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Background: Close The Campsites That Harm Habitat

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

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

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

 

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

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

Issue 15. Recreation …

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

Car parks and camp sites: their impact on pasture woodland

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Recreational disturbance

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing recreational pressures (page 10)

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

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

Agenda for Action (pages 16,17)

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

1.5. Mitigates recreational pressures by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priority actions for the next five years

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

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

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

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

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

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Presentment: Close The Campsites That Harm Habitat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Power of the Press?

A Saturday article in the Daily Telegraph extolling walking in the New Forest and suggesting some Forest honeypots to visit, school half term, a dry, if not sunny, Sunday in October. Which of these was the dominant factor is hard to say but dry days and half term come around fairly regularly in the New Forest without always causing quite so much chaos and harm.

On Sunday, yesterday, I cycled through part of the New Forest, from Lyndhurst via Emery Down to the Bolderwood car park, returning along the Bolderwood and Rhinefield Ornamental Drives to Brockenhurst.

I had hoped to cycle gently along enjoying the Forest landscape in early Autumn colour, perhaps seeing a few pigs on the way – but it was not a happy experience.

All the way along the road from Emery Down there were sporadic groups of a few cars or individual vehicles pulled off the road to park on the Forest beside the road. There were also concentrations of on-Forest parking at Whitemore, the Portuguese fireplace and Millyford Bridge, even though the nearby car park did not seem to be full. I commented on this to my companion because this extent of on-Forest parking is not something we are used to seeing on this road.

At Bolderwood car park itself it was not surprising to find it full, but there was extensive overflow on-Forest parking along the roadside beside the car park and adjoining lawn.

Turning left into the Ornamental Drive was difficult because a camper van was parked on the junction itself followed by an unrelieved string of cars parked on the Forest beside the road from there until the cattlegrid, both damaging the Forest and substantially blocking the road.

From the cattlegrid beside the car park entrance on there were only a few cars pulled off the road, but some determined motorists unable to park alongside the road had turned off and driven into the Forest to park their cars.

Cars had overflowed the Knightwood Oak car park and were parked on the Forest beside the road. After crossing the A35, unfortunately things became even worse. Blackwater car park was a scene of chaotic congestion. The car park was full and cars had been parked on the Forest beside the road nose to tail with no gaps for several 100 yards. I got off my bicycle and walked, but because the parked cars effectively reduced the highway enough to prevent oncoming cars passing each other these motorists were driving off the road to pass and in so doing were destroying a one to two yard strip of the New Forest opposite the parked cars, churning it into a muddy mess.

At none of these spots could I see any sign of a Forestry England or National Park Ranger. They might have been there, but out of my sight, and given their limited resources perhaps to be expected on a Sunday.

There was not a lot of tranquillity, landscape beauty or wildlife, and for me not much ‘well-being’ either – but maybe it was my own fault for venturing near to New Forest honeypot sites on a Sunday.

Is there anything to be done, or are selected areas of the Forest to be written off as visitor concentration areas? When some essential highway works are carried out (such as those currently proposed at Ipley cross roads) there is, quite rightly, an expectation that land lost to the Forest will be compensated by other land being thrown open to the Forest. But there is no redress or compensation for the damage done to the Forest by visitors, particularly with their motor vehicles.

Certainly, the one thing that is clear is that whatever amount ‘information’, and ‘education’ is produced it will always be overwhelmed by the power of some burst of “Go to the New Forest’ publicity in the national media.

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Recreation Management and the Special Qualities of the New Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eyeworth Pond
Parking on the Forest to picnic
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Presentment: Don’t Feed Our Ponies

Presenting a guest blog from Wednesday’s Verderers Court, a Presentment from Kathy Clarke on the consequences of visitors feeding or petting New Forest livestock.

I have recently removed a pony of mine from the Forest because she has developed a habit of searching out people who look likely to be carrying food & chasing them. She used to be a very gentle well-behaved pony.

The pony is a very good doer (even without being fed sandwiches!). She was bred for the forest, is successful at living on the forest and it is not her fault that she has learned bad behaviour due to people feeding her (and breaking forest bye-laws).
I take the safety of the public seriously & have taken my pony home to prevent any more problems. I will now have to try to relocate this pony to a different part of the Forest, away from popular tourist areas but also away from what is her home. I plan to keep her at home with my young stallion for a while, to give her a chance to hopefully unlearn this behaviour.

I’d like to make the point that it is increasingly difficult to run stock on the forest because visitor numbers have increased so much. The public need to know that by feeding & petting the animals they are destroying the environment that they come to enjoy. I have seen people actually sitting their children on Forest ponies!

They also need to know that in instances like this, visitors are actually condemning ponies to a very uncertain future – if this pony was not of prime breeding age & a particularly good specimen, I would seriously consider having her euthanised or taking her to Beaulieu Road where, with a forest ban, she would likely be sold for meat.

I am grateful for the efforts of fellow commoners & others who spend time trying to educate visitors about these issues but feel that without a higher profile & enforcement of the existing bye-laws this problem will get much worse.

We thank Kathy for permission to share this presentment to the Verderers. It really shows the burden that the commoners running Forest livestock face, and the peril their ponies are put in by those who may be well meaning, ignorant, or thoughtless.
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Presentment: Commercial Dog Walking

Our Vice Chair, Gale Gould made this Presentment at this month’s Verderers Court, clarifying our position about Professional Dog Walkers and Commercial Exploitation of the Forest.

The Verderers may or may not know that last week the Lymington Times published a correction to their previous article about Commercial Dog Walking Charter, which incorrectly reported the position of the Friends of the New Forest (New Forest Association).

For the avoidance of doubt the views of the Friends of the New Forest are similar to those that have been expressed by the Verderers.

