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Replace the Forestry Commission and remove conifer plantations in the New Forest, says NFA

PRESS RELEASE:
The New Forest Association has called for the Forestry Commission to be replaced in the New Forest and for the Forest’s conifer plantations to be phased out in favour of traditional broadleaved forest.

The 144-year-old Association, which aims to champion, protect and conserve the unique heritage and ecology of the New Forest, has made the radical suggestions in its written submission to the Independent Panel on Forestry this month (July 2011).

Over the last 200 years, says the NFA, large conifer plantations used for intensive commercial forestry have reduced the beauty and biodiversity of much of the New Forest, rendering it “sterile”. In order to repair this damage, the historic broadleaved woodlands of the Forest should be allowed to develop naturally, providing sustainable products for the local economy.

The NFA also suggests retaining state ownership of the New Forest under new landscape managers, bound by the requirement to protect its unique status.

“Management of the New Forest by the Forestry Commission is merely an accident of history,” says the submission. “The Forest owes its unique character and survival to the commoners grazing their stock which has brought about the open heaths, lawns, pasture woodlands and wetlands we see today. The conflicts with timber growers are legion and go back centuries. There is a case for easing the burden on the Forestry Commission by removing them from the area totally.”

The NFA argues that the New Forest is of exceptional importance for biodiversity and should be designated as one of the proposed Ecological Restoration Zones outlined in the Lawton report last year. This report, commissioned by DEFRA, concluded that England’s wildlife sites were too small and too isolated, leading to a decline in traditional species which would only get worse through the effects of climate change.

With its 20 sites of Special Scientific Interest, six Natura 2000 sites, two Ramsar Convention sites, many rare species and unusual mix of habitats and wildlife, the New Forest National Park area should be considered as a special case for conservation and should be protected from further mismanagement or decline, says the NFA.

The NFA also calls for the whole of the Crown Estate land to be protected, including the back up land and cottages which are so vital to commoning, and for the expertise of local Forestry Commission specialists to be retained in any new structure. The New Forest Acts of 1877 to 1970, which give the Verderers responsibility for the management of the Open Forest and the commoners’ grazing system, should also be retained, it says.

Peter Roberts, NFA Chairman, said that continuing management of the New Forest for softwoods is inappropriate, given the outstanding value of the area both for wildlife and for people.

“The New Forest has enormous potential for increasing its biodiversity and landscape beauty, as well as its value for recreation,” he said. “At present, many of its habitats are in poor condition as a result of mismanagement in previous decades. There is an urgent need for habitat restoration, to address this problem.

“Although the Forestry Commission’s management of the Open Forest heathland has been carried out well in recent years, restoration is held back by the subsidised forestry culture and by the large swathes of conifer planting, which fragment internationally rare habitats, introduce diseases and damage the archaeology of the New Forest.

“No further establishment of non-native trees should occur in the New Forest and non-native plantations should be returned to native woodlands. There are enough soft woods to supply the local timber industry for the next fifty or sixty years already, without the need for further plantings. A return to more broad-leaved plantations would increase the beauty of the New Forest, would help species to diversify and would also help local businesses,” he said.

For the full text (pdf) of the response sent by the NFA to the Independent Panel on Forestry click here.

New Forest Association opposes proposed Thorns Beach development

The New Forest Association has voiced strong opposition to a proposed coastal development at Thorns Beach near Beaulieu in a formal letter to the National Park Authority.

The Association, which has been championing the interests of the New Forest since 1867, says it has serious concerns about the threat to protected coastal land at Thorns Beach and surrounding areas and is also worried about the precedent that could be set if the development goes ahead.

The planning application, from Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe, includes the proposed development of a new dwelling, boathouse, ancillary accommodation and sun house at Thorns Beach, replacing a summer house.

“We have a very good working relationship with Ineos and have welcomed the business opportunities and benefits that the company has brought to the New Forest,” said New Forest Association Planning Committee Chair Peter Roberts.

“However, this proposal for a private dwelling is an intrusion in an unspoilt and protected area of coastal development. Most of the north Solent shoreline is designated as a Special Protection Area and/or Special Area of Conservation under European Directives, and is subject to the Habitats Regulations 1994.

“Our role in the NFA is to protect and preserve all that is good and unique in the New Forest, securing it for future generations. We feel very strongly that this development is a serious threat to the New Forest coastal area and sets a dangerous precedent which could lead to more development in this precious area in the future.

“The New Forest National Park has an undervalued but very important unspoilt coastline between Calshot and Keyhaven. It offers rewarding vistas of the Solent and the Isle of Wight and is home to a variety of wildlife that changes with the seasons. It offers tranquillity and is largely free of modern industry although home to important historical salt workings.

