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Saving the Future of the Forest: a Verderers Court Presentment

Here we welcome a guest post from one of our Members, Ian Thew of Burley, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

Official Verderer, members of the Verderers Court, good morning and thank you for this opportunity to speak to you..My name is Ian Thew and I live deep within a New Forest Inclosure and for many years I have been an active New Forest Sporting Licencee; in consequence of which, I’m probably more aware of what is happening on the Forest than most people.

I am here today to express my fears for the future of this unique place that we call the New Forest. The New Forest National park is the smallest and in many ways the most fragile of all the National parks but contains more special designations protecting fauna and flora than any other. During the past few months, I have witnessed enumerable off-road and night-time cyclists; many, so called, wild campers; overnight camper vans in Forest car parks; several incidents of fly-tipping and on two occasions my wife and I have been subjected to, all night long, heavy base music bouncing across the Forest and, on another occasion, we had to deal with a party of rowdy scouts at 1.30 in the morning. I could go on but I do not wish to waste the time of this court; I am merely trying to demonstrate the enormity and the variety of the abuse that this Forest is being subjected to.

It is obvious, from the overflowing car parks and the masses of gazebos and tents that sprout-up like small villages across the Forest during the summer, that there are just too many visitors for this fragile environment to cope with. At the moment, recreation is taking precedence over conservation and protection of the environment which is in direct contradiction of the Sandford Principle.

There is no doubt that visitors are here to stay and, as one who makes part of his living from tourism, their business is welcome. But, for the sake of the future of the New Forest, their numbers must be limited to a sustainable level and their activities must be restricted to those that do not inflict harm on this very special environment. The ground rules should be clearly apparent to all who come here so that ignorance cannot be used as an excuse by those who offend and, similarly, it should be policed and there should be provision to enable those who are protecting the interests of the Forest to penalize or prosecute those who choose to ignore these rules.

Enforcement of the by-laws on the New Forest Crown Lands is the responsibility of the Forestry Commission who seem to be reluctant to prosecute offenders. Furthermore, we have been told that budgetary restrictions have reduced the numbers of front-line people on the ground. But this cannot be used as an excuse for the ruination of the New Forest and the necessary funds must be made available to enable sufficient policing and prosecution when necessary.

This budgetary shortfall is now common knowledge and I am often rendered speechless and helpless when informed by offending, anarchistic visitors that there is nothing I, or anyone else, can do about them. Surely it’s time that something is done, before it is too late, to stop these people, who are hell bent on destroying that which we all love and cherish and that which the majority of people come here to enjoy.

That his Forest is under threat is obvious to all; so what are we going to tell our grandchildren or our great grandchildren when they ask us why we didn’t do something to save it before it was too late?

I request that the Verderers use the authority of this court to urge the Forestry Commission to police the New Forest and enforce its by-laws and, similarly, to urge the New Forest National Park Authority to exercise their duties in accordance with the Sandford Principle.

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Recreation Management Strategy Survey / England Coast Path NFNPA July 2017

This Statement was made to the New Forest National Park Authority at their meeting on 13th July 2017. Whilst we welcome the review of the RMS, the emphasis and approach of the survey used to launch the review process left much to be desired.

Recreation Management Strategy Survey

Brevity required here dictates some bluntness, so I won’t speak at length about the fuzziness of a survey with canned answers, two tweets worth of space for comment on complex issues. Our main concern is the cart firmly misplaced before the pony. A clear example from the “Join the Debate” page which asks for our help to:

  • “provide the best recreational experience for local people and our visitors”
  • “protect the very thing people come to see – the spectacular, yet fragile landscape which is a haven for many rare wildlife species” [*]

You can’t promise the best recreational experience, or do a survey which at least in part is a call for a wish list for recreational interests, with the implication demand could be met, when you still haven’t determined what level of recreation is appropriate. The purpose of this exercise is to develop and implement a Recreation Management Strategy, not a Recreation Delivery Menu. Apt messages on the “Putting the Forest First” page should have been incorporated into the survey where they might have a chance of being read.

What we’d like to see first is an accounting on the current Management Strategy: which of the goals have had little or nothing done? Many targets are driven not by public demand, but from statutory obligations to the habitats and to the working Forest, and should not change. We need more focus on practical, achievable goals. The main way we can control where recreation happens within the forest is where people park and camp.

A worthwhile exercise could start by pointing to the Crown Lands as a National Nature Reserve, a Working Farm and Forest, and ask “what activities are appropriate there”, “in order to protect such a place, what are you willing to do differently or do without?”

The NFA hope to be able to support this Authority in its efforts to Manage Recreation, but we need to see a clearer indication of leadership that delivers the more difficult purposes of the Park, instead of focusing on the path of least resistance offered by the last and least, “enjoy”.

With the then promised August publication of the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch of the England Coast Path (originally mooted for Feb 2017, — eventually delayed to March 2018), we highlighted some basic issues with the Path for the New Forest.

England Coast Path

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

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

The Ordnance Survey will inaccurately show spreading room (the entire seaward side of the path) as accessible, disregarding the need to delineate excluded areas (as much of our coast will be). Arguments will be had with visitors assured by the allegedly definitive map that they (and their pets) may trespass on bird nesting grounds regardless of what the signs say.

We hope the authority will resist the worst excesses of this arbitrary unnecessary exercise.


ADDENDUM:

Please note, if time allowed I’d add many provisos pointing to some more positive examples of work which we support.

We are disappointed in many of the failures to act on the current strategy. Despite the prescription from the SAC Management Plan for removal, we still have campsites destroying Ancient and Ornamental Woodland, the campsite survey showed these have less than half the canopy they ought, and this Authority’s Landscape Action Plan doesn’t even have the word campsite in it, let alone a consideration of their impact. Even a straightforward assessment of car parking provision, which we’ve spec’ed out as not particularly costly, has not been done.

Credible enforcement of any rules developed, or even the existing byelaws, would require an investment in personnel that may not find funding, although we hope our support of the Ranger programme is a start.

A huge wave of development is proposed on our borders, given little strategic consideration for the Park, unreasonable housing targets from Central Government for all local authorities, token mitigation which does not adequately reflect the value of the Forest, we’ve little hope for avoiding a substantial increase of recreational activity that will be dumped on the Forest. The Forest is under a palpable threat. So forgive us for not mincing words in pursuit of brevity.

[*] Editor’s (sour) note : “the spectacular, yet fragile landscape which is a haven for many rare wildlife species” is a very underwhelming description for highly protected habitats and ecosystems – this suggests a pretty place that a handful of rare things happen to live in. The Forest is a mosaic of habitats, many of which have dwindled to nearly nothing in the rest of the UK. It is the entire precious fabric of these ecosystems which needs our protection, not merely a few birds and lizards. It is a last stand for many habitats and species.

The full text, including the Addendum (not read to the Authority) was provided to Authority Members. Statements in the Public Questions section of Authority Meetings are limited to 3 minutes, even if multiple subjects are addressed. The statements are often necessarily terse, brusque and assume knowledge by the Authority Members of the issues addressed.
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