Friends of the New Forest does not support the charter because it does not effectively regulate a commercial activity that is taking place on the Forest.

Failing to take early control of activities that have a serious detrimental effect on the Forest results in it being very difficult to control them in the future.

Commercial dog walkers should be required to obtain permission. This would ensure reasonable controls can be put in place including, for example, restricting to four the number of dogs that an individual can walk.

Dogs should be on leads during the bird nesting season, which would bring the Forest in line with the ‘Countryside and Rights of Way Act’, as observed in many other national parks.

It is our view that all commercial activity carried out on the New Forest should be regulated and require consent on a personal and individual basis. This enables the recording and registration of the person to whom consent is given, so that scale, location and the effects of the activity may be monitored. Consent would be accompanied by conditions (for dog walking this might include the things in this charter, such as numbers of dogs on one lead and when or where dogs should be on a lead).

In contrast, simply issuing a code of behaviour in the form of a Charter for a commercial activity, with no regulation, tacitly accepts the activity as being one that has a general, blanket approval with no means to monitor numbers or have any information about those carrying it out.  It would also serve as an unintentional precedent.

In his subsequent Presentment on the subject of stallions and geldings, Dr Tony Hockley, Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, added on the spot support for our Presentment.

The Lymington Times correction printed in their 12th April 2019 issue: “it was incorrectly stated that Hampshire Police, Natural England, Friends of the New Forest and the RSPB had declared their support for a professional dog walking charter.”  The reporter at fault did offer a personal apology to our vice chair at the Verderers Court.

The Forestry Commission does administer a permission system for commercial and events use of the Forest, however it is not comprehensive and does not currently include licensing or permission for commercial dog walkers.

We and other organizations, including the RSPB, Commoners Defence Association, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and the Verderers have had input into both the Draft Professional Dog Walkers Charter and the generic Dog Walkers Code through the National Park Authority’s Dog Forum.  Friends of the New Forest continue to maintain that the commercial exploitation of the Forest element must be addressed for the guidance to have any useful value.  All commercial exploitation of the Forest should also be addressed more fully under any future Recreation Management Strategy.

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Chris Packham Pushes For Unicorn Rewilding in the New Forest

Unicorn in Puckpitts Inclosure drift pound circa 1700.

This article originally appeared in the 1st April, 2019 edition of the Lymington Tomes / Miltonian Adverteaser and is reprinted without any regard to their permission.

Miltonian Adverteaser / Lymington Tomes correspondent Olivia Narwhall.

Celebrity naturalist, and tadpole tapas enthusiast, Chris Packham has demanded that Natural England reintroduce unicorns to the New Forest.

“We are living at a time when there is catastrophic species decline, loss of habitat, and still no definitive method for eating Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and although I can find no correlation between those problems and the absence of unicorns, I feel this is a solution that will really work.

“Unlike the marauding ponies which have turned the Forest into a hellscape which SSSI * condition Natural England have rated as 10% above average, the unicorn’s horns prevent them from browsing trees. The rainbows they emit will be a welcome additional benefit in climate change drought periods.

The Forestry Commission was sympathetic, “our attempt to breed Gruffalo at Bolderwood did not go well, and could have made us elf-shelve our literary mission to fictionalize 20% of the Crown Lands by 2022. Many members of the public support this unfounded reintroduction because unicorns are ‘Shiny!’.

Official Verderer, and syndicated advice columnist, Lord Willie Manners expressed concerns over DEFRA’s handling of the issue. “At this time we have little confidence that DEFRA could resolve the unicorn subsidy post-Brexit, although they have submitted one proposal by tapestry. Also, despite having the requisite stature, our Head Agister is unwilling to undergo species reassignment to become a Centaur.”

Commoners Defence Association head, Tony Hockley, who once successfully talked a leprechaun out of his gold, “Packham continues to undervalue the contribution that Commoning makes to the Forest. He has made similar claims before. In 2008 he suggested overgrazing was responsible for the disappearance of faerie rings, that was shown to be commercial fungi foragers, in 2016 incidents blamed on ponies of barking of beech trees were traced to a donkey possessed by the conifer goddess Pitthea.

“On the other hand, the Commoning community is fully up to the challenge of Forest run unicorns, which will require its own set of breeding and stallion programmes and drifts. We can certainly see the promise of future Beaulieu Road sales with Fantastic Beasts.

Eleanor of Castille and Unicorn at Queen’s Bower, New Park circa 1340

Local historian who’s never been mistaken for a warlock, Richard Reeves, blames the media. “Those documentary makers kept goading me for a soundbite, I told them the Forest was ‘Magical’, townie middleclass idiots literally didn’t understand that was figurative.” Then, citing dozens of primary sources, including Borges , Richard regaled the room with a complete cryptozoology of the New Forest, which caused one of our reporter’s heads to explode with the rapid influx of information.

The Freshwater Habitats Trust has opposed “Unfortunately, the glitter unicorns produce, in the same ways cattle exude methane, degrades into microplastics which would sully the otherwise pristine waters of the New Forest Catchments.”

Friends of the New Forest Chair, John Ward sighed, “It is disappointing that this proposal seems slightly less mythical than the Park Authority’s Strategy for Recreation Management.”

New Forest Association Habitat Committee Chair, and man who continues talking 30 seconds after you stopped listening, Brian Tarnoff objected, “We are appalled that this should be a priority when New Forest District Council are in the process of destroying the green belt, which will harm biodiverse network connectivity, this will deter visitors such as the Pegasus on its migration between Greece and Iceland. §” He then outlined the generational crisis which will be caused by the NFDC Local Plan, but we thought that unimportant to our vital stoking of this celebrity unicorn controversy.