“Quiet lanes alongside hedged field add to a rare feeling of an unchanged landscape set in a modern world. This is an area that requires protection from man’s intrusive development plans. The largely unchanged view of the coastline from the Solent is an important aspect of this and should be maintained.”

The NFA has set out its objections to the development in detail in its letter to the National Park Authority, dated March 11, 2011.

[A copy of the letter with its detailed objections can be seen here.]

New Forest Association warns that the danger is not over

The New Forest Association has welcomed moves by the Government to cancel its consultation on the privatisation of forests but warns that the danger to the New Forest, one of the nation’s much loved ‘heritage’ forests, is not over.

Following on from its presentment to the Verderers’ Court in Lyndhurst yesterday (February 16th), the New Forest Association warns that the proposed Public Bodies Bill is still a serious threat to the New Forest.

“The Public Bodies Bill is an enabling bill which gives power to Ministers to – amongst other things – sell off the New Forest,” said New Forest Association Vice Chairman Peter Roberts. “There is currently no provision for ensuring that the New Forest Acts and therefore the powers of the Verderers remain in place. We have alerted our Members of Parliament to this danger and have asked Lord Judd to propose an amendment in the House of Lords.”

Mr Roberts said that the current outcry against the Government’s proposals has demonstrated just how much the nation values its forests.

“The process has enabled us all to think about the huge benefits that we are all able to enjoy in the woods, heaths and mires that make up the New Forest and other forest areas. It also reminds us that we should always be vigilant, for it is easy to take these areas of publicly-owned heritage for granted,” he said.

“We ask that those who love the New Forest join us so that we, the New Forest Association, can continue to be the one organisation that will act as watchdog and campaign for the Forest as it has done since 1867.”

Note to Editors:
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has confirmed today that the consultation has been cancelled and that an independent panel of experts will examine forestry policy in England and report back to her in the autumn. http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/02/17/futureforestry/

The New Forest Acts of 1877, 1949, 1964 and 1970 govern what is permissible in the New Forest and seek to protect and manage the New Forest area. They protect the areas of ancient and ornamental woods and include provisions relating to recreation, access and conservation, with both the Forestry Commission and the Court of Verderers awarded specific responsibilities.

The Public Bodies Bill, expected to reach committee stage in the House of Lords on Monday 28 February, makes provision for conferring powers on Ministers of the Crown in relation to certain public bodies and offices, to confer powers on Welsh Ministers in relation to environmental public bodies, to make provision in relation to forestry, to make provision about amendment of Schedule 1 to the Superannuation Act 1972; and for connected purposes.

Lord Judd is an enthusiast for the environment and was formerly MP for Portsmouth.

The New Forest Association, established in 1867, is one of the oldest conservation organisations in the world. It is an independent charity with over 900 members. Campaign for National Parks recognises NFA as the New Forest National Park society.

Contact:
William Ziegler, Chairman, 01794 390344, chairman@newforestassociation.org

Peter Roberts, Vice Chairman, 01725 514480, peter.robertsnf@tiscali.co.uk

New Forest Association is appalled at Forestry Commission sell off plans

PRESS RELEASE:
The New Forest Association has hit out at Government plans to sell off the ‘crown jewels’ of the New Forest, labelling the plans “appalling”. The charity has also warned that the plans, published today (January 27), could lead to people being charged to use the New Forest.

“Plans to find a charity to run the New Forest show a complete lack of understanding of how the forest works,” said New Forest Association Chairman William Ziegler. “In the 64 page Government consultation document1 there is no reference to the commoning system, which has created and maintained the forest for all to appreciate.

“This new threat is the most serious attack on the New Forest for 160 years. Any charity that takes on owning and managing the New Forest will be required to find its own funding after initial government help to offset the £2.9m annual deficit. This could mean charging the public for access to the New Forest and will almost certainly involve selling off parts of the estate which currently provide the cornerstone of commoning.”

Mr Ziegler said the existing system of management, involving the various but interlocking interests of commoning, conservation, timber production and recreation, would be lost alongside the expertise that the Forestry Commission has gained over many decades.

“The Forestry Commission’s staff, and in particular the keepers, have huge local and specialist knowledge of the wildlife which should not be swept away at the stroke of a Whitehall pen,” he said.

“We are shocked by the proposals – the Government must be left in doubt as to the real value of the New Forest and we commend everyone that cares about the area to let their thoughts be known to DEFRA.”

The New Forest Association, formed in 1867, is a charitable organisation which has over 140 years of experience in working to preserve, conserve and protect the New Forest. It was formed at a time when Government measures threatened to sell off the New Forest in the middle of the 19th century.

The Association is dedicated to the preservation, conservation and protection of the New Forest and is a membership based organization. Further information can be found at www.newforestassociation.org.

(DEFRA’s press release: http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/01/27/englands-forests/)