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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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Background: Close The Campsites That Harm Habitat

Northern end of Hollands Wood camp site, New Forest August 2005 / Jim Champion / CC BY-SA 2.0

This article includes the Background Notes from our July 2021 Presentment calling for a review of the campsite infrastructure on the protected habitats of the Crown Lands, the closure of three of the campsites which were given high priority in the 2001 SAC Management Plan.  These are only the campsites on land managed by Forestry England and run by Camping in the Forest.  We are also calling on the National Park and New Forest District Council for significant initiatives to improve standards for temporary campsites as a sustainable alternative.

We will be publishing further articles exploring this debate, as well as our own evaluation of available evidence in the context of the campsites.

 

i & ii Citing fundamental incompatibility within close proximity of veteran trees, Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 gave “Unfavourable Declining” condition assessments to Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech due to the presence and management of the campsites, calling for their removal or relocation as an immediate high priority.  Failure to carry out the works set out in the Management Plan to address the Declining condition should lead to Natural England issuing a Management Notice to the land manger which would make their non-compliance illegal.

[i] New Forest SAC Management Plan 2001, Part 3, pp 22-23

Issue 15. Recreation …

Most of the activities described in Part 1 occur in the pasture woodlands. It is however the location of car parks and camp sites within pasture woodland units which have created by far the biggest impact on their nature conservation interest. Impacts from the other major forms of recreation have not to date contributed to a decline in favourable condition of pasture woodland.

Car parks and camp sites: their impact on pasture woodland

There is a recognised and fundamental incompatibility in locating high concentrations of people, their equipment and vehicles within close proximity of veteran trees. Inevitably, health and safety considerations have resulted in extensive removal or vigorous tree surgery of ancient trees over time in these sites. In addition, the development of camp site and car park infrastructure and the physical trampling of ground vegetation has dramatically impoverished the ground vegetation, replacing it with artificial tracks, hard stands and species poor grassland. These impacts are progressive and striking. However there are other more subtle changes and impacts which contribute to affected units remaining in unfavourable declining condition:

  • reduction in lichen flora from tree removal, pollution, drying out and increased drainage;
  • removal of ground flora and increase in bare and compacted ground;
  • removal of dead standing and fallen wood;
  • long-term impact on regeneration and viability;
  • reduction in capacity to support range of organisms and traditional management;
  • progressive decline.

Location of car parks and camp sites in or adjacent to pasture woodland

As a matter of principle hard recreational facilities cannot be sustained in heavily treed areas of pasture woodland. A programme to consider each facility will be required, but in the meantime 34 car parks and 3 camp sites require immediate consideration for relocation or re-design in the short to medium term.

[ii] New Forest SAC Management Plan 2001, Part 3: General Prescriptions, pp 30-31)

  1. Recreational disturbance

Where units are in unfavourable condition through excessive levels of recreational disturbance then appropriate restoration measures will be carefully evaluated and implemented. Such measures are likely to include:

  • The closing and/or relocation of camp sites, followed by pasture woodland habitat restoration.
  • The closing, redesign or relocation of car parks, followed by pasture woodland habitat restoration.
  • The repair and restoration of eroded footpaths.

Priority sites for action during the 20 year span of this management plan are indicated on the tables below. It is appreciated that restorations involving major camp site closures and re-siting and car park re-structuring will generate highly complex issues, requiring considerable research, evaluation and resources, (both financial and in terms of provision of alternative locations where intensive forms of recreation are sustainable). Such proposals will require extensive consultation, and formal compliance with local authority procedures and the Habitats Regulations and will be the subject of individual detailed plans beyond the scope of this Management Plan.

The following table lists the locations of camp sites in or adjacent to pasture woodlands. A summary of their impact and their contribution to unit condition is given together with a prioritised recommendation for action.

