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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presentment: Latchmore Brook: Part 1: An Apology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fact Checking Our Friends

The Friends of Latchmore have created a Crowdjustice crowd funding page to fund future legal challenges to the restoration project at Latchmore Brook.  It contains some of their most problematic statements to date.  The Crowdjustice site have told me that they do nothing to verify any case promoted through their “platform”, that this is entirely up to the claimants and their legal representatives.

Some of these mistakes might be forgiven in a neophyte, but the authors of these pronouncements have been dogmatically stating their version of this case for several years, clearly having time and motivation to properly research, so we must take some of these as wilful misrepresentations.  Given that their page is asking people to donate money to their cause, I should hope that the more sensible leaders of the Friends of Latchmore ought to feel a little bit queasy over these inaccuracies, which could lead to allegations of a scam.

While we don’t believe there is malicious intent, even the possibly unintentional errors have the feel of those grasping at straws for virtually anything that supports their case, whilst systematically ignoring everything that doesn’t.  We leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide how innocent these mistakes are.

[What follows is the text taken from the site as seen on 18th September 2016, highlights in bold and numbered annotations are ours.]

Stop destruction of New Forest habitat

 The Forestry Commission, New Forest NPA and the Verderers are spending EU money infilling Forest streams and destroying protected wildlife.

Why this case matters

The Verderers of the New Forest, The National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission have formed a partnership and obtained significant funding running into millions of pounds from the EU to ‘Restore’ wetlands under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme which is an Agricultural subsidy meant to help British farmers(1), The partners described the whole New Forest National Park as a ‘farm’ in order to claim this money(2) but it has turned into a massive engineering project infilling many streams with waste products(3) in a misguided attempt to restore them, despite their having a wonderful biodiverse habitat supporting many of our rarest and most protected wild species(4).

(1)   The Higher Level Stewardship Scheme is an Environmental subsidy, the key give away is the word Stewardship which indicates a range of Environmental Stewardship programmes.  Entry Level Schemes include subsidy to farmers laying hedgerows, or planting wild flowers beneficial to wildlife on fallow fields.

(2)   The partners would not need to describe the National Park as a “farm”.  The HLS is eligible to both farmers and land managers.  Common land is eligible. The HLS Scheme for the New Forest only applies within the perambulation of the common land, and so does not include the whole National Park.  DEFRA does occasionally treat the New Forest Common lands as one unit, but this is for things like the Single Farm payment scheme (an actual Agricultural subsidy) and to make the cattle movement rules practical for commoning (movement restrictions which apply elsewhere to prevent spread of TB and other vectors would cripple the relative freedom of the cattle on the commons and their movement back to nearby free holdings).

(3)   “Waste products” – this is an utter misrepresentation – the materials for infill include hoggin, washed gravel, clay and heather bales.  The materials used must be approved by Natural England.  Elsewhere the FoL refer to the material as “alien”, the gravel is taken from the same geological strata (on earth) as that on which the New Forest rests.  If we’re being charitable (why shouldn’t we be?), they may have taken the term “rejects” as applied to some of the gravel.  This refers to gravel not pretty enough to be sold in garden centres, but perfectly beautiful enough to be used for infill.  This tabloid culture of infill shaming must be stopped.

The Forestry Commission have just submitted a Planning Application for Latchmore Brook, 3 miles from Fordingbridge, to carry out major works involving 7 km of the stream and importing nearly 100,000 tonnes of infill material.  This area is an SAC, SPA, RAMSAR and SSSI site and thus should be afforded the highest level of protection(4) but the New Forest National Park Planning Authority has not refused any of the previous Planning Applications for these engineering works, as it is one of the partners of the scheme.(5)

(4)    The project is being done at the behest of and with the approval of Natural England.  The Forestry Commission as the land managers of the New Forest SSSI are obligated to remedy the Condition Assessment prescribed by Natural England, part of their duties to monitor and protect SSSI.  Natural England are then asked to give consent to the proposed solution, there is no guarantee of this as the proposal must pass another set of criteria on top of addressing the underlying problem.  Natural England support the project.

