Top Menu

Tag Archives | National Park

Forestry England Explores Other Revenue Sources

This article originally appeared in the 1st April, 2024 edition of the Lymington Tipster / NewMilton AdviceTouter and chances are they won’t cash-in regarding this reprint.

Lymington Tipster / NewMilton AdviceTouter speculator Wallis Hullaballou.

Central Government has put Forestry England in a terrible bind in their management of the New Forest.  The Minister’s Mandate for the Forest puts conservation of the natural and cultural heritage as chief objective, with both policy and legal obligations to preserve good quality habitat and restore declining areas.  Despite this, DEFRA only provides 12 % of their funding.   In an effort to cover flagging timber revenue, King’s House has proposed extending their honeypot ice cream van tender from five to seventeen of their 130 Car Parks with a modestly wider food and drink selection.  This has received push-back from village vendors, parish councillors, the CDA, Friends of the New Forest, and a dim view is expected from the Verderers who have standing to block the proposal.

John Ward, Chair of Friends of the New Forest has gone on record: “We’ve been concerned about FE’s proposals for food vans in their car parks, which would be inconsistent with obligations to their Site of Special Scientific Interest, and duties under both the Minister’s Mandate and S245 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 relating to National Park’s first Purpose: Conservation.  Additionally, food sales in Forest car parks can only increase adverse interactions between visitors and commoners’ stock.  With this in mind, we will fully support Forestry’s new plan to generate revenue while avoiding both danger to the public and animals, and those increased liabilities threatening Commoning.

Forestry England appear to have found such a solution, one which many authorities in similar positions have thought would revitalize their revenue.  On March 31st they announced a plan to open Casinos in an undisclosed number of car parks.

Deputy Surveyor for the New Forest, Craig “Le Chiffre” Harrison speaking in a hastily convened Easter Weekend Zoom Call with various Forest Stakeholders joining incongruously through Microsoft Teams (whilst this reporter listened in on a jerry-rigged iPhone taped to a Victrola), “Forestry England will be putting out a tender for a pilot scheme for licensed gambling restricted to the gravelled, hogginned or paved areas of car parks on the Crown Lands.  We are betting that this will both fulfil our requirements for revenue, and fund the many good works we do for Forest conservation, restoration, recreation and tourism.  Also, if anyone is in any doubt, that pun about betting was intentional.”

Balmer Lawn Cricket Pitch Converted to Craps Table

Greeting this announcement the way many greet indigestion, Official Verderer, Edward “Fast Eddie” Heron averred, “The Verderers were concerned that this plan would violate the stipulations in the New Forest Acts that prohibit FE from taking anything beyond timber from the Inclosures, but the plan to issue wooden gambling chips made on site cleverly skirts this legality.

Chief Exec of the New Forest National Park Authority, and person-too-polite-to-tell-you-you’ve-been-singing-off-key, Alison “All-In” Barnes, enthused “we welcome this boost to the local economy.  Although this is indifferent to our first two Purposes, 1 – Protect/Conserve and 2 – Understand/Enjoy, these are followed third by our Duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of the local communities; then fourth by the requirement to have our purposes furthered by others; then fifth by the intention to be honest, trustworthy and loyal;  sixth by that nagging feeling that we’re not sustainable because someone left the lights on; seventh our existential dread, and, finally by our deep seated need to please everyone even if it leaves us paralyzed and ineffective.”

Hawkhill Hold ‘Em Champion five years running, Forest polymath and international rally driver Richard “Double Down” Reeves explained unnecessarily, “Gambling here has a long history.  Several statues and also a temple altar of the gambling Goddess Fortuna, relics of Roman Britain including finds near the River Tyne, Bowes County Durham, and most recently Cockermouth Cumbria. Medieval Kings forbade gaming to most commoners, in the general sense….” Richard then proceeded to declaim the clauses from various Carta dating from 1190, as written in the specific legal Latin he’d autodidactified, until everyone on the call accepted both that he was exceptionally brilliant, and his withering disdain of their middle-class values.

Pony Powered Roulette wheel, design option 1.

 

Clive “The Cooler” Chatters, Natural England Verderer and man-so-amiable-when-destroying-your-argument-you-believe-he-agrees-with-you,  “We think it’s unethical to bet on whether conservation targets are met, although strangely enough the odds on the Government meeting its ’30×30′ goal to protect 30% of the UK by 2030 are 30 to 1,  the 25 Year Environment Plan goal to restore 75% of our SSSIs to favourable condition by 2042 is at 75 to 1, and meeting the climate change goal of Net Zero by 2050 is at 100 to 1.  If the accumulator comes in, at least I’ll be able to afford two seats on Elon’s rocket to Mars.”

Chair of the Croupiers and Dealers Association (formerly Commoners Defence), Anthony “Ace in the Hole” Parry-Norton, boomed convincingly, “It’s a delicate time, the slim upside of the end of the Basic Payment Scheme was losing its undue influence on stock numbers.  Pressure to depasture more stock just to cover the point spread on Drift predictions is unwelcome.  On the other hand, we are looking into whether the Commoning community would once again invoke the ancient right of Turbary, the right to the Turf.

Jen “The Favourite” Thomas, current Natural England ecologist (equivalent in old money = four Natural England ecologists) opined, “Many of the Forest’s SSSI Units are in Unfavourable-Declining Condition, but under this plan they may be re-evaluated.  The Going of the boggy areas has already been noted as Heavy (Good to Soft in some places), however we must watch out for the Mires going Good to Firm under climate change, which is why we back Wetland Restoration for the win.”

Pony Driven Roulette Wheel for Beaulieu Road Sales Yard, artist’s conception

Head Agister, and hat stand, Jonathan “Set Thorns Slim” Gerrelli, weighed in, “We’ll have to closely monitor the effect of the Casinos on the herds.  For instance, we won’t allow complimentary drinks being served to high rollers, particularly in the winter months, livestock may be drawn to the salt on margarita glasses.  Although studies have shown that it is unlikely that horses can count above six, given previous learned behaviour, we’ll be keeping the donkeys away from the blackjack tables, as I wouldn’t put card-counting past them.”