Camp Site Location Impact Condition Assessment Recommendation Priority
Denny Wood In pasture woodland Severe reduction in old trees/ dead wood/ lichens & ground flora Unfavourable declining Relocate camp site / Restore pasture woodland High
Hollands Wood In pasture woodland Severe reduction in old trees/ dead wood/ lichens & ground flora Unfavourable declining Relocate camp site / Restore pasture woodland High
Longbeech In pasture woodland Severe reduction in old trees/ dead wood/ lichens & ground flora Unfavourable declining Relocate camp site / Restore pasture woodland High
Ashurst In pasture woodland Severe reduction in old trees/ dead wood/ lichens & ground flora Unfavourable maintained Redesign infrastructure to maintain existing features & prevent further degradation. Low

 

iii “Our recent consideration of evidence on recreation impact” refers to our 2020 report.  Our concerns were that, to date, the increase of recreational use arising from nearby urban growth has been assessed as a broad overview, rather than taking into account the impact on the Forest’s individual Special Qualities – these include ground-nesting birds and fragile wetland, heathland and ancient woodland habitats. While there is sufficient information available to the authorities to identify the key issues arising from recreational use, there are significant gaps that need to be filled for future recreational strategies, plans and projects to be effective. The report recommended that a long-term monitoring process be adopted to ensure that recreational policies are evidence-based and flexible to future change.

[iii] Chatters, C & Wynn R (2020) A contribution to understanding the relationship of the recreational use of the New Forest with its Special Qualities. New Forest Association.

iv Around 20% of the campsites in the National Park are on land covered by the primary conservation designations (i.e. SAC, SPA, SSSI, Ramsar)

[iv] Ewald, Naomi and Stride, Gemma, Freshwater Habitats Trust, A Look Beyond The Pitch – What This Means For The New Forest’s Freshwater Landscape pp 9-11 New Forest Waternews – New Forest Catchment Partnership Newsletter July 2020: Issue 10 Clean Water Camping

v Our 2010 Campsite Survey showed the campsites in pasture woodlands, (those identified for closure in the 2001 SAC Plan), have less than half the canopy they ought.

[v] Cox, Jonathan: July 2010 New Forest Camp site Baseline Survey: Final Report, New Forest Association
(Campsite_Survey.pdf)

vi Unwelcome, invasive plant species have been recorded at campsites throughout the UK and the New Forest in particular.  Perhaps it worth adding that the hazards to feet from the sharp spine on the fruit of the Cotula Sessilis may also be a problem for livestock including softer footed pigs and cloven footed cattle.

[vi] Rand, Martin (2020) Cotula sessilis (Jo-jo-weed) and other Buttonweeds in Hampshire, Flora News – Newsletter of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Flora Group No. 59 Autumn 2020 Published September 2020, pp 27-28.

The most intriguing (and worrying) arrival is Cotula sessilis (Jo-jo-weed or Carpet Burweed formerly Soliva pterosperma), which originates from South America and has now gone global…. Along with its invasiveness, it has a feature that makes it particularly unwelcome: the very sharp spine produced on each ripe achene. As it grows in short amenity grasslands and other places where people like to walk, it is a painful menace to pets and barefoot walkers and will even puncture the soles of flimsy footwear.

…The first record for South Hampshire was made in 1997 in Bournemouth by Felicity Woodhead. Significantly, as we shall see, it was found in a caravan park. … in 2017 it was followed by records on 9 sites in the Isle of Wight during an investigation by Paul Stanley. Every one of these was a holiday camping or caravanning site, and in several it was present in quantity. In the same year Paul extended his search to two campsites in the New Forest (Ashurst and Hollands Wood) which take caravans, finding it in both. It persists there until the present.

Given the clear pointers to the means of its spread, Hampshire’s popularity as a touring destination and our proximity to cross-Channel ports, it seems unlikely that it will not be found in more touring sites and perhaps elsewhere.

