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

Fungi

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

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

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

England Coast Path

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

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

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


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

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

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

[§] Schedule 8 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

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

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

England Coast Path

The England Coast Path (ECP) will create new non-historically based Rights of Way which may also join up existing Rights of Way, including the Solent Way. It will also provide spreading room in the form of the coastal margin defined between the route of the path and the water’s edge. This is particularly problematic as our coast includes a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected habitats of international importance alongside which the route will necessarily skew inland. The New Forest Association wish to raise concerns about the scheme, many of which will pertain regardless of the published route.

Increased use and disturbance:

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

Coastal Margin:

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

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

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

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

Weak Habitat Protection:

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

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

Purpose:

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

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

Consultation on the Highclifffe – Calshot stretch:

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

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

Yours,

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


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

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

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Presentment: England Coast Path

Legislation has mandated the England Coast Path, which in other regions may provide useful alternative recreation, pleasant views and tourist destinations. For the New Forest it will invite more disturbance into our most precious coastal habitats, a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected zones of international importance.

There is no funding for mitigation and little regard for infrastructure; some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast, precisely where we wouldn’t want to exacerbate the verge parking problem.

The Ordnance Survey will show the entire “coastal margin” (the entire seaward side of the path) as “access land”, without delineating exclusions. As the route is likely to be significantly inland and much of our coast will be excluded for habitat protections, this depiction will be grotesquely inaccurate. Arguments will be had with visitors assured by the allegedly definitive map that they (and their pets) may trespass on bird nesting grounds regardless of what the signs say. The Ordnance Survey should restrict their illustration to the route of the path itself, and only show coastal access land as it unambiguously exists now at Calshot, Lepe Country Park and other similar extant areas.

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


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

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

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

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“Look, Don’t Pick” – The Arguments

Over the months since the Forestry Commission announced their “Look, Don’t Pick” Policy for Fungi on The New Forest SSSI on the Crown Lands under their stewardship, we’ve heard a number of arguments against this move.  The NFA support the Forestry Commission’s policy as an important step to honouring the protections the habitat of the New Forest has, and ought to have in practice.  In that spirit we offer our rebuttals below:

Foraging is wonderful and magically connects people to nature.

Fine, just not fungi + here, please.

The New Forest is amongst the most highly protected habitat we have.  Would you challenge the existing prohibitions on fungi foraging on Wildlife Trust or National Trust land? The New Forest SSSI has the status of a National Nature Reserve.  

We could quibble that you shouldn’t need to ingest nature to enjoy and appreciate it, but then again Chris Packham once said he started his journey eating tadpoles he’d found.  No accounting for tastes. Foraging can foster a relationship for many with nature, but this is a protected habitat, we’re just asking those who actually care about nature, to respect its protection and find their fungi elsewhere. 

We’ve done this for thousands of years (Entitlement vs loss of habitat)

You speak of what’s been done for “thousands of years”, that includes loads of behaviours that are no longer appropriate in the face of unprecedented population growth, habitat loss and climate change.  Butterfly collectors once showed their appreciation of Lepidoptera by popping them in killing jars then mounting them on pins.

More than one in ten UK species is now threatened with extinction.  The house is burning, and you’re concerned with raiding the larder.

Where is your proof of the so-called gangs? (Denial)

They and their effects have been seen  by the Forestry Commission Keepers and Ecologists, the National Trust Rangers, the Hampshire Fungi Recording Group, other local surveyors, and many of our members.  Last Autumn the Forestry Commission intercepted 140 groups and/or individuals as part of their “disruption” campaign, seizing and destroying amounts over the then “personal” limit.

You’ll forgive us if those of us out walking don’t whip out our cameras and ask strangers engaged in illegal activities to pose nicely to satisfy your curiosity.  Or that we haven’t photographed every square fungi populated inch of the Forest ahead of time so that when it is subsequently stripped of fungi we could provide a before and after (hopefully recorded at exactly the same angle for the before and after).  The experiences and observations of many individuals, seem to count for nothing to those in denial.  

If you are that sceptical would a photo of a group of people holding bags in a wood convince you of anything? Or before and after pictures? If the FC put wildlife monitoring cameras by some patches of rare fungi, that would be rightly deemed too big brother (although police have said a private land owner doing this to catch similar acts would be perfectly legal).