Anthony “Tony the Trowel” Pasmore, elected Verderer, LT columnist and man who knows where the boiling mounds are buried, predicted, “Of course there are concerns that this may attract an unsavoury element.  The Forest has always been able to take care of itself.  Bogs and acid soil have ways of helping problems, erm, disappear…”

John “Trifecta Trike Johnny” Ward, Chair of, only just during this article renamed, Friends and Partners of the New Forest, hedged diplomatically “Until a thorough Habitats Regulation Assessment has been done, we’ll have to keep a watching brief. We’ve already had word from bat specialists, (not even on this call, but that hearing, eh?) that fruit machine sounds may disturb the common pipistrelle.  Who knows what other issues will arise?  If this goes terribly wrong, we don’t want anyone shrugging it off as: What happens in Wilverley, stays in Wilverley.”

Next up:  Natural England in talks with National Park to downgrade “robust” areas of New Forest from Triple to Double “S” I.  Coming in time for Christmas: “ESCALADO: New Forest Point-to-Point edition”.
Finally, The New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society has asked us to remind riders with spirited ponies, should they prance across the Forest this Spring, “Please gambol responsibly.”

Thanks and/or apologies to John Brandrick’s Mill Drawings web site and Brockenhurst Cricket Club, for playing fast and loose with their images.

UPDATE:
As of 12 pm today, the book on these proposals changed with odds thoroughly against.  It appears everyone, including our jackpot chasing author, was bluffing.  We hope that any one mentioned will not view us with snake eyes, and we can call it even.If you fancy a punt on previous year’s silliness, a 2018 report on leaked plans for the Recreation Management Strategy. and this 2019 article detailing an unusual rewilding proposal from Chris Packham.

 

0

Shobley Encroachment: a statement from the New Forest Commoners Defense Association

We support the NFCDA in their battle against illegal encroachment on Common Land. This guest post was announced today at the New Forest Show by NFCDA Chair Andrew Parry-Norton.

This is a battle we have been fighting for nearly four years now. The owner of Forest Oaks, Ringwood, who also owns some 10 acres of common to the rear of his property, has enclosed an area of some 2/3-acre immediately adjoining his property. This land was formerly available to our depastured stock but they are no longer able to access it.

We had been in negotiation with the owner together with the Verderers and we were hopeful and confident that an agreement had been reached with the owner in early 2020 to resolve the issue that would mean the removal of the encroachment. Unfortunately the owner was not prepared to agree to the proposal put forward by the Verderers and was not concluded.

Since then despite several attempts from us to get the fence removed the owner has refused to comply with our requests or discuss the matter. We reluctantly issued court proceedings at the end of 2022; the owner is defending this case and the projected total costs for this case amount to approximately four hundred thousand pounds.

This sum of money clearly exceeds the financial assets of our organisation and although we have received one or two offers of financial support from local and national organizations, which is much appreciated, we need to raise a further large sum in order to continue fighting the case.

This is of fundamental importance not only to the Commoners of the New Forest but it could well affect over 100,000 acres of Commons throughout England and Wales.

Although we remain very grateful that the Verderers having supported us in this fight we are extremely disappointed that neither the NPA nor Natural England have contributed in any way to assisting us, either using their physical or financial resources.

Indeed we would welcome support from any Forest stakeholders, this is not a battle we can win on our own, not because we do not have a strong case but simply because of the potential level of resources we will need to administer this action.

We have therefore decided to start a Crowd Funding Page; the Official Launch will be at the New Forest Show at the end of this month and we do urge everybody who has a desire to see the forest remain as it is and available for grazing animals, to support this page in as generous a manner as they can afford.

This really could be the thin end of the wedge and may eventually result in the loss of many acres of common land both here and indeed throughout the country if we do not succeed.

We will post a link New Forest Commoners Defense Association‘s crowdfunding page when it becomes available.  (in the meantime, follow the link to their main website).
0

Public Spaces Protection Orders And The New Forest

New Forest District Council has sent two draft Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) , which we broadly support, for public consultation.  The first to ban the lighting of fires and use of BBQs (principally on the Crown Lands), and the second to ban the feeding and petting of ponies, horses, mules, and donkeys in the open areas of the New Forest.  The consultation runs for nearly 8 weeks from  Monday 6th December 2022 to Friday 27th January 2023.

In this second in the series on PSPO’s we explain what they can (and can’t) do for the New Forest.

What are PSPO’s and what can they do for the Forest?

Public Spaces Protection Orders prohibit anti-social behaviours or require certain restrictions on activities within a given public space.  This allows councils to individually target public nuisances in their area.  Typically targets include alcohol consumption, use of “legal” highs, lighting fires or BBQs.  More unusual orders involve intentional feeding of gulls, busking, flying drones, dangerous cycling/skateboarding, and releasing balloons.  The most common type of PSPO across all councils are for dog control; primarily dog fouling, but also conditional lead requirements and exclusion zones (usually sports ground and children’s play areas).

This may sound like councils are given free reign to attack any bugbear of the local populace, however the council must produce evidence that the target behaviour is detrimental to those in the locality, is persistent, is unreasonable, and justifies restrictions imposed under the order.  Guidance suggests that councils look for other ways to address each issue, in some instances existing laws or voluntary codes of conduct or other initiatives may achieve sufficient compliance with rules.  PSPOs should be used responsibly and proportionately in response to issues that cause anti-social behaviour and where necessary to protect the public.

As a minimum, each PSPO must set out:

  • what the detrimental activities are
  • what is being prohibited and/or required, including any exemptions
  • the area covered
  • the consequences for breach
  • the period for which it has effect.