In 2017 Keith Turner made the first Hampshire record of another species, Cotula australis (Annual Buttonweed) on a camp site in Eastney, Portsea Island. …. Fortunately, this species does not have the spines of C. sessilis. In 2018 John Norton and Debbie Allan found it on another New Forest touring camp site (Denny Wood). This obviously suggests that it is arriving by the same means. …, its presence in the New Forest is of some concern too. …

vii The National Park’s new 2021 Partnership Plan draft lacks any meaningful initiatives to address the impacts of campsites.
Camping is only mentioned twice.
1. Campsites, only as an example of a recreation facility under Our Proposed Vision:

[vii] New Forest National Park Partnership Plan 2021 – 2026 – Issues, Vision and Objectives – Draft Consultation Document, June 2021
Our proposed Vision for the New Forest National Park (page 4)

The Vision for the New Forest is to be a national beacon for a sustainable future, where nature and people flourish. In 2050, the National Park is a unique and immediately recognisable place where:

  • facilities such as car parks, campsites, walking and cycling routes and community green spaces are in the right places to both protect rare wildlife and to provide a better, more informed experience for people

2. As the subject of unspecified “longer term actions”, possibly referring to the May 2019 RMS Actions (which only itself mentions campsites as another recreation facility AND as a possible access grant opportunity for private landowners (Action 5.3, pg 12 of the RMS))

Managing recreational pressures (page 10)

…Over the lifetime of this Plan, there is likely to be an increased demand for ‘staycation’ holidays and further recreational demands placed on the National Park as opportunities for travel further afield remain limited due to the pandemic. A joint ‘care for the Forest, care for each other’ action plan has been put in place for 2021 but we recognise that we need to deliver the longer-term actions that have already been agreed to better manage these increasing recreational pressures, including camping. Partnerships need to be developed to identify and create new green spaces for recreation away from the protected habitats of the New Forest.

There are no detailed plan actions addressing campsite issues, although it is possible to infer that it is lumped under the vague language around spatial strategy (Action 1.5.1.). For comparison, car parks are given a specific action (Action 1.5.2.) which partially echoes what we’d want to see for campsites, namely a plan to change the location and capacity on the Open Forest:

Agenda for Action (pages 16,17)

We will work together, and at scale, to maintain, reconnect and enhance nature. We commit to developing a nature recovery programme for the National Park that: ….

1.5. Mitigates recreational pressures by:

1.5.1. Developing a spatial plan for where recreation should be encouraged across the New Forest and surrounding areas

1.5.2. Agreeing a strategy to facilitate changes to the location and capacity of car parking on the Open Forest and adjacent commons

1.5.3. Developing a strategic approach to mitigate the potential impacts associated with increasing recreational pressures arising from planned new housing and visitor accommodation development on the internationally designated habitats

1.5.4. Increasing the level of funding available for recreation management so that it is sufficient to address both existing and future needs

1.5.5. Using appropriate and proportionate enforcement strategies to deter illegal use of the Forest

viii Previous Plan Campsite Aspirations:
The original Recreation Management Strategy of the New Forest National Park Authority included closing Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech campsites as well as initiatives to audit campsite provision, and reduce environmental impact.  We supported the 2010 Strategy, and have found that many aspirations then noted as 5 year priorities have not even been begun, and subsequent updates to strategy have increasingly watered down essential goals.

[viii] New Forest National Park Recreation Management Strategy 2010-2030 6.4.1-6.4.5 page 57

Priority actions for the next five years

6.4.1 Audit the provision of camping in the National Park and maintain the unique experience the New Forest offers; sustain the significant contribution it makes to the local economy whilst ensuring that campsite management does not adversely damage the Park’s special qualities.

6.4.2 Work with partners to identify potential alternative sites to which the phased relocation of the more damaging campsites (e.g. Hollands Wood, Longbeech and Denny Wood) might be achieved whilst providing a similar quality of camping experience. It must be recognised the difficulties in finding alternative sites; many issues will have to be taken into consideration, including the local economy, transport links, access to facilities (e.g. villages, shops) and the camping experience.

6.4.3 Work with campsite operators to reduce the environmental footprint and impact of camping and caravanning on sensitive areas to enhance landscape and visitor satisfaction by: .. preventing the extension of existing and development of new camping and caravan sites .. restricting the spread of new supporting built facilities .. ensuring that any built facilities that are provided reflect their surroundings .. securing more sympathetic conservation management of existing camp sites .. monitoring the condition and operation of the sites on designated areas.