Ministry of Magic Appointed Verderer Anthony Pasmore, hastily shuffling parchment maps of leylines between New Forest barrows, tumuli and boiling mounds to the bottom of the pile, called the move “too little, too late! There was a time when visitor numbers were kept in check by simple warding spells and the Forestry Commission’s Werewolf Keepers. The disturbance by dog walkers, spread of monkshood, decline in leeches and ban on newt harvest have put paid to those hallowed traditions.”

“A few impalings might also warn off detectorists, once they learn how sensitive unicorns are about ancient monuments.” Pasmore added with a wry, withering look.

Brockenhurst resident, Observer Film Critic, and ex-member of The Railtown Bottlers, Mark Kermode, who often refers to the New Forest as “Narnia”, did not comment, but cryptically offered greetings to Lucius Malfoy.

In other news: Worshippers erect Pylon Sized Wicker Man at Hale Purlieu and invite a National Grid representative to assist search for missing schoolgirl. National Park one step closer to creating Green Halo after radiation leak. ABP Withdraw Application For Deep Water Port at Dibden Bay, submit Plan for Affordable Housing For Mer-people in its place. Man engaged in recreational activity on the Forest annoys other people doing other recreational activities on Forest. Film at 11.

Whilst the provenance of this article is without question at the time of its original publication, doubt may be cast on its validity when the noonday gun has sounded.

UPDATE (12 am 1st April) : This just in, Science says unicorns don’t exist, so apparently this article has been the act of a fabulist, and just in time for the closing of the HLS (High Level Sorcery) scheme.  Thanks to all those who have been good sports, and hope we’ve not spawned any basilisks.  Those responsible have not been sacked, but those who were responsible for sacking those responsible have been sacked.

Here’s a taste of last year’s silliness, a report on leaked plans for the Recreation Management Strategy.

* SSSI — Site of Special Speculative Imagination
Manual de zoología fantástica (later El libro de los seres imaginarios, Book of Imaginary Beings), Jorge Luis Borges with Margarita Guerrero, Fondo de Cultura Económica (1957); Dutton (1969)
Literally. Richard still refuses to pay the dry cleaning bill.
§ Olympus, Greece to Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, often stopping en route to chat to The Bisterne Dragon at Burley Beacon.

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Presentments to Verderers — September

Here we welcome guest posts on night cycling and signs to educate the public.  These presentments were made by individuals to the Verderers, not on behalf of the Friends of the New Forest, and which they have kindly given us permission to share here.  The first is from Alison Tilbury, Vice chairman of Denny Lodge Parish Council, who spoke as a representative of the Parish.

We wish to ask whether the Verderers can initiate some control over the increasing numbers of nightime cyclists that are riding over the open forest in groups.  Most of these cyclists wear a very bright headlight which although may be effective for their riding causes disturbance to forest stock.

With the clocks going back in October we feel that now is the time that education is put in place to put a stop to this nightime activity.   This would ensure  that the forest has a time to rest and recover from the increasing pressures of all the daytime activities that take place.

Last November we made a presentment stating our concerns and objections to a medium sized night time cycling recreation event which was sponsored by a head lamp manufacturer.  We were concerned about the effect on wildlife and livestock, and want the Forest to have, as Alison Tilbury has said, “a time to rest and recover.”

Our second guest post today is from local resident Susan Johnson, speaking on the subject of Visitors and Ponies and Signs

I am fully aware of the reluctance to put more signs on the Forest and the reasons given.  However, this year has convinced me, more than ever, that there is an urgent need for new signs at entrances to the Forest stating:

PLEASE DO NOT FEED, TOUCH OR COAX PONIES TO THE ROADSIDE

The information notices in the car parks and leaflets at various venues are not sufficiently effective. Many people do not bother to read them. They are not seen by the large number of visitors passing through, who stop on the verges and in lay-bys to look at the ponies and encourage them over to their cars to photograph, touch and feed them. I frequently encounter this behaviour as I drive across the Forest – in particular on the B3055 Sway to Brockenhurst road on which I drive twice a day, every day.  It is getting worse every year as visitor numbers increase. This year has been particularly bad.

On advising them, politely, that what they are doing is not a good idea and why, I receive mixed responses but invariably I am told that “they did not know that it was wrong” and asked “where are the signs to tell them this”? With – appropriate, instructional signs at Forest entrances they would have no excuse for their ignorance and could not justifiably claim that they “did not know” .

It may be mainly locals who kill the ponies but it is certainly, without doubt, visitors who entice them to the roads.

In conclusion, in my opinion such signs are vital and there is no valid reason for refusal to erect them. Without them livestock is being put at increased risk I which I find inexcusable! Please, let common sense prevail.

I really to not have the time or inclination to have to keep stopping and talking to these people.

We should note that these views do not necessarily reflect the positions taken by the Friends of the New Forest.  We share them here to stimulate debate, and to acknowledge the passion, care and time taken by the presenters, and thank them for their efforts.

Our policies against too much urbanizing of the Forest, often puts us in the position of arguing against too many signs, but certainly the nuances of content, effectiveness, and situation are part of that as an ongoing discussion.  We are not against effective efforts to educate the public about how to care for and respect the Forest.

 

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Recreation Management: What We Should Keep and Add

The 2018 RMS Survey Proposals drop important Actions from the Current Recreation Management Strategy 2010-2030. We discuss what we’d want kept, and propose other useful key projects.

Actions to Retain from Current RMS 2010-2030

All the partner organizations were part of the extensive consultation that produced the existing strategy, which they would have had substantial say in and adoption. The objectives of the existing Strategy are “owned” by definition by the National Park which includes that Strategy as one of its core documents. Whilst it’s true that the Park Authority has limited direct responsibilities and powers, it’s incumbent on them to use their influence on those organizations that do, and there is a legal obligation for those bodies to listen and act accordingly.