You are criminalising ordinary people.

Similar bans already exist, the inclusive language of the Epping Forest byelaws have allowed the Keepers employed by the Corporation of the City of London to enforce its policy against fungi forage.  Meanwhile the CROW Act which opened up larger areas of countryside to Ramblers has an overarching ban on foraging on the nationwide network of Rights of Way, and the Right to Roam areas.

This is a SSSI, the FC already had the right to authorise picking of fungi under the consents they have from Natural England.  Their byelaws ban removal of a range of things that are not currently enforced, and it is only a trick of taxonomy that fungi are excluded (FC byelaws prohibit: dig up, remove, cut or injure any tree, shrub or plant, whether living or not, or remove the seeds therefrom, or dig up or remove any soil, turf, leafmould, moss, peat, gravel, slag, sands or minerals of any kind).  It is as much a policy decision to choose not to enforce all the elements of the byelaws as to restrict fungi foraging under their SSSI consents and the precautionary principle to protect the entire habitat.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the legislative instrument that defines the protections for wild animals and plants and defines Sites of Special Scientific Interest along with their extra protections and the statutory obligations of their landowners.  Rare species found on the Schedule 8 list, often referred to as the Red Band or Red List Species, are protected from being picked, uprooted or destroyed (section 13 subsection 1), and further from being sold, transported for sale, or even advertised for sale (subsection 2).  These are arrestable offences, the CPS guidance for prosecutions :

Most offences are punishable on summary conviction by six month’s imprisonment and/or by a maximum fine of £5,000 (level 5). Where an offence is committed in respect of more than one bird, nest, egg etc the maximum fine shall be determined as if the person had been convicted of a separate offence in respect of each such item.

In addition to offences being multiplied by number of items taken, the law also gives power of forfeiture: 

Under s.21 (6) b a court may in the same circumstances order the forfeiture of any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing used to commit the offence found in the offender’s possession. Forfeiture of a vehicle is often likely to be an effective means of deterring repeat offences relating, for example, to rare birds and eggs as well as of incapacitating an offender’s future ability to conduct such activities. ….

The section 13 protections apply ANYWHERE in the Wild, not just SSSI.  The Red List includes fungi species such as the tasty, targeted and allegedly medicinal Hericium erinaceus (bearded tooth).

Hericium erinaceus in the New Forest

On SSSI’s intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging flora or fauna by reason of which land is of special interest is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 28 (P).   The New Forest is one of the few SSSI which have fungi as one of these notified features of special interest. Whether or not the fungi harvested is one of the notified species, the ancillary consequences of the activity of foraging, including trampling and disturbance may be covered by this as well. Hefty penalties invoked here may give prosecutions considerable bite.  Damage to SSSI could be prosecuted, and yield realistically punitive fines (£10k-20k).  Of course the burden of proof is less straightforward than the section 13 offences, but I’m describing this to show the extent to which some fungi foraging activities were already criminal, and the legal basis which obligates the Forestry Commission to protect the notified features of the SSSI it manages.

This is Common Land – don’t we have the right to forage from it as part of rights of Common?

The Crown Lands are not actually registered commons as applies under the Commons Registrations Act, and so would not implicitly include any rights that may be extended to registered commons either under that act or in common law.

The modern legal framework for the Forest rights as applied to the New Forest are in the New Forest Acts which clearly defines rights of Common for the Crown Lands, these 1) don’t include Foraging 2) can only can be claimed by those occupying land with registered rights attached.

The ban is not scientific, because we have studies that show that harvesting fruiting bodies doesn’t have a detrimental effect.  (Selective research)

Compared to botany, mycology is positively medieval.  Not enough is known. We’re only just now coming to appreciate the complexity of the relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and the trees they service symbiotically.

There are only have a handful of studies on a few species, some not in comparable locations/habitats, that show negligible effect on individual fungi organisms of picking fruiting bodies, but not much on the long term viability of a given species and genetic diversity over time given the disruption to dispersal mechanisms.  

These studies do not consider the knock on effects on the rest of the ecosystem, putting aside the fruiting bodies as a food source, at least 600 (likely over 1000) species of invertebrate are reliant on them for their life-cycle (many are species specific).  Committed eggs don’t have the luxury of jumping to unpicked neighbours.  There are no studies showing ancillary effects on the rest of the ecosystem, therefore no substantial body of evidence for sustainability.  