6.4.4 Explore opportunities to develop campsites as substitutes to those displaced from the commonable lands as a valuable form of farm and business diversification in robust locations.

6.4.5 Provide further guidance on the future management of campsites to reduce the dependency on car use, for example, by encouraging campers to leave their cars on site whilst visiting the National Park and continuing to promote alternatives to the private car for travel around the Forest.

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Presentment: Close The Campsites That Harm Habitat

Denny Wood Caravan Site, New Forest - geograph.org.uk - 36636

Close Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech Campsites as Natural England Intended

The Friends of the New Forest support a comprehensive review of the campsites on the Crown Lands, their infrastructure and impact on habitat and livestock, and action taken to implement protection of the designated habitats, including the 2001 prescription of Natural England to close three campsites.

Citing fundamental incompatibility within close proximity of veteran trees[i], Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 gave “Unfavourable Declining” condition assessments to Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech due to the presence and management of the campsites, calling for their removal or relocation as an immediate high priority [ii].

We are at present expanding our recent consideration of evidence on recreation impact [iii] , to focus on campsite impacts and develop a spatial model of proximity of the sites to key species and SPA features.  For now it is worth noting:

  • Around 20% of the campsites in the National Park are on land covered by the primary conservation designations (i.e. SAC, SPA, SSSI, Ramsar)[iv].
  • Some campsites are in such close proximity to protected nesting bird habitats, that if they were merely car parks, they would be closed from March to August under current Forestry England policy.
  • Our 2010 Campsite Survey[v] showed the campsites in pasture woodlands, (those identified for closure in the 2001 SAC Plan), have less than half the canopy they ought.
  • Unwelcome, invasive plant species have been recorded at campsites throughout the UK and the New Forest in particular. [vi]

We are gathering further evidence and will report by this Autumn.

We ask that the Verderers use their position as a key partner in the National Park’s new Partnership Plan, whose draft lacks any meaningful initiatives to address the impacts of campsites [vii], and abandons previous aspirations [viii].

The Partnership Plan provides an opportunity, not just to assess the campsites on the Forest, but also for the National Park Authority with New Forest District Council to more comprehensively track, manage and establish standards for temporary campsite provision as granted under Permitted Development Rights.  The growth of the pop-up / temporary campsites, and other facilities off the Crown Lands may have already provided or exceeded provision necessary to replace the capacity which would be lost from possible closures.  With consistent standards for mitigation and sustainability, off Forest campsites would directly benefit the rural economy and commoning, as well as disperse tourist spending throughout the district.

For many years it has been known that some campsites are incompatible with the habitats they occupy.  In addition, the CDA and Verderers now believe that camping on the Crown Lands is incompatible with livestock.  It is possible to meet the desire of visitors to camp and enjoy the Forest without causing harm to its valuable  habitats and commoning way of life. We ask everyone who cares for the Forest to join us in demanding action from Forestry England, and both the New Forest National Park and District Council to bring this about.

This Presentment follows on the heels of other calls made by the Verderers and the Commoners Defence Association to review the Campsites on the Crown Lands.

It should be noted that these are only roughly a fifth of the campsites in the New Forest area.  They are of concern as they are directly on protected habitats on public lands where commoners livestock freely roam and graze.  When they were established in the 1960’s there was less understanding of the impacts on habitat from recreation.  This outdated infrastructure urgently needs reevaluation as we face the catastrophic declines in species and effects of climate change.

Click Background Notes for the references made throughout this Presentment.  The article also expands some of the points.  We will be giving further coverage of this debate in the coming weeks, as well as reviewing the broader implications of Natural England’s 2010 SAC Management plan on the Campsites.

 

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Recreation Management and the Special Qualities of the New Forest

Life in the Forest been very much a year of two different halves with Covid19. Initially with Lockdown in force the Forest was unusually quiet and undisturbed, with breeding wildlife enjoying a less disturbed existence than usual.