One of the reasons that we find that the new proposals are not a substantial improvement over the existing RMS is that it leaves out specified actions which we continue to support. In some instances there are references to these in the survey, but passing or implied inclusion of these actions is insufficient as they should be explicitly included. Here is a non-exhaustive list of actions which should be considered for stated inclusion, with some suggestion for amendment or extension into new projects.

Develop a National Park Ranger Service

5.3 Raising awareness and understanding
5.3.3 Work with the recreation user groups and land managers, to promote responsible behaviour amongst all users that respects the special qualities of the National Park and the needs of others through a range of mechanisms, and especially by:
A.. Face to face contact with co-ordinated ranger services, providing a friendly and knowledgeable presence able to convey consistent messages
5.3.5 Develop a National Park Ranger Service which is responsive to the needs of the Forest as they emerge, and facilitate the co-ordination of existing ranger services within the National Park. Consider establishing a Young Friends of the New Forest Group to involve and engage young people more in the area.

5.3.3 Referenced absent Ranger Service aspiration 1.1 and 2.1
5.3.5 Passing mention 2.4 on the ground “mitigation rangers” and 5.2 funding

Credible enforcement of any rules developed, or even the existing byelaws, would require an investment in personnel. We would want to see this ambassadorial role extended to include some elements of enforcement.

We cannot necessarily expect either FC Keepers or Rangers, or NPA Rangers to fulfil the role of enforcement. It may be that a new role modelled after the Foreign style “Park Ranger”, that is with some police training and enforcement powers should be considered. There needs to be enough of a perceived enforcement presence, whether directly from beats of such rangers, or the extended eyes and ears of the combined other Rangers/Keepers/Agisters network for Park users to sense that they could be seen or challenged for inappropriate or illegal behaviour. We recognize that this would require funding, but providing this service would shore up any funding plans that require charging which itself would need enforcement to be effective.

Influencing beyond the boundaries of the National Park

5.9 Influencing recreational provision beyond the boundaries of the National Park
5.9.1 Outside the National Park, work in partnership with other Authorities to improve recreational provision that provides for their community needs (thereby helping to relieve pressure on the New Forest Special Area of Conservation). Ensure that recreation provision is at the forefront of planning for major urban expansion within a 20km radius beyond the boundary of the New Forest.
5.9.2 In partnership with neighbouring authorities, actively support their search to identify and implement opportunities for new Country Parks or similar and advocate the inclusion of these aspirations in the local development frameworks and core strategies of neighbouring authorities.

5.9.1 is not indicated in any way by the new proposals. In light of NFDC’s current draft local plan targeting 10,500 houses over 10 years, the commensurate surge in local population using the Forest, and NFDC’s low quality standards for Suitable Alternate Natural Greenspace (proposal to use degraded arable rather than setting a standard to offer land restored to a quality commensurate with the protected habitats for which it is meant to mitigate), this is clearly an important action.

5.9.2 could be construed to have a passing mention as an ambition Objective 4’s statement and glancing mention in Objective 5 Funding, but it is not featured amongst the Actions. Given that infrastructure needs may demand the wholesale destruction of the nearby habitat of Dibden Bay along with greater stress on local transport infrastructure, perhaps it would be reasonable to suggest that the National interest would demand a substantial mitigation which perhaps could include compulsory purchase of sufficient well placed land to fulfil the ambitions for Country Parks that would offset damage and act as preferred recreation sites.

Below we have proposed new projects to extend influence to neighbouring authorities: “Habitat Mitigation Framework for the Forest that is Fit for Purpose” and a “Strategic Regional Development Forum.”

Camping and Parking Infrastructure

5.6 Providing sustainable services and facilities
5.6.1 Undertake a review of recreational and visitor facilities in the National Park.
5.6.3 Manage car parking in the National Park as a means of providing access for people to the New Forest and managing impacts on the most sensitive areas. Overall car parking capacity across the National Park is not anticipated to increase or decrease significantly from existing levels:
A.. Audit car parking provision within the National Park6.4 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.

5.6.1, 5.6.3 and 6.4.1 Audit of parking and camping provisions and facilities – a very straightforward achievable bit of work, unfortunately not yet done eight years later.

Below we have proposed new projects to address campsite issues: “Bring temporary campsites under a regimen of consistent standards and controls” and “Close Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech Campsites”. Both of these would augment the goal in Policy DP18 “enable the removal of pitches from sensitive areas by the relocation of part of a site to a less sensitive area”.

New Forest National Park Core Strategy Policy DP18: Extensions to Holiday Parks and Camp Sites
Extensions to existing holiday parks, touring caravan or camping sites will only be permitted to enable the removal of pitches from sensitive areas by the relocation of part of a site to a less sensitive area adjoining an existing site, providing:

  1. a) there would be overall environmental benefits
  2. b) there would be no increase in the overall site area or site capacity
  3. c) the area where pitches or other facilities are removed from would be fully restored to an appropriate New Forest landscape, and any existing use rights are relinquished.

To be supplanted by almost identical Submission Draft Local Plan 2016-2036 Policy DP47: Holiday Parks and Camp Sites removes the restrictive stipulation “adjoining an existing site”

Possible RMS Projects

This is a non-exhaustive list of possible projects that would be welcome ways of delivering the aspirations which should have been more explicitly spelled out in the survey document.

Research Station for the Forest

This would pool resources to staff and deliver a focus for New Forest research. It would maintain a catalogue/concordance of extant research, coordinate research efforts from academic institutions, quality check citizen science, and encourage research to provide evidentiary base for spatial strategy, recreation and livestock impacts on habitat, climate change or any other key criteria for future decision making.