Consequences are usually the imposition of fixed penalty notices (varying between £50-150, frequently £100).  A PSPO can last for up to three years, after which it must be reviewed. If the review supports an extension and other requirements are satisfied, it may be extended for up to a further three years. There is no limit on the number of times an Order may be reviewed and renewed.  PSPOs may be subject to legal challenge, poorly worded or shoddily evidenced orders have been successfully challenged.[i]

To give an example of how a PSPO may work in practice:  a 2015 PSPO from North East Derbyshire District Council reportedly banned golf equipment from an area of a park.  As noted, each PSPO only operates within a defined public space within a council area.  The area was “the open park areas at and surrounding the Hut and BMX track” in Mickley.   Evidently the public nuisance was caused by golfers practicing in an area unsafe for users of the adjacent BMX track.  The PSPO was not extended beyond its first three year term, so ostensibly the temporary ban effectively reduced, eliminated, or changed the target behaviour.

While more perennial behaviours may not be so easily altered, the built in three year maximum forces a review before any extension.  A 2015 PSPO which rightfully targeted hooliganism in Salford Quays: jumping from bridges, throwing wheelie bins or animals into the water, interfering with lifesaving equipment, also included a widely derided ban on “foul and abusive language”.   Free speech advocates challenged this, and this clause was dropped from subsequent versions, without recourse to a judicial review.

PSPOs and The Forest

PSPOs were established within the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.  Although the powers have existed for eight years, the two NFDC orders going forward to consultation are the first that this District Council have proposed.  It is apparent that they have wisely waited to benefit from the experiences of implementations elsewhere in the country, and to gather supporting evidence for their proposals.

Over the past few years the Park Authority, Forestry England, Verderers, Recreation Management Strategy and other key Forest groups have discussed with NFDC the possibility that PSPOs might address a range of issues on the Crown Lands including:

  • Parking on verges
  • Wild camping
  • Wild fires and BBQs
  • Out of control dogs
  • Feeding and petting of animals
  • Cycling off the permitted network

However, some of these don’t easily fit PSPO criteria.  Parking on verges is primarily an environmental issue for its material damage to the SSSI.   Establishing that it is necessary to protect the public is limited to instances where verge parking blocks gateways for emergency vehicles.  Both wild camping and off network cycling have a similarly tenuous case under PSPO criteria, and are already addressed under existing byelaws.

Verge Restoration Before / After

The two issues, wildfires and BBQs, and the feeding and petting of livestock, NFDC have now moved forward fit the criteria.   Wildfires are an obvious danger to the public, the subsequent devastation may also be viewed as detrimental to public enjoyment.  Feeding and/or petting of Forest livestock for all of its ill effects on the animals and their owners, also causes behaviours in the animals that make them a danger to the public.   When inappropriately fed, semi-feral animals or those protecting their young may become aggressive, and some animals will loiter more frequently and dangerously near roads.  These problems are well evidenced as may be seen in the documents available in the consultation.

When we suggested that the Council should also move forward with a dog control PSPO, they demurred “It was felt there was not enough evidence at the current time to take this matter forward.  However, it could be considered in the future.”  Ironically one of the evidence documents, cited to support the feeding ponies PSPO, detailing incidents in 2018, showed “Dogs worrying livestock” made up 33% of incidents reported to the Verderers.  So while that issue is off the table for now, the upside is that all Forest stakeholders, including dog owners, have an opportunity to help craft an order consistent with the already agreed upon code of conduct.

Education and Enforcement

PSPOs confer a duty on the authority to provide adequate signage to indicate where they are in effect.  Signage in the Forest has always been a tug of war between positive education and minimizing urban clutter in our idyllic landscape.  No doubt this will be another tricky series of discussions.  One of the reasons we’d hoped to add a Dog Control PSPO to this round of consultation was to save the effort and expense of reinventing that inevitable wheel.

Enforcement will be through fixed penalty notices issued by authorised personnel, representatives of the council or another nominated authority.  From the minutes of the NFDC Cabinet meeting:

It was reported that there had been discussion with the National Park Authority, Verderers and Forestry England and it had been accepted in principle that they would play a lead role in the enforcement of the PSPO activities, should they be introduced.

So it is likely, but still to be determined, that this will fall to the Rangers of both the National Park and Forestry England, potentially other staff.  There will be training and resource issues for any of the organizations that come forward.

At the November 2nd Cabinet meeting, in response to a query whether the PSPO should include the touching and petting of ponies, supposing the feeding was the strongest factor for behavioural change, Council Leader Edward Heron, after defending the inclusion of all these actions, characterized a balanced view for enforcement:

The idea is not to be lurking in the bushes with your book of tickets to leap out. The answer is, the ability is there if you are in one of the car parks, if you are talking about one of the Forestry England Rangers or one of the National Park Rangers talking to people. And there is someone walking into a herd of ponies and petting and stroking them.  And they tell them not to, and explain why.  And then asked them more firmly not to, and explain why, and the fact that they are perhaps taking their children in and risking them doing this. Yes. At some point, should they consider it appropriate and proportionate to do so, I want them to have the option to issue this penalty. Again. I really hope.  I don’t think anyone wants this to be a place where we’re out issuing penalties. Everyone wants this to be a place where everyone can enjoy the Forest, whether they live here, work here, visit here in a way that’s responsible, in a way that preserves it, in a way that keeps them all safe.

Public Spaces Protection Orders are not going to be an all singing, all dancing solution to the ills of the Forest.   However, they will be a tool, which used sensibly may raise the profile of the issues they address, give bite to those education messages and promise consequences for those who feel all too entitled to ignore them.