But then Lockdown restrictions were relaxed and suddenly the Forest was hit with an unprecedented deluge of uncontrolled and seemingly unstoppable recreation activity.

Local fire fighters, police, conservationists, rangers and commoners were among those who reported repeated incidents of unacceptable behaviour by some visitors who ignored the measures in place to protect the fragile habitats of the area. Cars were found parked irresponsibly, blocking gateways that are used by the emergency services, park rangers, and commoners accessing their livestock. Grass verges that have international conservation designations upon them were driven over or used for parking. Visitors were found wild camping, lighting fires or using disposable barbeques, and some of the New Forest’s most important ponds for wildlife were used for swimming, kayaking and even paddle boarding.

We feared that this might be a glimpse of things to come as the Forest becomes ever more closely encircled by a growing urban population. Our Council met to discuss a whole range of recreation management issues and this week we have published a report that aims to remind decision-makers about the Special Qualities of the New Forest and the urgent need to protect them from the effects of recreational activity. The Special Qualities considered in the report include habitats and species of international importance within designated wildlife sites.

The authors of the report, FoNF Council members, Clive Chatters and Russell Wynn, have stated that while there is sufficient information available to the authorities to identify the key issues arising from recreational use, there are significant gaps that need to be filled for future recreational strategies, plans and projects to be effective. The report recommends that a long-term monitoring process be adopted to ensure that recreational policies are evidence-based and flexible to future change.

We are concerned that, to date, the increase of recreational use arising from nearby urban growth has been assessed as a broad overview, rather than taking into account the impact on the Forest’s individual Special Qualities – these include ground-nesting birds and fragile wetland, heathland and ancient woodland habitats.

It is intended that this contribution to the debate will assist in the development of an appropriate recreational management strategy for the New Forest, supported and implemented by Forestry England and the New Forest National Park Authority.

We have offered the support of Friends of the New Forest with future monitoring that underpins this strategy. 

You may read or download the report from the link below:

A CONTRIBUTION TO UNDERSTANDING THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE RECREATIONAL USE OF THE NEW FOREST WITH ITS SPECIAL QUALITIES

Eyeworth Pond
Parking on the Forest to picnic
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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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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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Verderers response to BBC Inside Out South

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

It is a great shame that Mr Packham declines to talk to the organisations which manage the New Forest. Some of his statements are, unfortunately, quite wrong. For example, he assumes that every animal for which the Verderers receive marking fees is actually turned out on the Forest for the entire year. We know that is not correct. Commoners generally turn their cattle out in summer but take them home for the winter. Some cattle are never turned out onto the forest.

Some ponies spend most of their lives on the Forest but others are also taken home for the winter. The animal population varies throughout the year.

An excellent indicator of the grazing pressure is the condition of stock. There has been no deterioration in the condition of the stock overall. The Verderers, through the Agisters, monitor the welfare of the stock closely. The Agisters report regularly to the Verderers on the condition of the stock out in the Forest. Any report to the Verderers’ Office of an animal in poor condition is promptly investigated by an Agister. Any animal found to be in poor condition is removed from the Forest.

The Verderers host two Welfare Tours every year which are attended by a number of organisations including the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, the Donkey Sanctuary, British Horse Society, Blue Cross, Defra and Animal Health/Trading Standards in order that the condition of the stock can be independently monitored and assessed.

In 2016, a small number of ponies were found to be stripping trees of their bark in Mark Ash Wood. Other ponies in the area were not touching the trees. All the ponies in the area were in excellent condition. Ponies do sometimes eat woody material but it is not an indication of hunger. Because it can be a learnt behaviour, the animals responsible were identified and removed from the Forest. We and the Forestry Commission are continuing to monitor the situation.

Over the last eight years, the Verderers of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (a partnership between the Forestry Commission, the New Forest National Park Authority and the Verderers working with Natural England) has restored over 10 miles of drainage channels, which were artificially straightened by the Victorians The work has resulted in more natural wetland systems which help to support the unique biodiversity of the New Forest.