Habitat Mitigation Framework for the Forest that is Fit for Purpose

Mitigation regimes use 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 defence to the West at Moors Valley, and plans to the East eternally pipe dreamed).

Strategic regional development Forum

In the past some planning regimes managed on a more regional basis was able to reduce pressure in and around the Forest. Both the promises of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and its subsequent upcoming review of National Parks should be an opportunity to put the case again. Recreation pressure on the Forest is directly affected by population proximity, housing targets within and on the borders of the Park. If the park and its borders cannot be afforded a sufficient buffer zone that retains its own green belt with sufficient alternative natural greenspace, then the government’s promise of increased protection to our parks and habitats is hollow. The Draft Action proposals have relegated engagement with other authorities to mitigation (which as already noted is undercooked), housing targets with direct impact on Forest recreation are relevant under Section 62 Duties.

Bring temporary campsites under a regimen of consistent standards and controls

Both these camping projects (see below) could help address the obligation under the 2001 SAC Management plan to relocate three FC Campsites (Five year priority 6.4.2 of RMS 2010). Temporary campsite provision in and around the Forest should provide a consistent minimal standard and be subject to appropriate licensing. This could lead to a Charter, or even a scheme similar to “New Forest Marque” for campsites to assure visitors of a Park led standard of quality, and perhaps, oversight. It may also be appropriate to encourage some small pop-up sites as alternative temporary use of backup land during the peak tourist summer season, which could serve as an additional income for commoning.

Close Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech Campsites.

The Natural England’s SAC Management Plan for the New Forest 2001 (page 30, Part 3: General Prescriptions) gave “Unfavourable Declining” condition assessments to Hollands Wood, Denny Wood and Longbeech due to the presence and management of the campsites.   The Campsite Survey (New Forest Camp site Baseline Survey: Final Report (Cox, Jonathan: July 2010: Lyndhurst: New Forest Association)) showed these have less than half the canopy they ought. This Authority’s Landscape Action Plan doesn’t even have the word campsite in it, let alone a consideration of their impact. The NPA need to address this remiss approach.

 

 

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Recreation Management: Evaluated Actions

Detailed Response To the Draft Actions

The 2018 survey proposals consider 25 “Actions” spread over 7 “Objectives”.

For the most part these are bland statements of guiding principles, but offer few concrete strategic steps to manage recreation. It is difficult to formulate a response to such an underwhelming document. On their face, it is difficult to quibble with the stated actions they vary from statements of the obvious (apply enforcement to illegal recreation activities) to standard operational concerns (find funding and consider charging the beneficiaries of recreation), but there is almost no substance (much talk of developing mechanisms and techniques with no useful specificity). Much of it is not well written, eschews plain English, and may be left to so much interpretation that opposing views may inaccurately be imposed on its meaning. It may seem pedantic or churlish to point out these flaws in the presence of obvious good intention, but this is meant to form a core policy document of a National Park Authority, it should include clearly stated proposals.

The main problem is not the writing, or the bland proposals, but what has been left out, either dropped from the previous RMS Strategy, lost through omission by vagueness, or simply not considered.   These include Management actions meant to fulfil the obligations of the SAC Management Plan. What follows here is an in depth critique including the full text of the proposed Objectives/Actions for reference, we have detailed omitted or alternative actions, and our summary remarks and conclusions are available separately.

By and large, the stated Objectives are relatively sound, having antecedents in the existing 2010 Strategy. The descriptions of each are at the heart of the good intentions of this revised Strategy, yet they’re not even up for discussion, only the proposed “Actions” are offered up for evaluation. There has been a truly odd decision in the presentation of these core descriptions in the online survey, by default they are hidden, requiring respondents to manually “unhide” each. Additionally a Draft Criteria for Judging Recreation Facilities has been published to the Managing Recreation web page but no comment is sought for this in the survey.

Raising awareness and understanding –
ensuring recreation is sustainable, wherever it takes placeObjective 1: Convey the things that make the New Forest special to both visitors and local people in more consistent and effective ways, so that they understand the importance of making responsible recreation choices.This objective acknowledges that the level of awareness of the New Forest’s special qualities, and their sensitivity, is currently insufficient. People who enjoy and come to understand the New Forest are much more likely to value and want to protect it, so it is important to work together in a range of ways to create a greater sense of ownership, respect and responsibility that ensures the Forest will retain its unique features into the future. The work needs to be tailored to resonate with the varying motivations, values and interests of different audiences.

We fully support education initiatives. These objectives and actions are important and in many ways already in hand. We believe a change of emphasis from “the special qualities of a National Park” to “delicate habitats of a National Nature Reserve, working farm and forest” would highlight the need to protect, especially for those for whom “Park” is an urban greenspace for play.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
1.1. Improve the quality and availability of information and interpretation about the special qualities of New Forest. Websites, social media, printed materials, exhibitions, film and face-to-face communication
1.2.Encourage organisations involved in tourism to inspire respect for the special qualities of the National Park by regularly including agreed key messages in their communications. Through Go New Forest, visitor attractions, publishers and accommodation providers
1.3.Develop the current programme of guided activities and themed events to give local people and visitors authentic experiences and meaningful connections with the special qualities. Guided walks, public events, activities in villages and training courses
1.4. Increase the uptake of formal educational programmes on offer and provide additional supporting resources on New Forest specific topics. Through Educators Forum, online curriculum-linked resources, travel grants, school assemblies, eco-groups and teacher training

Objective 2: Address significant and/or widespread negative impacts caused by recreation in the most appropriate, proportionate and effective ways.