In This Series —

Previously:
NFDC Cabinet Advances Prohibitions on Forest Pony Feeding and Barbecues to Consultation

Subsequently:

Dog Public Spaces Protection Order: A Statement to NFDC Council Cabinet

Protect Heathlands by Restricting Sky Lanterns and Fireworks Along With Barbecues — A Presentment to the Verderers about the Wildfires PSPO

Coming:

PSPOs for the Dog Control in the Forest: Our Recommendations For a Draft Dog Control PSPO, how they stack up against existing guidance, and What the Kennel Club Says About PSPOs

ENDNOTES

[i] Richmond Dog control order was partially quashed:
https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media-centre/2018/april/victory-for-dog-owners-in-uks-first-successful-pspo-legal-challenge/
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/13/dogs-can-urinate-lampposts-court-rules/

https://www.lag.org.uk/article/205493/challenging-public-spaces-protection-orders

0

NFDC Cabinet Advances Prohibitions on Forest Pony Feeding and Barbecues to Consultation

New Forest District Council has sent two draft Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) for the Forest to address fires, barbecues, pony feeding and petting to public consultation which will run from Monday 6th December 2022 to Friday 27th January 2023.

In the first of a series on PSPO’s we discuss these two orders, our broad support, and initial suggestions.

At the 2nd November New Forest District Council Cabinet meeting, members approved two draft Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) for public consultation.  The first to ban the lighting of fires and use of BBQs (principally on the Crown Lands), and the second to ban the feeding and petting of ponies, horses, mules, and donkeys in the open areas of the New Forest.  We broadly support both of these PSPO’s, and hope that the addition of these restrictions will make a significant difference with these issues. Years of positive messaging have not always succeeded.  These PSPO’s allow fixed penalties notices of £100 to be issued, giving more bite to the byelaws and guidance already in place.

PSPO’s are meant prohibit anti-social behaviours or require certain restrictions on activities within a public space.  Their framework was established in the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.  Each PSPO must undergo public consultation, pertains to specified public space within a defined area, lasts for 3 years before review and repeated consultation.  The Act requires that the target behaviour is detrimental to those in the locality, is persistent, is unreasonable, and justifies restrictions imposed under the order.  Guidance specifies PSPOs should be used responsibly and proportionately in response to issues that cause anti-social behaviour and where necessary to protect the public.

Petting and feeding the Forest’s semi-feral ponies will alter their behaviour, making them more aggressive, apt to bite or kick if subsequently denied human food, and tempting them to spend more time on roads where they are more vulnerable to accidents.  This makes them a danger to the public and themselves.  Their natural diet is grazing the Forest, altering this can lead to digestive problems, and even death from choke or colic.  Misguided, well meaning leaving of carrots, apples, grass cuttings has led to deadly consequences.

At the Cabinet Meeting, Commoners Defence Association Chair Charlotte Lines welcomed the PSPO targeting inappropriate interactions with Forest ponies. “The continued petting and feeding of our legally depastured animals is ever increasing.  Whilst education and signage has its place, and helps to a degree, it’s not been enough in recent years, and now is the time to implement stronger measures.  The Public Space Protection Order will be vital in ensuring the Forest and our animals are protected so that they can continue to provide the essential service of grazing which is needed to maintain and enhance the landscape and the ecological diversity we see today.”

The NFDC documents referred to our Byelaw Watch surveys within their evidence base for this PSPO.  During six weeks in autumn 2021, the survey reported 150 instances of livestock being fed by the public.  This year, between 25th July 2022 – 31st August 2022,  a Forest wide survey including more than 98 observers, reported 187 instances of livestock being fed and/or petted.  Another 66 instances were recorded in our static snapshot survey of Nine popular car parks on August 29th Bank Holiday Monday 10:00 am – 2:30 pm.

We will be refining our response to the upcoming consultation, but for now we’d note that NFDC might take a page from other councils which alongside similar measures for fires and barbecues, have also banned or restricted fireworks.   Over 190 councils in England have committed to banning sky lanterns, many have included this ban in their PSPO’s.  The National Park says they have banned sky lanterns on their web page on wild fires, but it is unclear if they have any practical way at their disposal to enforce this ban.

The 2018 moorlands fire near Stalybridge destroyed 4,500 acres, killed many farm animals, necessitated evacuation of 150 residents. Troops assisted 15 fire services.  The smoke affected air quality across the north west of England.  The Environment Agency estimated the cost from moorland damage at:

  • 26,281 tonnes of carbon dioxide were released, valued at £1.68 million
  • 15,400 tonnes of carbon sequestration capacity was lost, valued at £3.6 million (capacity to take in and store carbon as peat)
  • 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent) is stored in the moor valued at £121 million
  • 7810 tourist visitors per year were lost, valued at £205,000

Afterwards many local authorities in that area (including Tameside, Oldham and High Peak Borough) introduced PSPO’s prohibiting activities carrying a significant risk of causing wildfires: lighting a barbecue, building or lighting any kind of fire, and lighting fireworks or launching sky lanterns carrying an open flame.

The summer 2020 Wareham Forest Fire impacted approx. 220 hectares of heath and woodland, and saw firefighters from all 50 of Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service stations involved in the major incident that lasted over two weeks.  The number of incidents in Dorset relating to BBQs between 2016 and 2020:

2016 –

4

2017 –

3

2018 –

16

2019 –

18

2020 –

74

The Dorset Open Land Anti-social Behaviour Related Public Spaces Protection Order 2022 came into force on 1st July 2022 which included prohibition on:

a. placing, throwing or dropping items likely to cause a fire,
b. lighting fires, barbeques (including disposable barbeques), Chinese lanterns or fireworks,
c. using items which either (i) cause a naked flame or (ii) pose a risk of fire

The language for the NFDC PSPO is almost the same, excepting the exclusion of sky lanterns and fireworks.  With drier hotter summers expected, we should look to prospective threats.  We will join others in encouraging NFDC to include these prohibitions explicitly.

Coming In This Series:

What are Public Space Protection Orders and what can they do for the Forest?