In 2017 the Wootton stream restoration was shortlisted for the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence award – the Natural Environment category. It’s a credit to the team and Mott MacDonald who were involved in the planning to restore Wootton Riverine back to its natural meandering route. It’s a truly collaborative project between many partner organisations, who are working towards conserving the New Forest’s unique natural environment.

The Forestry Commission burns about 250 hectares – which is only 2% of the total heathland area across the Crown lands. Even though this is a relatively small proportion of the heath, it ensures we have a healthy and vigorous range of heather heights and ages, which as well as providing diversity also provides us with effective firebreaks to protect large areas of heathland, woodland and private property from wildfire.

There are a number of very rare species in the New Forest whose very existence is due entirely to the hard grazing and the poaching by animals that occurs in some parts of the Forest.

The present high number of animals for which marking fees have been received is, we believe, due wholly to the present farming subsidy scheme. We hope the Basic Payment Scheme, which we do agree with Mr Packham, is not appropriate to the Forest, will change after BREXIT, and we are calling for a bespoke subsidy scheme for the New Forest run by the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the National Park Authority with the invaluable input from Natural England. These are the organisations which, together with the commoners, have managed and protected the Forest and will continue to do so for many years to come.

The Forest is facing ever more pressures, especially from increasing recreational use. The best way to ensure its survival is for the organisations responsible for its management to continue to work in partnership. Those who disagree with their management should engage constructively with them.

30th January 2019

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Our Chair Responds to BBC Inside Out Allegations

Friends of the New Forest Chair, John Ward, responds to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

In a short programme it would be too much to expect explanation and discussion, but Chris Packham’s assertions, “the Forest has been drained, burnt, overgrazed and suffers a catastrophic decline in species” certainly had the tabloid newspaper headline effect he no doubt wanted.

Perhaps stream and valley mire restoration, the fact that a decade or so ago there was a great worry that commoning was declining so fast there would not be enough animals, and recognition that species decline is often rooted in causes much wider that the New Forest, might also have been mentioned.

Drawing conclusions from a snapshot view of the New Forest is often risky for a place that evolves and fluctuates over long periods of time. Grazing within the cultural landscape of the Forest has always varied. For example, the dairy herds of the 1960s are no longer present and agri-environment grants come and go.  But, setting aside the passionate performance of Chris Packham, there is a very  important point coming out of this programme. The New Forest is still an astonishingly rich place for wildlife and for people, those riches depend on the continuity of commoning and commoning needs our support. One of the many challenges that the Forest faces for those of us seeking its long-term protection is to find the right way to make that support.

Our habitat blog will shortly feature more detailed consideration of the issues at hand as well as statements from other organizations including the Forestry Commission. The Press Release version of our Chair’s Statement is available here.
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Fungi and the Law (a summary)

We thought it was time to review where fungi law is currently. With Autumn fully upon us, and a plethora of various understandings being put about, I’ve attempted to summarize (with extensive notes below).

The Theft Act 1968 makes it illegal to take fungi or plants from the wild for commercial purposes[*].  But the fines are low enough(£100-300) to be a wrist slap cost-of-doing-business for commercial foragers.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to pick any rare (schedule 8 red data list) wild plant including fungi[†].  The CPS Guidance lists much stronger penalties, including up to £5k fine per item, six months jailtime, and forfeiture of vehicles used in the act or to transport goods[‡].  The same act makes it illegal to “uproot” any wild plant without authorisation, but there seems to be neither guidance nor history of prosecution for this.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – both of the previous examples apply anywhere in the wild, the Wildlife and Countryside Act also provides extra protection for land designated as SSSI.  This makes it an offence on SSSI land to “intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which land is of special interest”[§].  The New Forest has one of the few SSSI designations that lists its fungi population as one of its special interest features.  The downside of this is that very few prosecutions have been brought under this part of the act, although the fines up to £20k would make a very useful deterrent.

So technically, picking fungi on the New Forest SSSI without authorisation, is completely illegal, but under two less enforced portions of legislation.  BUT Picking fungi for any commercial purpose, OR picking rare species for any purpose anywhere are both illegal and realistically arrestable, prosecutable offences.