This objective recognises that there are many different ways to encourage responsible recreation and to reduce or displace activities that might impact negatively on the New Forest or other people. It also emphasises the shared responsibility for protecting the Forest between relevant organisations and user groups. There is already broad recognition of the main issues, and some good initiatives are in place; but more work is needed to share best practice and jointly explore new ways to achieve the desired results.

Responsible recreation is an admirable goal. To some extent it should follow from education, a sense of respect, ownership, and as is suggested here “shared responsibility” for protection of the Forest.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
2.1.To help address a range of different issues and aid joint working, develop a ‘toolkit’ of different ways to influence recreational behaviour. Best practice advice and training on face-to-face communication, ‘nudge’ techniques, making the right option the easiest one to take, printed materials and signage, websites, digital technology, social media, peer pressure
2.2.Through working groups with appropriate terms of reference or other joint initiatives involving local organisations and user groups, identify and implement the most effective and long lasting strategies to address significant and widespread negative impacts caused by recreation. Reduce disturbance of wildlife, feeding of animals, animal accidents, litter, verge parking, fungi picking and negative impacts of dog walking, cycling and horse riding
2.3. In support of other techniques, use appropriate and proportionate enforcement activities to deter illegal recreation-related activities. Address verge parking, litter, illegal flying of drones, wild camping, lighting fires, parking in car parks overnight, cycling off the permitted network and out of control dogs
2.4. Increase the number and effectiveness of staff, volunteers and ambassadors ‘on the ground’ who can encourage people to enjoy recreation responsibly. Through higher levels of funding, improved partner coordination, habitat mitigation scheme rangers, apprentices, joint training, citizenship policing and a new ambassador programme
2.5.Manage organised activities and larger events in order to minimise negative impacts on wildlife, the working Forest and on local people. Licences and permissions given for use of Crown land and other open Forest areas, and events given guidance by Safety Advisory Groups

 

2.1. “To help address a range of different issues and aid joint working,” is an unhelpful word salad and an unnecessary preamble to “develop a ‘toolkit’ of different ways to influence recreational behaviour.” which is vague enough on its own, but at least means: “develop ways to influence recreational behaviour” which is what I hope you’re trying to say.

2.2. Isn’t “Through working groups with appropriate terms of reference or other joint initiatives involving local organisations and user groups, identify and implement the most effective and long lasting strategies to address significant and widespread negative impacts caused by recreation.” exactly what this strategy is meant to be doing? Is one of the “Actions” genuinely for this Strategy to develop itself? The result apparently is to reduce all the ills of the Forest as listed as “Examples of possible delivery”. How that magically transpires is not specified.

2.3. “In support of other techniques”, which other techniques? If you can’t specify them, why mention them? “use appropriate and proportionate enforcement activities to deter illegal recreation-related activities.” Is it necessary to specify, when deterring illegal activities, use of appropriate and proportionate enforcement? Are you suggesting that, for illegal recreation activities disproportionate inappropriate enforcement is a known issue?

“Provide enforcement to stop illegal activities.” or “Enforce law” more apt / readable?

2.4. An initiative to better support, increase “on the ground” presence of staff with ambassador / education and most importantly some level of enforcement power would be welcome. If a Forest user feels that they may encounter Forest Rangers on perhaps one out of ten excursions (or whatever magic number that would inspire the public to feel that they are likely to be occasionally, even with the mildest touch, “policed”) The lofty aspiration perhaps beyond the grasp of current funding/enforcement models might be a Parks Service in the style of Foreign National Parks, like the US whose Rangers have constabulary powers, local wildlife and habitat keeping, and education expertise.

2.5. Again, managing organized activities and larger events, whether through permit systems or accompanied by Safety Advisory Group involvement (in non permit related venues) would require some level of enforcement to either insure that permit or safety stipulations were observed, or to confront those flaunting whatever system is in place. Additionally, it may be desirable, as part of wider road initiatives targeting the fenced and gridded roads to work towards powers for local Authorities to have greater say so in the use of those roads, which may lead to permits required for high capacity road using events.

Objective 3: Reduce the barriers that limit participation in beneficial outdoor recreation among those who need it most

The New Forest already helps people to maintain and improve their health and wellbeing, it provides training and employment opportunities and is an ‘outdoor classroom’ from which we can all learn. However, some people may feel excluded and others do not recognise the value of the Forest (to themselves, the wider population or to future generations). This in turn risks alienating important sectors of society and failing to make the most of the ‘natural health service’ that is available. This objective is therefore about targeted work with specific groups of people at locations that are well-suited for bespoke interventions or activities.

This objective is made more convoluted and possibly misleading by the fact that it makes much of its language vague in that obligatory dance around avoiding using a term that might offend people with disabilities. In doing so, they may have been equally patronizing, offensive, and so unspecific that anyone with a beef against “barriers” of any description, might feel they could be catered to. Additionally, there is an attempt to lump issues including “youth” which surely belong under education, and the general health of outdoor recreation, which in no way demands to be on the Forest (it is not an obligation for the Forest to provide). Conflating these issues is not helpful to any of them.