(5)    The National Park Authority, Verderers and Forestry Commission are only “partners” in the project inasmuch as they are the statutory bodies required to be on the project board, and only benefits the Park as it successfully fulfils their statutory purposes “to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area”.  The NPA is represented on the board by their Chief Exec Alison Barnes.
The NPA’s Planning Committee is made up of 14 of the 22 members of the Park Authority.  The Committee is mostly local Parish, Town, District and County Councillors (12) and 2 Secretary of State Appointees (through DEFRA).  As with any Planning Authority they have strict criteria they must adhere to, and whilst they may seek advice from the civil servant staff of the Authority including their own ecologists and the Chief Exec, the decisions are theirs.  No previous scheme has been refused because, like the present one, they are worthwhile restorations to improve the habitat, and have met the criteria for planning approval.  There is no conflict of interest as the Chief Exec on the board of the project serves the members of the Authority, not the other way around.

The Forestry Commission still uses the same methods for each new project despite substantial evidence of serious adverse effects(6) on the biodiversity of large areas caused by previous failed restoration attempts(7).

(6)    They do not have substantial evidence, in fact, in this short a time after the completion of previous projects, results are promising, but there is no substantial amount of data, which would require years of monitoring to support claims.  An encouraging independent study by the River Restoration Centre and Jonathan Cox Associates, The New Forest Wetland Restoration Review, surveyed post restoration sites from 2004.
(7)    This is one of the laziest and unsubstantiated claims, none of these are considered failed.  Where they claim restorations are failed they provide no evidence or relevant criteria to make this claim.  The best they seem to be able to do, is to take photos of a dry stream bed before the project has finished bedding in and ignore that this is not its constant or eventual state.  Not to mention that Ditchend Brook is situated in a valley where streams notoriously run dry in Summer (oh, we did mention that).

Ditchend Brook in normal conditions
photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission
CAPTION: “Failed Restoration” [Friends of Latchmore photo of Ditchend Brook as a dry stream bed, looking like a gravel path, above you will see instead a less shocking photo of Ditchend Brook.  An NFA member reported a visit from earlier this year finding numerous small fish, newts and tadpoles in the very spot of the FoL photo. ]

It’s not just the fragile ecosystem which is at risk, but there are also precious archaeological sites(8) as well as significant geological areas, not to mention the serious knock-on effect the works will have on tourism and local businesses as well as the lives of local residents – massive tipper lorries each carrying in excess of 30 tonnes of material will be driving down narrow Forest lanes(9), putting the lives of the ponies and cattle at risk(10), as well as walkers, horse riders and cyclists, not to mention the potential for structural damage to properties(11) adjacent to the planned routes.

(8)   The New Forest History and Archaeology Group have raised issues with the archaeological survey conducted to support the Environmental Impact Assessment.  We believe these concerns may be mitigated and rectified, and we would support all interested parties to achieve this.

(9)    Slight error, the tipper lorries proposed have a maximum load of 20 tonnes.  Odd though, as if their weird claim were true, it would mean at least 33% fewer HGV movements.

(10)    The same drivers will be used, and will be made aware of the “possible pedestrians, cyclists and livestock in the carriageway”, there will be “speed restrictions for delivery vehicles;” – 15mph on the Forest’s gravel tracks, 5mph under the ordinary 20mph restriction under the byelaws, and “traffic management with radios on the Ogdens route” as well as term time restrictions for school run to local schools.  Consider the number of large scale refurbishments to properties along the route, which would have had none of these extra precautions taken for their HGV movements, and no protest over these.

(11)    Vibration study was carried out as part of EIA.

How you can help
We need your help to stop what Sir Desmond Swayne MP calls ‘state-funded
vandalism’ (12)

(12)    This quite vocal campaign group is in his constituency.  His views about protecting the Forest though are inconsistent.  In early 2011 at the time of Env. Minister Caroline Spelman’s disastrous proposal to sell off the public forests, only one of the two New Forest Conservative MPs (plus one from nearby Romsey) rebelled against their party.  It was Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis, not Desmond who opposed the sell off.