Byelaws

The Forestry Commission byelaws make it an offence to do anything to a plant, and also lists as prohibited for removal “soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals”[**], strangely this seems to omit fungi, but this is because fungi were originally within the definition of “plant”.  The loophole was created when taxonomists reclassified fungi to a separate Kingdom.  The Wildlife and Countryside Act and other primary legislation solve this with a codicil that defines their use of “plant” as inclusive of “fungi and algae”.  The loophole should be closed in the Byelaws.

But for taxonomists and pedantry, it ought to be illegal in the FC Byelaws.  It is due to the loophole that the FC last year publicly suggested that fungi foraging wasn’t strictly illegal, ignoring illegality under the W&C Act. Oddly enough, The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW), is widely perceived to have banned all foraging on the access land it created (not applicable to the Crown Lands); yet, it too has the same loophole, in that it prohibits taking of plants, but never explicitly includes fungi within that definition, and virtually all guidance you will find says that it does!

The National Trust Byelaws explicitly prohibit fungi foraging[††], the Wildlife Trusts prohibit on their Nature Reserves, and Epping Forest (whose model of enforcement we hoped to emulate) prohibits “Taking anything”, usefully all inclusive.

Natural England, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, as modified by the NERC Act 2006, has powers to make Byelaws for SSSI land.  However, these have yet to be exercised (saving for existing byelaws on certain National Nature Reserves), and only just this year have DEFRA and NE begun a consultation on how they might formulate such Byelaws.  This could be used in future to protect the notified features of the New Forest SSSI, which would include fungi, and effectively cover their accidental exclusion from the FC Byelaws.

Personal use limit. 1.5kg – This was an amount suggest in FC publicity for many years.  It has no legal basis, and came from a misreading of guidance, The Wild Mushroom Picker’s Code of Conduct.  The Code suggested that amount for culinary forage as a per foray group total per visit, and should only be done with permission of the land owner/manager.  The Code deemed culinary forage as inappropriate on SSSI and/or National Nature Reserves.  The New Forest is both.

The supposed personal limit is moot and was never applicable, neither legally nor in guidance, on the Crown Lands, the New Forest SSSI.  The appropriate limit is 0.

I would prefer a complete ban on the New Forest SSSI in recognition of the precious, delicate and under pressure habitat, that should be protected, not just by on paper designations.  Foragers can go elsewhere, but our flora and fauna can’t.  Those pretending they care for the environment, but arguing their entitlement to its harvest, regardless of its protections, are raiding the larder of a burning house.

That said, in one stakeholder meeting I suggested a practical measure for enforcement that would let those genuinely taking a small amount for personal use off the hook, whatever you could comfortably hold within your two cupped hands, surely enough for an omelette without waste.

The Friends of the New Forest support the Forestry Commission’s “Look, Don’t Pick” policy for the New Forest SSSI under their stewardship. We would like to see the FC take a prosecution for picking of Red Data List species, which carries strong penalties capable of putting off commercial foragers.

 


ADDENDUM and FOOTNOTES (for those with more will power)

Also worth noting the Forestry Commission’s powers and designations on Crown Lands:

NCC Consent 25 January 1988

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.”

FOOTNOTES

[*]

The Theft Act 1968 Section 4 “Property”.
(3) A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose. For purposes of this subsection “mushroom” includes any fungus, and “plant” includes any shrub or tree.

This allows foraging activities for purely personal not any commercial use. Commercial use would include resale, but could be applied to those who run commercial foraging forays without permission of the landowner.

[†]

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 13 Protection of wild plants
(1)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a)intentionally picks, uproots or destroys any wild plant included in Schedule 8; or
(b)not being an authorised person, intentionally uproots any wild plant not included in that Schedule,

he shall be guilty of an offence.