Dog Public Space Protection Order: A Statement to NFDC Council Cabinet

Protect Heathlands by Restricting Sky Lanterns and Fireworks Along With Barbecues — A Presentment to the Verderers about the Wildfires PSPO

PSPOs for the Dog Control in the Forest: Our Recommendations For a Draft Dog Control PSPO, how they stack up against existing guidance, and What the Kennel Club Says About PSPOs

0

Notes: Solent Freeport Background

Our statement regarding the Solent Freeport at the New Forest National Park Authority meeting on 20th October 2022 included these Notes and Footnotes for the benefit of the Authority Members.

Further context is in THIS article (forthcoming).

NOTES:

New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis submitted a question about the seeming inclusion of the whole of the New Forest in the provisional boundary of the Freeport.

LEVELLING UP, HOUSING & COMMUNITIES – SOLENT FREEPORT [53254] – 21 September 2022

Dr Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, for what reason the entirety of the New Forest has been included within the provisional boundary of the proposed Solent Freeport.  [53254]

[Due for Answer on 11 October.]

ANSWER

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up (Dehenna Davison):  By delivering investment on specific priority sites, Freeports will create thousands of high-quality jobs in some of our most disadvantaged communities. These sites have been carefully selected for their suitability for development by the local Freeport coalition, which comprises key private partners and Local Authorities who, importantly, provide democratic accountability for the actions of the Freeport. The development sites sit within an ‘outer boundary’ which sets the limit for how far apart they can be and broadly indicates the area they expect to benefit most directly from the Freeport’s economic impacts. While the Solent Freeport outer boundary intersects with the New Forest National Park, this in no way means that the area has been earmarked for development nor does this confer any special planning status. Local authorities retain all their statutory powers and responsibilities, including responsibility for providing planning permission. Freeport status in no way undercuts the local planning process and there is no change to the current planning and environment status of national parks.

https://www.julianlewis.net/covid-written-parliamentary-questions/levelling-housing-communities-solent-freeport

The Government’s assurances in their reply to Julian Lewis [above] do not mention or reaffirm the Duty of Regard to the National Park in the planning process, and given that this government and its predecessors have failed to bolster environment legislation (and may even further dilute), had Natural England assess their own proposals below the standards demanded by legislation, systematically defunded both Parks and the agencies relevant for delivery of environmental and habitat, their ambitious targets seem hollow promises.

 

ENDNOTES:

[i] Statement on NFDC Website, 14 October 2022

No changes to planning and environmental protection says New Forest District Council

New Forest District Council leader, Cllr Edward Heron has written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in response to the call for expressions of interest to become an Investment Zone which was announced by government on 24 September 2022.

The letter reiterates that as a partner in the Solent Freeport, we are keen to secure the greatest benefits for their residents, as well as the local area.

Councillor Edward Heron writes:

“Within the government’s recent Investment Zone opportunity there is much that aligns and enhances the Freeport benefits, both to the tax site areas, and the wider District. The financial incentives are significantly enhanced and it is important that our businesses and developers have the opportunity to benefit from this new offer. For example, securing tax incentives over a 10 year period to 2032 rather than the current Freeport period which expires in 2026 and will make these sites significantly more attractive as a place to locate businesses.

We are keen therefore to explore with Government, and our partners what an Investment Zone could deliver for the Solent Freeport and ultimately our residents and our environment now and in the future, and I have therefore supported the Solent Freeport Board’s expression of interest submitted today.”

The announcement from government made it clear that Investment Zones would only be taken forwards with the support of the Local Planning Authority.

The letter from Cllr Edward Heron goes on to say:

“New Forest District Council supported the Freeport on the basis that the designation would not impact on the statutory planning process that a landowner would need to go through, to seek consent to develop the site.

The indication of support from this Council as the local planning authority is based on the understanding that the current level of environmental protection is assured for the future and on the clear and unequivocal understanding that conversion of the Solent Freeport to an Investment Zone will not include a streamlining of planning, deregulation, or a dilution of the environmental protections that are currently in place. Should this not be the case, then the Council would not support the designation of the Freeport Tax Site within the District as an Investment Zone.

I understand that this commitment is shared by the Freeport Board and we look forward to shaping a unique Investment Zone that delivers sustainable and inclusive growth for the New Forest and wider region.”

The increased Freeport opportunities for investment, regeneration, and employment were endorsed by us during the submission of the Solent Freeport business case to the government in March 2022. The business case carefully considered the Freeport within the context of the environmental designation across the area, working to focus on net zero, green recovery and strengthening the environment.

The Solent Freeport focuses on the Council’s Waterside area with the Waterfront tax site covering four specific landholdings; the former Fawley Power Station, Exxon Mobil, ABP’s Strategic Land Reserve and Marchwood Port (Solent Gateway). The whole District, including the New Forest National Park, is included in the Freeport outer boundary which is intended to ensure that the potential funding and broader benefits from the Freeport can be focused across the whole area.

https://www.newforest.gov.uk/article/3167/No-changes-to-planning-and-environmental-protection-says-New-Forest-District-Council

[ii] The Solent Protection Society review of the Solent LEP’s Freeport Consultation response makes these observations (quotes from the LEP response in italics):

Given the large number of local authorities across the Solent Freeport region, Solent LEP go further, proposing “the establishment of a special Virtual Planning Authority that is facilitated by a coordinating institution with the cooperation of relevant local authorities”. This is a direction which Solent Protection Society believe should be pursued with great caution. There are already well publicised proposals, for example the Aquind Interconnector project near Portsmouth and the Southern Water desalination plant near Fawley, where opportunities for public and local authority scrutiny are being overridden by central governments’ declaration of the initiative as a ‘National Infrastructure Development Project’.

The Solent LEP response also proposes “extending the permitted development rights accorded to ports to include assembly and manufacturing though they believe this would still not improve the planning environment enough to act as an incentive to potential investors. While the expansion of permitted development rights would simplify development processes on seaport land, it would still not allow for the greater freedoms or coordination in higher-level planning required to ensure Freeport success.