We are crowdfunding to pay for legal representation and expert opinions to
mount significant legal challenges and if necessary to support a possible Judicial Review. We hope to challenge the legality of whole scheme and require the Authorities to put a stop to interference with balanced ecosystems (13) on this massive scale.

(13)    The ecosystem is not balanced, it was broken when Victorian engineers diverted the watercourse away from the natural meanders into artificial straight drains.  The project seeks to undo this damage to bring balance back to the ecosystem of the area.

[for space we’ve omitted two paragraphs, one about their legal firm, and one about the author of the page]

Fast facts
– one of the most iconic and beautiful streams in the New Forest will be
irreparably damaged (14)

– the Forestry Commission have just submitted a Planning Application to the New Forest National Park Authority

(14)    Clearly the author does not understand the difference between fact and unsubstantiated conjecture.

The New Forest Association support the Latchmore Brook Restoration

The New Forest Association has been following the progress of stream restoration work done by the Forestry Commission carefully over the years. The Association backed the first of these projects in 2005 with some trepidation. Confidence has grown as the results came through and management techniques evolved. The work has been carried out sympathetically and has done much to enhance the overall environment for the long term.

Our ecologists agree with Natural England that these works should help restore these precious habitats to “favourable” condition. We are delighted with the results of similar completed restorations, we are enthusiastic in our support for this proposal. We join our support to that of the Hampshire and IOW Wildlife Trust, Ringwood Natural History Society, and the British Dragonfly Society, amongst others.

Background

Natural England do condition assessments on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). They found that for many of those sites in “unfavourable” condition on the Forest, a contributing factor was previous drainage works (many Victorian). As the Land Manager of the Crown Lands of the New Forest, the Forestry Commission is obliged to improve units in adverse condition. The programme of wetland restoration was seen as the best response to the condition assessment. The latest tranche of these is being done through the High Level Stewardship Scheme which is part of the wider Environmental Stewardship subsidies (from the EU). These projects are controlled by a project Board whose voting members are the statutory bodies with responsibilities for the Crown Lands: The National Park Authority, the Forestry Commission and the Verderers of the New Forest. Consultation on versions of the scheme at Latchmore has been going on since 2009. Along the way, the proposal was expanded to include all the areas in the stream catchment above Latchmore so that all the project areas that would be needed for eventual success could be rolled into one larger Planning Application. Making the application that size has also meant extra due diligence including a voluntary Environmental Impact Assessment, and extensive consultation.

The project will decrease flood risk downstream. An elementary understanding of hydrology would tell you that taking a straightened Victorian drain, and replacing it with curving meanders will slow down the egress of water from the system. Birmingham and So’ton Uni’s used the river catchment upstream of Brockenhurst, where previous restorations under the HLS, Final 4000 and LIFE3 programs have been completed over the last decade, for a study showing “flooding alleviated by targeted tree planting and river restoration”.

The British Dragonfly Society response to the planning application concludes, “The removal of shade by clearing trees and scrub, the reinstatement of meanders and the other associated works to restore the site will, we believe, improve the opportunities for Southern Damselfly to spread.”

Friends of Latchmore

We have no doubt that the “Friends of Latchmore” and their supporters love the Forest. However, their leaders have waged a one-sided campaign full of scaremongering unsubstantiated claims of ecological disaster. This is strong emotive stuff, if we took what they say at face value, we’d join their barricades, but their black and white view of the matter stifles debate and cheats their followers of the full view of the facts. They don’t even try to discount the great support from ecologists and conservation organizations, they ignore it, and they certainly don’t mention it to their followers. Nor will they concede the great successes of previously completed restorations. They have the gall to selectively quote, on their website, the British Dragonfly Society, who support the project.

Not that they don’t have valid points to make, but they bury them under a white noise of hyperbole, and irrelevancies. Instead of making points constructively and proportionately, they, in their clutching at straws manner, nitpick any small mistake with previous restorations as though it were a thorough refutation. These are the kind of minor notes the NFA and others would simply press upon the FC to add to their maintenance program.

the Brook in normal conditions
photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission

There is one stream, Ditchend Brook, which had work completed in 2014, which hasn’t bedded in as quickly as some of the other projects (which, frankly have bedded in much more quickly than expected). When particularly dry, there is a stretch that the FoL like to photograph and parade as a “failed restoration” (although they offer no criteria for this “failure”), they are seemingly alarmed by the large stone cobbles (which replicate the type of substrate found here, and are less likely to be washed downstream) .