(2)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a)sells, offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild plant included in Schedule 8, or any part of, or anything derived from, such a plant; or
(b)publishes or causes to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that he buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell, any of those things,
COPY

he shall be guilty of an offence.
(3)Notwithstanding anything in subsection (1), a person shall not be guilty of an offence by reason of any act made unlawful by that subsection if he shows that the act was an incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided.
(4)In any proceedings for an offence under subsection (2)(a), the plant in question shall be presumed to have been a wild plant unless the contrary is shown

Unfortunately, fungi are not terribly well served here.  In fact, their inclusion in the act is a bit of an afterthought.  This is in part due to the reclassification of fungi into their own kingdom in 1969.  A codicil, section 71 subsection 2 “it is hereby declared that in this Act “plants” include fungi and algae.” was added to the bill in subsequent legislation, Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.  (The NERC Act 2006 also established Natural England, and Section 41 species)

[‡] The Crown Prosecution Service does not seem interested in the SSSI related offences, their  guidance on Wildlife Offences focusses on more straightforward criminality, mostly pertaining to offences in Sections 9 & 13.

Powers of Arrest, Search and Seizure

Under section 24(2) Police and Criminal Evidence Act, as amended by Schedule 12, paragraph 13 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 (the CROW Act,) the following are arrestable offences:

[INCLUDING] …

  • Any offence under sections 9, 13(1)(a) or (2) WCA 1981 (taking, possessing, selling etc of Schedule 5 wild animals or Schedule 8 plants). …

All offences under Part I WCA 1981 are summary only, except for offences under sections 14, 19ZA(7) and (8) which are either way. ….

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. See Section 21(5) WCA 1981.

Offences under section 14, 14A and 19 XB(4) are punishable on conviction on indictment to a term not exceeding two years imprisonment and/or a fine or both.

Powers of Forfeiture under WCA 1981 and generally

Wherever appropriate, courts should be reminded of their power to make such orders.

Under section 21(6)(a) WCA 1981 a court shall, following conviction for such an offence, order the forfeiture of any bird, egg, animal, plant etc in respect of which the offence was committed. 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 Forfeiture guidelines are intriguing, adding a nice deterrent that in addition to the heavy fines for taking or selling Schedule 8 species, the vehicles used may be forfeited.

[§]Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Section 28 Establishment of SSSI’s Provision P Offences

(6)A person (other than a section 28G authority acting in the exercise of its functions) who without reasonable excuse—

(a)intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which land is of special interest, or intentionally or recklessly disturbs any of those fauna, and

(b)knew that what he destroyed, damaged or disturbed was within a site of special scientific interest,

is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or on conviction on indictment to a fine.

Natural England is the statutory body which determines which features, flora and fauna are key to any given SSSI, these are called notified features as NE, when they designate a SSSI, are required to notify landowners of their obligations to the SSSI.  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).  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.

[**]

The Forestry Commission Byelaws 1982

  1. Acts Prohibited on the Lands of the Commissioners

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, or dig up or remove any soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals of any kind;

The Forestry Commission byelaws list prohibited substances for removal which includes “plants” which may ambiguously refer to fungi (if we take into account inclusive definitions in Primary Legislation).  It may be worth removing this ambiguity by either seeking an inclusive interpretation of the existing byelaw – after all, it is likely that the original byelaws were drafted before fungi were reclassified, and it seems stingy when your list includes soil, turf, leafmold, moss and peat, to insist that plant does not include fungi.  Otherwise we could petition the FC to amend the byelaw, this is a long game move, though, and would take as much as five to ten years.

[††]National Trust Byelaws 1965

Soil and Vegetation
2. (a) No unauthorised person shall dig, cut or take turf, sods, gravel, sand, clay or any other substance on or from Trust Property.
(b) No unauthorised person shall dig up or remove, cut, fell, pluck or injure any flowers, plants, fungi, moss, ferns, shrubs, trees or other vegetation growing on Trust Property or remove any seeds thereof or injure any grass or climb any tree.

The National Trust Byelaws are quite clear, and here in the New Forest they have had to be vocal as they’ve had incidents, such as when their own organized educational fungi walk on one of the Northern Commons under their managagement could find none as the area had been stripped by commercial foragers.

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