Furthermore, the “sustainability” argument shouldn’t even apply on a SSSI with fungi as one of its notified features.  An attitude that recognises only supporting science in isolation, claims an absent weight of evidence, and ignores the bigger picture, is utterly self-serving.

Europe is a free for all.

This is simply not true.  France and Spain have no go areas.  There are licensing schemes in Italy and Poland and other eastern European Countries.  It is unlikely you would be allowed to pick fungi at all in Poland’s National Parks which include Strict Protection Zones, no go areas for any human interaction — reasons given include fungi conservation along with other habitat considerations, some parks even have buffer zones excluding people from an area outside the park.  Other European countries have similarly strict regimes if they have signed up to the level of habitat protection promoted by the IUCN and the Biosphere initiative.

Just because European cultures supposedly favour a tradition of fungi forage doesn’t mean they are blind to the need for conservation.  The Crown Lands of the New Forest have the highest levels of habitat and landscape protections and designations available in UK law.

And Finally, that old, ahem, chestnut: It’s just like picking Blackberries!

NO IT ISN’T (sorry for shouting):

  • Blackberry population is much greater and currently sustainable.
  • Blackberry pickers take only the fruit, not the entire visible portion of the plant.  In the protected landscape of a National Park the autumn display of fungi should be left for all to see.
  • Blackberry fruits are only harvested by pickers when they are ripe, they may be eaten by wildlife before this, and when pickers miss the optimal ripeness opportunity, after. Fungi are being removed when they are seen, not left for an optimal ripening.  If picked when still at “button” stage, they have not released spores.
  • The seeds in blackberry fruit are part of its distribution mechanism, the amount left unpicked, and fed upon by wildlife sustainably spreads the next generation.  Fungi fruiting bodies contain spores that go unreleased if they are picked, and may contain insect eggs, interrupting both distribution mechanisms, depleting the next generation of invertebrates.
  • Blackberries tend to conveniently, for pickers, grow on the sunny side of rides and paths, much blackberry picking is done from here, an inherently more robust location, without, or with much less disturbance to undergrowth.  Fungi are spread throughout the woodland floor. The trampling damage by harvesters alone is of grave concern, and contributes to potentially damaging operations which are restricted on SSSI.
  • The fruiting mechanism in plants is much better understood.  While there are studies that allege sustainability of picking based on individual mycellium continuing to produce the fruiting bodies, there is no body of work to show the extent to which this may stress the mycellium, or degree to which the organisms other ecosystem functions are altered by the energy and nutrient that must be expended in that process.

So again, NO IT ISN’T!!! (sorry for shouting, again).  To be glib (but no less right): no one is worried about the decline of the blackberry, get back to us if this changes.
 
If you are using the blackberry analogy, you are either willfully ignorant, or presume your audience is gullible. You should drop that line of argument, it makes you sound like an idiot or a con man.

Limited apologies if you feel we’ve oversimplified the case against (done for style, and attempted brevity).  We’ll welcome nuanced discussion, and well founded arguments, should they arise.

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The Forestry Commission’s New Forest Fungi Policy

The New Forest Association are pleased that the Forestry Commission are implementing a “Look, Don’t Pick” rule regarding fungi foraging on the New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest under their stewardship. This affirms the protection our habitat deserves. This is consistent with their obligations to the protections of the SSSI, their management of the New Forest SSSI as a National Nature Reserve and their powers to authorise or deny picking of fungi under consent from Natural England.  This brings the FC policy in line with the ban on fungi foraging on the Commons the National Trust, and the Nature Reserves the Wildlife Trust manage within the Forest.

We hope that enforcement may be hard hitting on  pickers taking undue advantage of the forest whether commercial or not.  Enforcement may also be soft and educational for casual foragers.  The message is the same, this is a protected habitat and landscape, leave the fungi to nature and the autumn display for all to see.

It brings the FC back in line with the guidance 1998 Wild Mushroom Pickers Code of Conduct, the misreading of which was the source of the arbitrary 1.5 kg “limit”, which has absolutely no basis in law. The code clearly meant the limit for undesignated habitats, not SSSI  or National Nature Reserves.  An allowance should never have been implemented at all in this protected habitat.