The FoL are fond of suggesting that the Planning Authority cannot be impartial as the National Park is also a “partner” in the project. Their assertion cynically relies on oversimplification and ignorance.

The National Park Authority is only a “partner” in the project inasmuch as it is one of the statutory bodies required to be on the project board, and only benefits from the project as it successfully fulfills the Park’s statutory purposes “to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area”. The NPA is represented on the board by their Chief Exec Alison Barnes.

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

Reservations

Does the NFA uncritically support these Wetland Restorations? No. Nor do we unreservedly support all of the Forestry Commission’s plans. For example, we are currently challenging the FC to have a serious rethink of their current version of the proposed Forest Design Plan, and we just successfully campaigned for the FC to tighten their regulation of fungi foraging on the New Forest SSSI.

We continue to campaign for better monitoring both by the Forestry Commission and Natural England which would make the case on paper for this and future restorations much more cut and dried. We may have preferred a more strategic prioritization of restorations (admittedly this could easily have been a tail chasing money burning exercise with little net benefit). We seriously note concerns raised by the New Forest Equestrian Association : road safety and transport of materials, and New Forest History and Archaeology Group : inaccuracies and omissions in the archaeological report, but believe these may be mitigated and rectified, and the Planning Authority and applicants should work with all interested parties to achieve this.

With any new scheme it is accepted that there will be some disruption in the immediate vicinity. Much of the scrub clearance would have been carried out as part of normal open Forest work for Commoning pasture management. This work compliments ancient lawn maintenance and adds to biodiversity. The area will recover quickly and be a better place for wildlife and the stream will meander across the lawn as it did once before. On balance, we have concluded that this project is worthwhile and should be approved.

Conclusions

If you are on the fence about support for this project, we hope that you will avail yourself of information (see further reading below). But, if you’d prefer to ponder this over a pleasant walk, we’d suggest you go and walk the Warwickslade Cutting, near Rhinefield Drive. The restoration on this stretch was completed in 2009. It was proposed and funded under the Final 4000, a project between the Forestry Commission, the National Park Authority, Natural England and the Environment Agency. It was done with the approval of the Verderers and with no opposition from the Commoners Defence Association (keep in mind that this project did not include any subsidy to benefit either). When you walk the stream at Warwickslade, you will be hard pressed to even imagine that work was done there, the only indication of the original straight channel you may glimpse is a gap in the canopy of the trees that were once either side. This is a mere seven years later, but it already looked this good five years ago.

Latchmore Brook, abandoned meander.

You may also want to go walk the Latchmore Brook itself. The original meanders are still very apparent, although the Victorians cut the throat of their source to convert the Brook to a drain. In the photo at the top of this note you’ll see part of the meander to the left of the current course. It’s edged by an area of parched grass to the left that would likely be green improved grazing if the meander were in place and functioning with its floodplain.  Imagine a stream gently flowing through the middle of the picture on the right, consider whether that harms, improves or equals the beauty we have now.

Finally, please consider this: The Victorian Engineers who put in the drainage works did not do Environmental Impact Assessments, they did not use sensitive methods of moving stream beds aside, so that invertebrates and other features of the habitat could be preserved, as done in the restorations we have now. Spoil heaps were left willy-nilly, conditions for erosion and bank instability were created, and the stream was disconnected from its natural flood plain.  Despite the bullishly done works of our forebears, these areas have bounced back. Nature is resilient. We need look further than our own lifetimes, both to the future and the past. If this work does not go forward, it will be a missed opportunity to provide an ecosystem more resilient to change, and to restore landscape and habitat.

Going forward the NFA hope we can all hold the Forestry Commission up to the highest standards for implementation, monitoring and maintenance of this work.