In what might seem to some a worrying threat to environmental standards, the Solent LEP go further, suggesting that “existing environmental regulations along much of the UK coastline supersede Permitted Development Rights, further limiting their additional value as an incentive”.

https://solentprotection.org/2021/05/11/what-might-the-solent-freeport-mean-for-the-solent-area/

 

Their updated analysis of Freeport Tax Sites including noting that Dibden Bay is listed as both a Tax and Customs Site (for those trying to disabuse the notion of its development as a port facility).  This notes particularly:

Marchwood Port / ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ – Solent Gateway / ABP

Tax site type – Existing Facility / Greenfield
Customs Site – Marchwood Port / ABP ‘Strategic Land Reserve’
Assumed programme delivery priority – High/Medium

It is notable that ABP have only submitted the northern part of their Dibden Bay ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ for definition as a Freeport tax site. Leaving the southern part of the Dibden Bay site out of the Freeport definition enables ABP to retain an option to keep this part of the ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ for future expansion of its non-freeport operations from the eastern shore.

Current environmental regulations give the Dibden Bay shoreline some level of protection from development, however once the freeport is in operation, developments within its boundary will benefit from the government’s proposed relaxation of planning regulations within freeports. As SPS observed in our report from May 2021, the Solent LEP at page 17 of their consultation response suggested that permitted development rights in freeports should be extended to enable those rights to supersede existing environmental development regulations.

Once development of the northern part of the Dibden Bay shoreline has been permitted under the freeport rules, then a precedent would have been set which could then be used to attempt to override the existing environmental protections outside the freeport boundary in the southern part of the ABP ‘Strategic Land Reserve’.

https://solentprotection.org/2022/03/21/solent-freeport-tax-sites/

[iii] Two bills effecting planning, with overlapping goals for growth are still proceeding forward, expect if one falls the other to remain:

https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1801329/expect-planning-infrastructure-bill

https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1801044/levelling-bill-cards-says-housing-minister-despite-rumours-contrary

 

[iv] Interview with outgoing ABP exec Doug Morrison [including claims for future of Dibden Bay]:
http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/10914052.Port_expansion_will_happen__says_outgoing_boss/

https://solentprotection.org/2014/01/05/dibden-bay-yet/

 

[v] Report to NF NPA Meeting 20/10/2022 by David Illsley, this is the paper that the Authority were to discuss after our  statement in Public Questions.  It outlines the lack of clear guidance from Government surrounding the Investment Zones, issues of implications of the Freeport and Investment Zones on the National Park, and options for the Members to support.
https://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/app/uploads/2021/12/AM-637-22-Solent-Freeport-and-Investment-Zones-update-October-22-Authority-report-1.pdf

 

[vi] The Duty of Regard has already been eroded by NFDC in their most recent local plan:

During the 2019 examination both the Wildlife Trust and RSPB stated categorically that not only had the NFDC failed to show the efficacy of their current mitigation, but NFDC had in no way shown that they could possibly mitigate for their four-fold increase in housing development in the new plan. (also see Endnote ix below)

[vii] HCC failed to initiate the most basic habitat assessment before or since consultations around the proposals for widening the A326. Also, given the years of NFDC consistently overdeveloping the Waterside and permitting development up to the edge of the road, any widening will inevitably impinge on the Forest.

viii] The Campaign For National Parks wrote a brief analysis of the Investment Zones and Freeports, (including the claim that the current sea life disaster off the North York Moors coast are due to dredging at Teesside):

“The Government’s proposed Investment Zones may impact 7 National Parks and 29 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – together accounting for 2 million hectares of our most special landscapes. This follows announcements on Freeports that include the New Forest, Dartmoor and North York Moors National Parks, along with many AONBs, within their boundaries. We only need to look at the ecological disaster unfolding on the North York Moors coast, with growing evidence suggesting this is a direct effect of the Teesside Freeport, to know that unregulated development in these precious landscapes would not end well.”

https://www.cnp.org.uk/blog/%E2%80%9Cnot-blind-opposition-progress-opposition-blind-progress%E2%80%9D

 

Their comments on the Government’s Response:

There is much to be concerned about in the current Government’s proposals to boost growth by “liberalising” planning and doing away with many vital environmental protections. One of the things we’re most concerned about is the proposed investment zones which, as analysis we published last week shows, could impact seven National Parks and 29 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). These areas account for a combined 2 million hectares of landscape, pulling in 250 million visitors last year, and generating an annual economic contribution of £24 billion.

We wrote to Simon Clarke, the new Secretary of State responsible for planning, to highlight these concerns and seek a formal commitment to excluding National Parks and AONBs from investment zones. Our letter also asked for reassurances that there will be no downgrading or removal of the additional planning protections which apply in these areas, including the presumption against major development.

We’ve now had a response from Simon Clarke, which makes lots of positive references to the benefits National Parks deliver, but unfortunately doesn’t give us the reassurances we need. It is good to see that the Secretary of State recognises the contribution of these Protected Landscapes to our identity, economy and environment, and his acknowledgement of the important role for these areas in achieving nature recovery commitments. But rather than ruling out any possibility of investment zones in Protected Landscapes, he says that they will only be allowed where there is local consent.

This doesn’t give us the reassurance we need. The Secretary of State must go further and confirm that there is no way that Investment Zones will go ahead in National Parks and AONBs. Placing the emphasis on local planning authorities to make those decisions brings huge risks, particularly for AONBs which are not planning authorities and have no formal role in decision making. Indeed, the Government set out proposals in the Landscapes Review earlier this year to make AONBs statutory consultees for planning precisely because they don’t currently have a strong enough role in planning decisions.

Dr Rose O’Neill, Chief Executive of Campaign for National Parks said: “We welcome warm words from the Secretary of State, but we need to see firm commitments in policy that Investment Zones will not go ahead in National Parks and AONBs.”