NCC Consent 25 January 1988 (subsequently under Natural England)
The Nature Conservancy Council issued the following consent to the FC regarding the above operation:-  “The collection of fungi as authorised by the Forestry Commission, subject to periodic review by the FC and the NCC.”

FC/Verderers/English Nature Declaration of Intent 25 July 1995
“The Forestry Commission will continue to manage the New Forest as an area with the status of a National Nature Reserve and to maintain the nature conservation interests for which it is designated under national and international legislation or agreements.”

In July 2015 the NFA launched its campaign for a very specific ban on fungi harvest from the SSSI on the Crown Lands of the New Forest.  In doing this we’ve sought to bring about best practice under existing laws, byelaws and guidance.  After careful consideration we decided that calling for an Epping Forest style ban was the most clear cut solution, with its obvious precedent.  We’re taking the precautionary principle that on a SSSI, especially one including fungi amongst its notified features, under heavy pressure from recreation and other use, that the fungi should be protected, part and parcel with the whole of this habitat.

The NFA campaigns for the habitat and heritage of the Forest.  In entering into this campaign we consulted with our own ecologists and local mycologists. We’ve consulted with and had support from the British Mycological Society, the Fungi Conservation Trust, Natural England, Buglife, Plantlife and the National Trust, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (the latter two had already banned fungi foraging on SSSI land they manage).  The fruiting bodies of the fungi are not merely food for other fauna, but are depended upon by at least 600 species of invertebrate using them as micro-habitats to fulfill their life cycles.

The New Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest is in one of the most densely populated National Parks, surrounded on many sides by conurbation with insufficient alternative greenspace, and mounting recreation pressure.   As open access land, it is easily accessible to all users, and an easy touch for volume foragers.  SSSI is a designation that confers habitat protection under UK law. The New Forest is also a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Natura 2000 designations or initiatives under EU law, and a National Nature Reserve.  The Natural History Museum picked the New Forest as one of two biodiverse rich sites on which to base their ongoing climate change study.  It is a gem, one of the crown jewels of natural biodiversity in Britain, Europe and the World.  We ask all to understand importance of this ecosystem and the need for its protection, and that they respect its protection and find their fungi elsewhere.

For Immediate Release

We will be examining and addressing some of the counterarguments and myths surrounding this policy and fungi conservation in “Look, Don’t Pick – The Issues”. (available soon)

Rumour, Wishful Thinking, or Fiction?

On August 30th, The Friends of Latchmore issued a press release.  It spoke of an independent review which would cause the Forestry Commission to immediately withdraw the planning application for the Latchmore Brook wetland restoration. It was all their Christmases come at once.  It was a complete fabrication.

Now, to be fair, it is possible, as we will see, that they were led up a garden path, rather than, as has often been the case, the leaders.

The August 30th Press Release Begins:

Representatives of the Friends of Latchmore are pleased to learn that the Chief Executives of the Forestry Commission and Natural England have agreed that there will be a full and independent review of the wetland ‘restoration’ proposals in the New Forest National Park, including Latchmore Brook. The review is expected to begin towards the end of this year as soon as suitable experts can be appointed.

We now know that, apart from the first nine words, this is untrue.  It then decends into a series of flights of fancy “Forestry Commission and Natural England officials are relieved at the decision, due to the range of complaints…” and “the Forestry Commission is expected to withdraw the Latchmore planning application”.  Then crows a “Spokesperson for Friends of Latchmore said “We are absolutely delighted with the announcement” “.

The alarm bells already ringing became a klaxon.  Much of what had already been said was out of character, to say the least, with what we knew about the resolute intentions of the Forestry Commission to see the planning application through.  But a reaction to an “announcement”?  What announcement?  There had been no announcement.  It appeared that FoL had published their “Press Release” with absolutely no corroboration.

Cue, half a day of tail chasing, FC and NE internally, and many of us on the outside trying to determine a) if there was a shred of truth to this b) where these notions originated.  We confirmed that it wasn’t true, there had been no announcement, and that the rumour would be addressed by the Deputy Surveyor at the Consultative Panel.

At the 1st September, New Forest Consultative Panel, Steve Avery, Executive Director Strategy and Planning for the National Park when asked about the alleged withdrawal of the planning application by the FC, “That hasn’t reached me, or my authority.  We have a live planning application that we will proceed to determine until told otherwise.”  The Deputy Surveyor, Bruce Rothnie categorically denied any intention of withdrawing the planning application or knowledge of an independent review.