– Brian Tarnoff, Chair, Habitat and Landscape Committee, New Forest Association
(a modified version appeared previously as a note on our Facebook page)

Further Reading:

For more information on the schemes, as well as a good look at all the very successful schemes the FoL neglect to mention:
http://www.hlsnewforest.org.uk/hls/info/50/wetland_restoration

For a smattering of both sides of the argument have a look at the Presentments from the June 2012 Verderers Court: http://www.verderers.org.uk/jun12mins.pdf

For the official NFA Response to the Planning Application from our Planning Committee: http://publicaccess.newforestnpa.gov.uk/online-applications/files/6E1746670EAA39568B650AFD5B85BDF0/pdf/16_00571-MR_G_BAKER__NEW_FOREST_ASSOCIATION__-_NEIGHBOUR_REPRESENTEE-578576.pdf
 
For the supplemental NFA Response to the Planning Application from our Habitat and Landscape Committee: http://publicaccess.newforestnpa.gov.uk/online-applications/files/D1506ED02A3ADDF94479BB09D0A55E3F/pdf/16_00571-MR_B_TARNOFF__CHAIR_HABITAT___LANDSCAPE_COMMITTEE_NEW_FOREST_ASSOCIATION-582830.pdf

For the rest of the BDS response: http://publicaccess.newforestnpa.gov.uk/online-applications/files/3FCA4CD543DBA6FD8C17CBD415C58F63/pdf/16_00571-DR_P_TAYLOR__BRITISH_DRAGONFLY_SOCIETY__-_NEIGHBOUR_REPRESENTEE-577179.pdf

This study from Birmingham and So’ton Uni’s used the river catchment upstream of Brockenhurst where previous restorations under the HLS, Final 4000 and LIFE3 programs have been completed over the last decade: “Flooding alleviated by targeted tree planting and river restoration, scientists discover”

The River Restoration Centre used the work at Warwickslade Cutting for their Manual of River Restoration Techniques, although these may not be the same for the Latchmore project, it gives an indication of the great care that is taken in these restorations, and is worth a look http://www.therrc.co.uk/MOT/Final_Versions_%28Secure%29/1.11_Highland_Water.pdf

Warwickslade project for comparison: a mix of 8,000 tonnes of hoggin (dug sand and gravel mix) and 800 tonnes of firm clay by-product, both sourced locally, for 2km stretch, at a cost of £214,500.

Much larger project for Latchmore Brook and the many restorations further up the catchment: 5km of old Brook meanders will be restored, 8km of main channel, tributaries and side drains will have their bed level raised, and 4.6km of main channel, tributaries and side drains will be infilled. Total 13km restored/repaired, 4.6km infilled. Approx 96,000 tonnes Cost Approx £1,500,000. (based on estimates available at time of writing)

NFA Habitat & Landscape 2015-16

Highlighting tomorrow’s NFA AGM, further amended excerpts from our Habitat and Landscape Committee’s Annual Report

Our ecologists have had a very busy year, and I hope they will forgive me if this report cannot hope to capture the full scope of their efforts. They have my, and I presume the Association’s, deepest thanks.

Site Visits

HAL members attended site visits and provided feedback for a variety of Forestry Commission led habitat restoration and maintenance project proposals. This has included:

  •     Linford Bottom
  •     Norley Mire, Bagshot Moor, Upper Crockford Bottom,
  •     Three Beech Bottom and Horseshoe Earth
  •     Ogdens Mire and Sloden Inclosure
  •     Lyndhurst South (Coxlease Lawn, Brick Kiln Mire, Allum Green)
  •     Waters Copse, Withycombe Shade
  •     Broomy/Ocknell Plain (Suburbs Wood Mire, Broomy Bottom, Linford Brook Mire)
  •     Dibden Bottom, The Noads Mire, Ferny Croft

We continue to support the FC’s restorations. We would like to see more resources for monitoring, a more procedural basis for prioritizing the schemes with clear reference to the framework provided by the habitats regulations and the SAC Management Plan and a cohesive grand design for habitat restoration across the whole of the Forest.