Campaign for National Parks is also very concerned about the impact that investment zones in other areas close to their boundaries could have on National Parks and AONBs. Increased development in neighbouring areas will only increase pressure for new roads and other infrastructure inside Protected Landscapes.

Rose added: “It is absolutely vital that our Protected Landscapes are protected from the impacts of damaging development outside their boundaries too. We only need to look at the ecological disaster unfolding off the coast of the North York Moors National Park, and the growing evidence linking this to the neighbouring Teesside Freeport, to see why it’s so important to protect our most precious landscapes from unregulated development.”

Campaign for National Parks fought for the creation of National Parks over 70 years ago. That they, and AONBs, have been stewarded safely and protected from irresponsible development ever since is one of the biggest successes in public policy in this country. The rules in place to protect them are not “burdensome requirements”: they are a vital part of ensuring we pass this inheritance to future generations.

https://www.cnp.org.uk/news/warm-words-are-not-enough-we-need-firm-commitments-planning-system

The ongoing issues with Teesside Freeport dredging and the DEFRA response to mass sea life poisoning, noted in the CNP’s response:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2340893-whats-causing-a-mass-die-off-of-crabs-on-the-uk-coast/

The RSPB response to recent proposals including “Investment Zones”
https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/millions-called-on-to-stand-up-for-wildlife/

 

[ix] Additionally, the conservation charities agreed with the NFA contention that the mitigation regimes inappropriately use the formula developed by Natural England for Thames Basin Heaths, which does not scale appropriately to the Forest because a) the Forest is much richer in features and biodiversity at threat and should cost developers more b) the morphology of the Forest is different: Thames Basin Heaths spatially has greater opportunity for alternative spaces, where the Forest, surrounded, creates more of a siege situation (with only one major SANG to the West at Moors Valley, and plans for similar facilities to the East not yet realized).

NFDC’s standards for SANG’s are not sufficient to create landscape scale alternatives for recreation of sufficient quality to take pressure off the New Forest.  Initiatives to create effective and meaningful landscape scale mitigation projects to relieve recreation pressure on the Forest have been stalled continually, but their fruition should have been a prerequisite to any further development within the District.   A HIOW Wildlife Trust assessment of greenspace provision within Hampshire ranked NFDC third from bottom, just above Portsmouth and Southampton, yet developers seek to erode the NFDC’s already minimal standards for SANG delivery.   The Plan released Green Belt sites for development, rather than considering its potential for large landscape scale alternative greenspace for mitigation.

The Plan also undermined Duty of Regard by making the Fawley Waterside allocation dependent on the destruction of a SINC (Site of Interest to Nature Conservation) within the National Park, which was opposed by some National Park members.

0

Solent Freeport Requires Regard for the New Forest National Park

We made this statement regarding the Solent Freeport at the New Forest National Park Authority meeting on 20th October 2022.  The Authority agenda included a discussion of the Freeport, its possible bid for announced Investment Zones, and whether the inclusion of the District, including the Park in the “outer boundary” of the Freeport would undermine the Park, or the habitat protections of the Park’s designated land.

Currently the Solent Freeport Board includes representatives of Hampshire County Council, New Forest District Council, Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Eastleigh Borough Council and Havant Borough Council, and representation from Associated British Ports (ABP), Solent Gateway and the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership(LEP).  The National Park Authority is not a Solent Freeport Board member, but attends meetings in a non-voting capacity.

Text below in square brackets [ ] was omitted from the reading to the Authority, in order to remain within the time requirements for public speaking at Authority meetings.  Notes provided for Authority Members, along with this statement, may be read here, and are given as direct footnote links below.  Further context is in THIS article (forthcoming).

Solent Freeport

The case for excluding NFNPA from a formal decision-making role in relation to the Solent Freeport has not been made. Policy objectives for the Freeport are likely to conflict with both the Statutory Purposes of National Parks, and the 25 Year Environment Plan, notably regarding responsibilities for the protection, conservation, and natural capital enhancement of environmentally sensitive areas. In those respects, the New Forest is of unique global importance which must be recognised. We are deeply concerned by the prospect of further pressure on the special qualities of the National Park due to the proposed Solent Freeport. Simple retention of an ordinary planning regime[i], as promised by New Forest District Council (NFDC), will not ease our concerns, for these reasons:

  • The stated aim for the Port expressed by the Solent LEP [in the consultation [ii]], proponent and Board Member of the Port, is to establish a “Virtual Planning Authority”. They suggest Freeports remove “existing environmental regulations” they claim limit incentives to investors.
  • The current Planning and Infrastructure Bill[iii] and the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill may expand the definition of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning removing local oversight.
  • The ambition of ABP to develop the Dibden Bay SSSI [seen as “inevitable” by their previous chief exec[iv]].
    • They’ve already registered the site for both Tax and Customs [as a fait accompli].
    • NFDC adopted ABP’s label “ABP Strategic Land Reserve” ignoring its habitat designation.
  • The Government’s initial response to the NPA’s queries about the Freeport implications[v] does not mention the Duty of Regard and states only that NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] policy for protected landscapes will continue to apply within Freeport outer zones, excluding the Dibden Bay SSSI.
  • The Duty of Regard has already been eroded by NFDC in their most recent local plan. [as noted by the RSPB and HIOW Wildlife Trust, the unsustainable level of housing development and inadequate mitigation for pressure on the Forest] [vi]
  • Hampshire County Council and other proponents for the widening of the A326 [in part to support the Freeport development] have ignored the consequences to wildlife corridors and public access, showing lack of Duty of Regard. [vii]
  • RSPB, and Campaign for National Parks have expressed concerns about Investment Zones and Freeports. [viii]

The Duty of Regard is key, the National Park will be negatively impacted by Freeport development. The National Park should have oversight through direct representation. The overlapping private interests of ABP, Solent LEP and Solent Gateway should not have disproportionate control.