Society has an obligation to level the playing field to be more inclusive. How this practically extends to the Forest may not, or cannot remove all “barriers”. Replacing styles with kissing gates, or other manageable solutions, is likely within the purview, but paving paths, providing more pedestrian/equestrian/wheelchair friendly bridges is perhaps not. The chief problem with this section is it doesn’t confront the need to have that conversation, merely hinting at that below referencing “appropriate changes”, but with no criteria for what is appropriate. It would be disingenuous to suggest that every inch of access land on the Forest could be made accessible, nor do we think that any user group so demands.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
3.1. Inspire more young people to appreciate and understand the special qualities of the New Forest and realise its relevance and value to them and to future generations. Through wild play, digital technology, training and apprenticeships, award schemes and inspirational youth-led projects
3.2.Develop targeted schemes that harness the health benefits of outdoor activity in and around the New Forest, close to where people live and at agreed locations. Regular walking, cycling, green prescriptions, volunteering, Green Halo Partnership and Health and Wellbeing Forum projects
3.3.Establish regular liaison between organisations that provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and organisations that represent people with a range of disabilities to identify and implement appropriate changes that will increase accessibility. Better information, fewer stiles or other ‘barriers’, accessible toilets

3.1. This point is more about using some recreation opportunities to promote education for youth, and belongs in Objective 1.

3.2. When discussing schemes to promote recreational activity, whether part of a health benefit scheme or not, the key aspect we would want to manage is where this takes place. This point belongs in Objective 4.

Sustainable recreation in the right places – managing where it happens
Objective 4: Achieve a net gain for the New Forest’s working and natural landscape and for the recreational experience by influencing where recreation takes place.This objective is primarily about geographical distribution of recreation and associated facilities; there are also links with earlier objectives with respect to specific sites where people are provided with information. An holistic, long-term vision and a short-term plan for agreed gateways, key sites and core routes is needed (within and beyond the National Park). Only by taking this ‘spatial approach’ can we be sure to attract people to the most appropriate sites and reduce the impact on the more sensitive areas and thereby protect the special qualities.

By using this approach, significant net benefits should be achieved. Desirable changes will vary considerably: from ‘easy wins’ such as the provision of additional information through local information points, through changes to the location of car parking provision (about which a range of views is likely to be expressed), to ambitions for new country parks outside the national park boundary that may take many years to come to fruition.

The long-term vision needs to address the following categories of locations:

  • a) Gateways: key access points such as certain villages, visitor centres and information points, rail stations and car parks near the perimeter of the Forest or close to A roads
  • b) Key sites: agreed popular sites for recreation such as country parks, wild play sites, campsites and Forest locations with facilities such as larger car parks, visitor information and toilet facilities.
  • c) Core routes: walking, horse riding and cycling routes (on and off road) including sustainable travel options (walking, cycling or public transport from where people live).

Spatial strategy is at the heart of how we can actually influence recreation, which is why we have continually called for a review of recreation infrastructure since the inception of the Park, and nominated it as one of three key priority projects in our response to last year’s RMS call for views. We strongly support “ambitions for new country parks outside the NP boundary” although this is given only a passing reference in the deliverables for action 4.2.

When discussing key access points, it is worth noting that RMS partner, NFDC took the extremely short sighted decision to close the visitor information centre in Lyndhurst.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
4.1.Develop a long term vision for where within and around the National Park people should be encouraged to enjoy outdoor recreation. Changes to ‘gateways’, key sites and core routes
4.2.Within a year of publishing the update to the 2010 strategy, consult the public and relevant organisations on what changes should ideally be made to ‘gateways’, key sites and core routes to achieve this objective. Maps showing sensitive habitats, conservation designations, and areas with higher tranquillity which need to be protected from adverse impacts of increased recreation; revisions to the location of parking capacity in the National Park; parking restrictions to prevent physical damage to the Forest; selective improvements to the network of off road cycle routes; rights of way where enhanced signage would be useful; locations for visitor information; locations where safety can be improved e.g. where off-road routes cross busy roads; possible areas where increased recreational opportunities might be desirable on private land and outside of the National Park
4.3.Having taken account of feedback on the above action, and after obtaining appropriate regulatory consents, develop a phased programme of implementing changes that avoid temporary net or ongoing likely significant effects on the recognised features of designated areas. Extend, relocate or reduce gateways, sites or routes to ensure impacts on recognised features are decreased
4.4. Implement the programme as resources allow, adapting and reassessing individual elements in the light of monitoring. Ensure that people park in the car parks and not on the verges, and use the sites and routes provided.

4.1. Simply summarizes the key notion that “where” is one of the key tools at our disposal for management of Recreation. This is the crux of what we support.

4.2 Here we have one of the few concrete proposals, and it gibes well with the new spatial strategy for recreation infrastructure which we have proposed and would support. However, by lumbering the project with a year timeframe, which would limit decision making to whatever data is to hand or can be cobbled together within that time, it would inevitably result in an infrastructure just as arbitrary as the one created when the Forest was fenced and gridded half a century ago. Given that within the current RMS, five-year action 5.6.3., the very straightforward project to audit car parking provision within the National Park has not been undertaken within eight years, some scepticism arises as to how this and all other relevant data may be achieved.

There is a further disconnect in not folding in the longer term goals of Objective 6 for data and evidence, and the notion that a spatial strategy should be achieved by public consultation rather than a basic evidence based consideration of the existing habitat and its pressures.

4.3. Merely posits implementing the half-baked brainchild of 4.2.

4.4. Again an instance of presuming the resolution of the list of “Examples of possible delivery”.

Finding funding – and using it effectively
Objective 5: Increase the level of funding available for recreation management so that it is sufficient to address both existing and upcoming needs.This objective recognises that resources are limited and that some aspirations for improved management of recreation can only be achieved if additional funds can be found. For example, car park maintenance could occur more regularly and more rangers could be deployed across the National Park if additional funding can be found. New recreation sites such as country parks would require major capital funding and business plans which ensure they are sustainable financially.