The Forest Design Plan

In July 2015, we were one of a select group of conservation organizations invited by the Forestry Commission to comment on their earliest draft of the next Forest Design Plan. With a shift towards much more broadleaf planting, it represents a huge sea change for the foresters. In a much appreciated move, the FC is actively seeking our input and expertise. We hope to see more detail and nuance as the plan is further developed this year, with public consultation this Autumn. Much of this committee’s work over the last decade has been preparing research and evidence to bolster the NFA’s vision for the inclosures as presented in Recovering Lost Landscapes, and has been aided further by changes in government policy as evidenced in the Lawton Report and the Policy on Ancient Woodland Sites.

The Forestry Commission have opened up the next stage of consultation which runs for eight weeks from 11 Apr 2016 to 6 Jun 2016. This will produce the version of the plan which will be submitted for the inspectorate, and final consultation later this year. The NFA will argue that the planned eight weeks may not be sufficient for less nimble organizations (those that meet less frequently, such as Parish Councils, or those larger whose relevant knowledge is spread across expert and consequentially busy staff); we would prefer ten to twelve weeks. When the timeframe was sprung upon the great breadth of Forest organizations in attendance at a special launch day on March 22nd, the FC suggested that they may be “flexible” about the length of the consultation. We will be making our case later this month.

Busketts and Felling Licenses

In Autumn 2015, Neil Sanderson, one of our leading ecologists, spotted veteran and woodland edge trees marked for felling at Busketts Lawn. Whilst this had been done as part of a scheme to improve grazing – and had been granted a felling license – many trees of value, but not detrimental to the lawn, had been marked including glade edge Oaks, nectar source Crab Apples and Hawthorns.

The NFA had not previously been aware of the plans due to the sparse detail available in the list of works we receive through our membership of the Open Forest Advisory Committee, and the equally slim notification of the felling licenses through the parish councils. To the FC’s credit they did manage to arrange a site visit before the works commenced and took on board some of our advice. Whilst from our point of view this was damage limitation rather than success – we saved some trees and shrubs and a large mature Oak – we were also able to make suggestions that were accepted as useful going forward: we got some Oak pollarding, preventing loss of grassland to shade, not previously considered as a tool in lawn management; and by cutting back Holly from former wood edge trees, we agreed to maintain a transition from lawn to wood, both aesthetically, and functionally within the habitat, desirable.

We will be pressing for improvements in the way the FC and Natural England notify felling licenses and document works of this type on the open forest.

New Forest Water Blitz 2016

We did a trial email shot to our members looking for volunteers for the New Forest Water Blitz, a survey taking place during the four week period of 12th March – 10th April 2016. This was a trial run survey taking place as part of the larger Clean Water for Wildlife project. The NFA are promoting this study as a member of the New Forest Catchment Development Group, a clean water initiative between the National Park and the Freshwater Habitats Trust. Over twenty volunteers administered very easy to use water test kits, collecting two samples from assigned locations within the New Forest during the four week period.

Whilst nearly all the Association’s work is done through our council and committees by volunteers from our membership, this was the first time we were able to offer a small scale, “Citizen Science” style volunteer opportunity to engage our members. We were very heartened by the enthusiastic response we received. There will be further opportunities for all to volunteer both as the New Forest Water Blitz is due to be extended (popular demand!) and as the Clean Water for Wildlife project moves forward.

Naomi Ewald of the Freshwater Habitats Trust will be one of the Association’s guest speakers at our post AGM members event. She will be discussing the New Forest Catchment Project and the New Forest Water Blitz.

Going Forward — Other areas of concern to address in 2016:

Countryside Stewardship Scheme – This new version of the HLS funding will need our particular attention. We were very disappointed in the NELMES consultation that produced Natural England’s Countryside Stewardship Statement of Priorities. As funding may be targeted based on the erratic outcomes of the consultation, we are hoping to have these refined or corrected.

Having received negative feedback, Natural England are duly redrafting the document. The NFA are happier that this is being addressed, but will be reviewing the result still wary of the process that produced the original version.

Night Disturbance from LEDs – As part of our tranquillity remit, we want to see the nocturnal disturbance to wildlife and infringement of the New Forest byelaws cease. With our neighbouring conurbations, it is unlikely that we’d ever qualify as an International Dark Sky Reserve (a designation held by 3 other National Parks), but any steps in this direction would be welcome.