[The notion that the Freeport could be a useful source of mitigation funding from developments is deeply flawed. The current level of development already in the NFDC Local Plan is well beyond the potential for mitigation. Development beyond these levels involves accepting irreversible damage which cannot be balanced by such small benefits. [ix]]

The Dibden Bay SSSI, an important site in its own right, is a vital support to winter waders that breed on the Open Forest. Its protection, as well as the many other sites for nature connectivity, wildlife corridors and green infrastructure, should be part of the priorities for this Authority outside the park, where nature doesn’t recognize administrative boundaries.

We ask this Authority to thoroughly weigh the implications on the Park’s Purposes, before supporting a Freeport or Investment Zone, or any planning regime that undermines the Duty of Regard. And if it goes forward, regardless of where the boundaries are drawn, the Authority should demand a place on the Board of the Freeport as a full voting member, and pursue a clear policy to block the destruction of the Dibden Bay SSSI.

0

Declaration from National Parks Movement to Strengthen Protected Landscapes

The annual National Parks Societies Conference was held in Snowdonia last week.

Recognising the present scale of the nature and climate emergency, the Friends of the New Forest proposed a resolution calling on governments in England and Wales to give Protected Landscapes (National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) their full backing in legislation. This was unanimously agreed by all National Park Societies and Campaign for National Parks who signed the joint declaration below

Declaration from the National Parks Movement:

At a time of nature and climate emergency, we must retain and strengthen the laws and policies which protect the Protected Landscapes of Wales and England. This means there must be:

  • No weakening, or removal, of vital European legislation such as the Habitats Regulations;
  • Effective schemes of support for farmers and land managers which safeguard rural livelihoods, reinforce nature’s recovery, and promote public access; and
  • A principle of safeguarding the additional planning protections which are crucial for Protected Landscapes.

We need to and will strongly support governments’ commitments to new purposes, duties and powers to ensure that Protected Landscapes can deliver more for nature, climate and people in future.

The statement was signed by the following organisations:

Campaign for National Parks, The Broads Society, Snowdonia Society,
Dartmoor Preservation Association, The Exmoor Society, Friends of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Friends of the Brecon Beacons, Friends of the Dales, Friends of the Lake District, Friends of the New Forest, Friends of the Peak District, Friends of the South Downs, North Yorkshire Moors Association

Delegates at the Conference (photo CNP)

This declaration will be used to engage with Parliamentarians and demand they do more to back National Parks and ensure their protection.

John Ward, Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest agreed with Dr Rose O’Neill, Chief Executive of the Campaign for National Parks that it was fantastic to see the National Parks movement in England and Wales come together to make a powerful, positive case for why these landscapes matter.

Unfortunately the signals we are getting from the UK Government in Westminster suggests they are heading in the wrong direction. Any government who is seen to be undermining these aspirations risks suffering a political price at the next election.

Just CLICK HERE to register your support for this Declaration

 

0

Campsites on the Crown Lands : Our Statement to the New Forest National Park Authority

We highlight our concerns with Forestry England’s tender for their campsites on the protected habitat of the New Forest to the July 2022 meeting of the New Forest National Park Authority.  We also ask the National Park to reaffirm its commitment to working with their partners in Forestry England to deliver existing agreements and to insist that future alterations to the campsites be subject to planning under its control.

The New Forest is the only National Park in the United Kingdom with camping facilities built directly on the protected habitats their designations are meant to conserve.  Only one other Park in England allows camping on SSSI: Dartmoor’s very limited backpack camping (two nights and only small tents that may be carried to site on foot).

The campsites on the Crown Lands were established at a time when the then Forestry Commission were presumed to be exempt from planning (although it is unclear as to whether these exemptions are permitted under the New Forest Acts), when the New Forest SSSI had only recently been notified (1959 the same year that the FC and NCC signed a joint minute of intent recognising the importance of the New Forest as an area of National Nature Reserve Status), and did not yet have the stronger protections of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and subsequent SAC(2005), SPA (1993) and Ramsar (1993) designations.

These campsites would not be permitted if proposed today;  if the Verderers had consented to these campsites, it is unlikely that they would now allow them.

We welcome Forestry England’s (and Land Scotland) move to change management of their campsites as an opportunity to review the provision in the New Forest.  However, we have concerns about the tender which we have raised with FE. The Heads of Terms make no reference to the role of the Verderers or the rights of Commoners, nor do they set out obligations to deliver the statutory and policy commitments arising from designations.

Other inappropriate elements include :

  • ‘year-round’ camping
  • annual allowance for tree removal
  • on-site shops
  • pre-pitched “glamping” (both in conflict with agreements previously made with the Verderers);
  • no reference to the liabilities posed by free roaming semi-feral livestock.

Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 prescribed the closure or relocation of Hollands Wood, Denny Wood, and Longbeech; part of a legally agreed SSSI management scheme.  In February 2010, this 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 phased removal of the damaging sites [i]. Nevertheless, these sites are included in the current FE tender.

This National Park should encourage Forestry England to honour their agreements before engaging in new arrangements for the campsites.  You must also make the case to government and the nation that the protection of this designated National Park should not be reliant on revenue from an activity unquestionably damaging to its habitat.

When we had completed our 2010 Baseline Survey of the campsites [ii], we received verbal assurances that any future alterations would be subject to planning permission from this Authority.  We would like this Authority to reaffirm your own agreements and produce an unambiguous policy consistent with delivery of your first purpose and the Sandford Principle.

ENDNOTES and Attachments provided to the members of the National Park Authority.

Also please find attached 1) our letter to Forestry England of 22 June 2022, 2) our Presentment to the Verderers Court of 15 June 2022

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

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

[i] 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.

[ii] New Forest Camp site Baseline Survey: Final Report, Jonathan Cox with Mosaic Mapping, July 2010. (https://newforestassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Campsite_Survey.pdf)

0

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

0

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.
0