[partial transcript of the Consultative Panel]
BR: There’s been a degree of misunderstanding, misinformation that has put out in the last few days and I want to clarify the position.  We remain fully committed to Latchmore Brook Restoration Project and believe the current planning process is the appropriate way to deliver that.  Some of you will remember that some time ago, and certainly before I returned to the Forest, it was agreed that this should be handled through the planning process because of the democratic process it brings.  And that we volunteered to produce an Environmental Impact Assessment which was not required but we felt responded to the concerns of communities around us.  Now we’ve completed that and it is our intention to see that process through.

[referring to the rumour of the independent review]
I have no information to me that there have been any discussions of chief executives coming down to me.  I’m intrigued as to where you got that information.  I have certainly not been able to find any other information provided, down to this level, about that, so perhaps you could explain wherever that’s come from.

[a Burley Parish Councillor, then pressed a leader of Friends of Latchmore, in attendance representing another organization, to make a statement ]

FoL: The information came from the top of Natural England. The press release was “passed”. It was understood that there was to be a joint statement today from the Forestry Commission and Natural England, that there would be a review. There’s obviously some confusion somewhere. I’ve no idea quite how why what’s occurred there, but that’s where the information has come from.

BR: Through what channels …?

FoL: Board of Natural England.

BR: And how was that released to you, your knowledge?

FoL: Through somebody that is in touch with them, and released through the environmentalist that’s been advising them, which I gather Steve’s had a letter from telling him all about it. So I was a little bit surprised that Steve said he didn’t know anything about it so there’s obviously confusion. Let’s say that. I can say no more, that’s the information I’ve had.

[shortly afterwards, Steve Avery was asked for a final comment]
SA:  In the last week, out of 283 representations we received, one of them was from a gentleman called Tom Langton who referred to an imminent review of the scheme and withdrawal of the application, but it’s not grounded or sourced at all as to where that information has come from. The document is on our website, for everyone to see. But, like Bruce, I’d be interested to know where that information has come from, whether from the Forestry Commission or Natural England as alleged.

Tom Langton is the Consulting Ecologist that the Friends of Latchmore hired for their “rapid review” (as we know, rapid is how all the best science is done). After the Consultative Panel closed, panel members speculated that it was possible that either Langton or the Friends of Latchmore had become confused about the review of the New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016.

The New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016 published in April 2006, is (and was already at the time of these events) undergoing its end of term review.  The big clue is in the “-2016”.  The review is being done internally within Natural England with the participation of the Forestry Commission.  The Management Plan is available on the New Forest HLS website. It’s difficult to conceive that the leaders of Friends of Latchmore would not be aware of this important document.

In Tom Langton’s letter to the Planners he sites “threats to geological SSSI features and Odonata interests of international importance”, strange when you consider that the British Dragonfly Society (the Odonata in question) support the project. 

It is my understanding that the Chief Executives of the FC and NE have agreed in recent days to undertake an independent inquiry/review of the Latchmore and other restorations and that this will be put in place later this year. …

I think you may agree on reflection that, in any case, the need for a review in effect casts sufficient doubt over the Latchmore plans.

It would be helpful if the application is withdrawn before this Friday 2nd September, the close of the consultation period.

He doesn’t seem to be at any pains to explain how he reached his “understanding”, and at no point does he, in the words of Steve Avery, ground or source his statements.  The actual review is a standard end of plan exercise, not caused by a negating “need”, and as it is a review of the work carried out under the management plan 2006-2016, it won’t include Latchmore as that hasn’t happened yet.  His strangely presumptive sign off continues his baselessly strong suggestion that the application be withdrawn.

On 17th of September, FoL issued a further press release which attempted, poorly, to reconcile statements, allegedly from the statutory bodies.  Strangely it shows that they don’t know the difference between an independent review (denied) and an internal assessment (confirmed).  They seem to be happy that the fact the word “review” was used at all somehow corroborates their original fantasy.  The Lymington Times of 17th September published a story that partially continued to credit the refuted press release, and the Salisbury Journal ran an article which quoted much of it word for word.