— excerpted with updates from the NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee Annual report, by Committee Chair, Brian Tarnoff, with permission.

NFA Fungi Campaign 2015-16

With the upcoming NFA AGM this Saturday, we look back at some of this past years works. Here is an amended excerpt from our Habitat and Landscape Committee’s Annual Report

After years of increasing damage from commercial pickers, and more than two Autumns passing with much talk, but no subsequent action from the Forestry Commission and National Park Authority, the NFA Council took the lead and tasked our committee to develop the NFA’s policy and campaign to protect fungi from foragers.

At both the Verderers Court and National Park Authority meetings in July 2015 we called for the Forestry Commission to impose a ban on fungi harvest on the Crown Lands of the New Forest, the Site of Special Scientific Interest under their stewardship. This is in keeping with existing bans in Epping Forest and at many of the Wildlife Trusts’ Nature Reserves. A blanket ban will assist enforcement by removing the need to prove commercial intent and weigh amounts against the arbitrary allowance. With discretion Keepers could target those who are over harvesting, whether for personal or commercial use.

The National Trust imposed the ban on the Northern Commons that they manage within the Forest. The Forestry Commission stopped short of the ban, but did engage in a series of disruption events targeting commercial foragers, some harvests were seized and destroyed. We believe the FC missed a trick by not moving forward with prosecutions which should further deter commercial criminals. Foraging fungi for any commercial purpose is seen as theft in the Theft Act 1964. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 if they have taken any rare protected species they face summary conviction for 6 months + £5k fine, or if Natural England determine that a group of pickers have engaged in potentially damaging operations on SSSI, fines of up to £20k may be levied.

The ban would also be in keeping with guidelines the FC itself subscribed to in 1998, the Wild Mushroom Pickers Code of Conduct published by English Nature, which says culinary foraging is inappropriate on SSSI and National Nature Reserves. That code is also the source of the supposed 1.5kg limit (which has no basis in law) which there is suggested “per foray” for culinary harvest, but which the FC have erroneously repeated as “per person / per day”, ignoring the code’s SSSI prohibition. The NFA have asked that all FC leaflets and posters compounding this error be withdrawn until a revised code is established.

The Forestry Commission’s latest The New Forest Essential Guide for 2016 has this more helpful message:

“Fungi: The New Forest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest with over two thousand varieties of fungi, many of which are rare and internationally-important species. We appeal to people to look, but don’t pick. Commercial harvesting is not permitted and foray leaders must obtain a licence. We’re reviewing the guidelines on picking for personal consumption. New restrictions will be trialled to lessen the impacts on this very special habitat, visit forestry.gov.uk/newforest or call 0300 067 4601 for the latest details.”

However, the website referenced above has yet to be updated and carries the unreviewed guidelines and leaflets. This includes the 1.5kg “personal limit” and noisome parenthetical congratulations to those treating it as a goal rather than a limit: ” (and if you’ve found this much you’ve done well!) “. This hardly gibes with the more welcome “look, but don’t pick”. Baby steps? Perhaps.

The NFA have continued to press for a new code of conduct, and with the full support of the members of the National Park Authority will be included in the stakeholders tasked with its development. We have stressed that a plan needs to be in place by the New Forest Show 2016 to have coordinated messages and actions for this Autumn. We will also campaign for improved protection when Wildlife laws are next revised (the Law Commission has published a draft, we do not know when it will be brought forward).

The display of fungi in the New Forest is as essential a part of the experience of Autumn in this protected habitat as the pannage pigs, and should remain for all to see and enjoy.

— excerpted with updates from the NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee Annual report, by Committee Chair, Brian Tarnoff, with permission.

NFA Chairman on BBC Radio Solent (link available until 27th July 2011)

Peter Roberts, the Chairman of the New Forest Association, was interviewed by Julian Clegg on BBC Radio Solent on his Wednesday 20th July 2011 show, explaining the NFA’s call for the Forestry Commission in the New Forest to be replaced with new landscape managers.