It is both good that a forward strategy considers funding sources for implementation, but also sad that certain elements of basic management including enforcement and education are no longer guaranteed products of the public purse despite their universal benefit (this is not leveled as a criticism of the proposal, but an observation of the situation this objective must address). We do find a disconnect between a Government touting a 25 year Environment plan including promises of greater support and protection for habitats and National Parks, but not offering the cash to ensure these goals may be met.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
5.1.Approach and work with organisations to raise funds and other resources for specific recreation-related projects. Local businesses and charities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, grant making bodies, youth and health-care organisations, Clinical Commissioning Groups
5.2.Develop a coordinated approach among planning authorities in and around the New Forest to mitigate the impacts of new housing on protected areas – with the aim of using developer contributions to support work that protects the Forest. Agree a common approach to determine the levels of developer contributions, work together to boost awareness raising initiatives (including rangers) and, with funding from the Local Enterprise Partnerships, landowners and businesses, create significant new recreation sites outside of protected areas
5.3.Through consultation, develop mechanisms through which those who benefit from recreation facilities can contribute towards their maintenance and the good of the wider Forest. Developing and promoting the voluntary Love the Forest visitor gift scheme, inviting donations to support specific recreation facilities, reviewing where and how much people are charged for parking, larger events and provision of services
5.4.Work with the Government to include incentives for access improvements on private land within future land management grants, where these would benefit the public and reduce (or not increase) pressure on nearby sensitive areas. New walking, cycling and horse riding routes; campsites and other recreation facilities; England Coast Path

5.2. Mitigation schemes are key in and around the Forest, but sadly they need to be drastically redesigned to fit the Forest. Using the Natural England work at Thames Basin Heaths critically undervalues our much richer and under pressure habitat. This is why we proposed a project to make mitigation for development in and near the Forest fit for purpose.

5.3. We welcome allowing for the possibility of charging Forest users, but this should be stated more clearly. If the charging model is adopted, there would likely be backlash, but a sound rationale should be developed to justify this move. A more specific view of what this would fund (enforcement, education, infrastructure maintenance etc) would make the value of charging clearer.

5.4. We outright reject the notion that “where these would benefit the public and reduce (or not increase) pressure on nearby sensitive areas.” could result in the England Coast Path, which under current proposals only increases pressure on our most disturbance sensitive highly designated Coastal habitats.

Data and evidence – to help guide the work
Objective 6: Collate data and evidence to help inform the ongoing management of recreationThere is ample evidence of the benefits of quiet outdoor recreation to our health and wellbeing. It is also clear that people sometimes impact in negative ways on each other, on sensitive wildlife and on important aspects of the working New Forest. The actions in this strategy can and should therefore be progressed.

However, more data and evidence would help target resources more effectively and efficiently, clarify trends in recreation, help predict which interventions are most likely to work and monitor the success of different recreation management initiatives.

 

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
6.1.Through existing or new forums, collate existing data and evidence, agree which data can most usefully be used as ‘key indicators’, identify gaps in knowledge and develop plans to improve the evidence-base used by organisations that manage recreation in the New Forest. Species population data, habitat condition assessments, frequency of incidents caused by recreation, numbers of people taking part in different recreation activities, traffic counts and visitor data from tourism businesses
6.2.Analyse and publish data on a repeat or rolling basis to assess trends in recreational activity and on aspects of the New Forest that might be affected. Analysing data to show the degree to which recreation management interventions achieve the desired effect, State of the Park Report, Annual Monitoring Reports for local plans

 

Evidence based decision making should be at the heart of management across the Forest, not merely for recreation. Although it is acknowledged that the Forest is a highly designated Habitat for conservation, it is relatively poorly surveyed. A Recreation Management Strategy demands a more thorough, cohesive knowledgebase to be able to move forward, particularly in respect to spatial management decisions (as in the canard of Action 4.2. proposing spatial maps absent sufficient data/evidence). This does present an opportunity for fostering useful research, surveys and a more comprehensive understanding of populations of local flora and fauna and their sensitivities.

We agree with the element of 6.1. that useful key indicators must be identified and agreed, but would add further that an agreed minimum level or granularity of data is necessary. This would allow pragmatic decisions to be made once some basic understandings have been achieved, avoiding analysis paralysis. We would quibble slightly with 6.2., the emphasis on “trends of activity” over habitat that is (not “might”) be affected.

Adaptive monitoring and implementation – keeping the strategy alive
Objective 7: Regularly review progress against agreed recreation management actions and adapt forward plans to protect the special qualities of the National Park and enable people to enjoy and benefit from them

It is impossible to predict the degree to which the actions in this strategy will be achieved, especially given the ambitious nature of some actions that will depend on new resources being found. However, the six organisations on the RMS Steering Group intend to remain focussed on protecting the Forest for the benefit of future generations; they will therefore continue to meet, monitor progress and consider how to respond to changing circumstances.

Draft action Examples of possible delivery
7.1.Regularly review the implementation of the actions in this strategy and the degree to which they achieve the desired outcomes. Feedback from lead organisations, reports from joint forums, trends in the occurrence of incidents, analysis of the effectiveness of interventions where this is possible, feedback from user groups
7.2.Where actions are not progressed or finalised, consider what could be done to redress the situation and gain agreement for revised actions where possible. Find new resources or prioritise the most important actions
7.3.Review and update the Recreation Management Strategy actions after five years. Consultation with user groups, local organisations and the public

Reviews and updates are the minimum due diligence to any plan. There’s no objection to its obvious inclusion, but this is another disconnect as to why it is necessary for these elements to be rated on a like/dislike scale in an online opinion poll.

Many of the “actions” from the rest of this proposal are so vaguely defined that it will be difficult to establish criteria. The promise of a “review and update” after five years seems a bit hollow coming from the Park Authority which in eight years has not reviewed the actions of the current strategy, despite containing the same five year promise.

We will continue to insist that a Strategy must contain a Plan with more precisely defined actions, these are mostly ideas and guiding principles about what actions might be done.

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