On the 19th September a Forestry Commission Communication Manager confirmed several things to us:

  1. The statements about the alleged agreement to an independent review between the Chief Execs of FC and NE, and the withdrawal of the planning application in the Friends of Latchmore 30th August 2016 press release are total fiction.
  2. The Forestry Commission had further denied the statements directly to the reporters from the Lymington Times and the Salisbury Journal before their deadlines for the pieces that ran anyway erroneously continuing to credit those statements.
  3. The New Forest Wetland Management Plan 2006-2016, as mentioned, has already been in preparation — but there has been a decision to speed up finalising this document so that it is done in the next two weeks.  It will then get an extra peer review, as described below:

Statement from Natural England:
Over 140 wetland restorations have been undertaken in the New Forest since 1997. Ongoing reviews of evidence, experience and lessons learnt are an integral part of any long term nature conservation project such as this.

During the past 12 months, Natural England has been working on an Assessment of the evidence supporting wetland restoration projects in the New Forest.

The Chief Executives of the Forestry Commission and Natural England recently agreed to prioritise finalising this Assessment.  The next stage for the Assessment is an independent peer review through Natural England’s Science Advisory Committee.  The objective is to ensure that the evidence and justification for wetland restorations reflect the most recent developments and that any gaps in our knowledge are identified. 

The draft Assessment has been authored by Natural England staff, including a Senior Freshwater Ecologist and Senior Wetland Specialist.  Scoping and commission of the peer review is about to commence and we expect it to be completed during October.  Once completed, the Assessment will be published on the Natural England Access to Evidence website.

Unfortunately this leaves us with some speculation as to how they arrived at this, it looks like Tom Langton may have heard about the existing review of the wetland management plan, put two and two together and came up with five. Then either he potted it up as truth which he presented to his one time masters who embraced it as a dream come true, or passed it on as rumour which the leaders of FoL felt no compunction in passing off, uncorroborated as truth.

Even had an independent review been in the offing, would the leaders of FoL have been happy with any result that didn’t go their way?  As far as we can tell, this project has received more scrutiny than any other project of its kind.  The voluntarily done Environmental Impact Assessment shows the planning authority how well the application fits the required criteria.  The leaders of the FoL won’t be happy with anything except stopping the project.

What’s so dangerous about either of the speculative scenarios is that they both point up the leaders of the Friends of Latchmore “special” relationship with the truth.  We’re used to their lack of fact checking, their disproportionate elevating of minor issues into cause célèbre, and general hyperbole that sadly obscures the few valid points they may raise.  We have, and will continue to point these out here and elsewhere.  But this feels like new territory, releasing uncorroborated rumours as Press Releases, with their usual unearned authoritative tone, and even after public denial, getting two local media outlets to swallow this guff.  That’s steering towards the land of fabrication.

That brings us onto a third possibility.  They intentionally cooked this up with their lackey Langton, to press for what didn’t already exist, and perhaps lead everyone on a merry chase.  Are they that calculating, canny?

So you judge, Rumour, Wishful Thinking, or Utter Fiction?

(although noted within the text, speculative passages have been italicised)

Brexit and The Forest

NFA Presentment for the Verderers Court 20th July 2016

However we feel about the Brexit referendum, its aftermath has introduced a vast array of uncertainty, including many elements key to the future of the Forest.

At last Thursday’s National Park Authority meeting, several members stressed the need to express our concerns about keeping the Forest’s levels of protection, investment and subsidy to government as soon as possible. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Environment Secretary will be contacted. The NFA offer our support and input, and hope that the Verderers will join this effort.

There will be much to consider: commoners subsidies past 2020; retention of the important landscape scale habitat designations of the SAC and SPA (Special Areas of Conservation / Special Protection Areas); what we may want from a new British Agricultural Policy, together with reformed Habitats and Birds Directives. New legislation may be necessary to back-stop these protections before the ties to the EU directives might be cut. There’s every reason for having the same levels of protection – or better – enshrined directly in United Kingdom law, policy and implementation.

The New Forest Acts and the role of the Verderers remain the bedrock safeguarding the Forest, and our National Park has unique qualities and demands. This must be recognized and respected at the highest levels going forward.

There will be clarifications needed. There is work to be done, and a timely and united forest would help put our vital points across.

Presentment made at the Verderers Court by Brian Tarnoff, Chair, NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee.

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.