You can listen to (link available until 27th July 2011)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00hwbbj/

The link is to the full Julian Clegg show of Wednesday 20th July 2011. Peter Roberts may be heard in two clips from the 3 hour programme:

a) 0:46:00 to 0:51:38 Peter Roberts discusses call for removal of Forestry Commission from New Forest
b) 1:41:39 to 1:48:36 Peter Roberts rebuts points made by Sue Bailey of One Voice

NFA Issues Its Response to the Independent Panel on Forestry

After the government climbdown on the proposed sale of public woodlands on February 17th 2011, the Independent Panel on Forestry was established on 17 March 2011 to advise government on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England. The Panel’s terms of reference state:

1. To advise the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England.
2. To advise on the role of the Forestry Commission in implementing policy on forestry and woodland in relation to England.
3. In formulating this advice, the Panel should consider:

a) how woodland cover can be increased, given competing pressures on land use for food production, energy and development;
b) options for enhancing public benefits from all woodland and forests, in the light of the Lawton Report and the Natural Environment White Paper, including;

* public access for recreation and leisure;
* biodiversity, wildlife protection and ecological resilience, including through restoration of open habitats and plantations on ancient woodland sites;
* climate change mitigation and adaptation;
* economic development, particularly to support a sustainable timber industry and a wide range of small and medium sized enterprises, including social enterprises; and
* engagement and participation of civil society.

c) constraints and competing demands on public expenditure for this Spending Review period and beyond;
d) the role of Forest Enterprise England as the manager of productive forestry resources;
e) the value for money and cost-effectiveness of the public forest estate in England and options for its future ownership and management.

4. In formulating its advice to the Secretary of State, the Panel will be expected to engage and take evidence from the widest range of views and interest.
5. The Panel will report to the Secretary of State in the autumn of 2011.

Today the NFA have issued its response to the Panel. The response calls for the New Forest to remain in public hands, a hands off approach to the existing New Forest Acts and the cessation of commercial forestry in the New Forest. For the full text (pdf) of the response sent by the NFA to the Independent Panel on Forestry, including the answers to the above questions, and addenda click here.

Submissions to the panel must be in by 31st July 2011. The Panel’s findings and advice will be presented in a final report in April 2012. More on the Independent Panel on Forestry may be found on its home page: http://www.defra.gov.uk/forestrypanel/.

New Forest Association Takes Forestry Commission to Task

In today’s September Verderers Court, the NFA took the Forestry Commission to task for ongoing damage to the fabric of the forest and dangerously unsafe debris resulting from timber extraction operations at Islands Thorns enclosure. The NFA called for more sensitive management of the operations, particularly as a very nice job has been done by a different team nearby in the stream restoration at Howen Bottom (more info on stream restoration : Lengthening River Beds) Timber operations in character woodlands on the open forest on the SSSI should be managed to the same standards as other environmental works.

The NFA also asked for further scrutiny of the Forestry Commission’s trial of a new basalt grit based hoggin material as a car park surface at Longslade Bottom, Pig Bush, Turf Hill amongst others. This is part of an ongoing search for more sustainable materials for car park maintenance. Difficulties arise in the current gravel based hoggin which is easily disrupted, but any new material needs to pass muster with Natural England as it can leech into the sensitive soil of the forest and may also impact the wetlands. The NFA are concerned that the basalt may not be as inert as suggested by the Forestry Commission, also the basalt is a darker colour closer to that of tarmac and may negatively impact on the landscape. (see Gritty solution to potholes)

The NFA also commented on the Forestry Commission’s somewhat cynical “consultation” on its plans for the future of the Public Forest Estate in England. The plans include a National plan for fast conifer timber production which would be wholly inappropriate for the New Forest. The Forestry Commission are clearly looking for a mandate nationally, such policies would not work for the New Forest, and would create further unwelcome pressure to our local forestry. The NFA urged the Verderers and all members of the public to respond to the survey with this in mind.

Finally, the NFA joined the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, amongst others, in commenting on the proposed extension to Burley Cricket Club’s pavilion. The NFA asked the Verderers to ensure that any extension to existing facilities should be the minimum size needed to maintain the viability of the cricket club and no larger.

(For the full text of this month’s Presentment look at the first comment below, or click here).