitats created are a haven for some of the rarest plants and animals and the New Forest is the only stronghold for many. The condition of the grazed habitats and the commoner’s stock is assessed regularly by experts. It is the longer term trends that are important for the future of the Forest. Snapshot critiques often lack the understanding of those trends and nature’s pace of change. The commoners are rightly proud of the standard of welfare of their animals and they would be quick to address any concern if their stock were deteriorating due to shortage of vegetation.

The partnership of organisations including the Forestry Commission, National Park Authority, Verderers and the Commoners Defence Association, is focussed on finding the best solution to support commoning and land management post-Brexit. We are working hard to influence how any new subsidy system could be shaped to deliver the best outcomes for the New Forest and its long-term future. The Forest is poised to demonstrate the immense value for money it provides for society.

The regeneration of the grazed woodlands is another feature which responds at nature’s pace and will occur over time periods that extend well beyond the memories of a single lifetime. History tells us that regeneration has occurred in pulses over many decades and these woodlands will naturally go through periods of more open character and more closed tree cover – that is the natural cycle of woodland regeneration where grazing animals roam.”

Shared with kind permission of the Forestry Commission. Our Chair’s Response to the BBC program is available here.
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