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Verderers response to BBC Inside Out South

This is the Verderers of the New Forest Press Release in response to claims made on a segment of BBC’s Inside Out South aired on Monday, 28th January, 2019.

It is a great shame that Mr Packham declines to talk to the organisations which manage the New Forest. Some of his statements are, unfortunately, quite wrong. For example, he assumes that every animal for which the Verderers receive marking fees is actually turned out on the Forest for the entire year. We know that is not correct. Commoners generally turn their cattle out in summer but take them home for the winter. Some cattle are never turned out onto the forest.

Some ponies spend most of their lives on the Forest but others are also taken home for the winter. The animal population varies throughout the year.

An excellent indicator of the grazing pressure is the condition of stock. There has been no deterioration in the condition of the stock overall. The Verderers, through the Agisters, monitor the welfare of the stock closely. The Agisters report regularly to the Verderers on the condition of the stock out in the Forest. Any report to the Verderers’ Office of an animal in poor condition is promptly investigated by an Agister. Any animal found to be in poor condition is removed from the Forest.

The Verderers host two Welfare Tours every year which are attended by a number of organisations including the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, the Donkey Sanctuary, British Horse Society, Blue Cross, Defra and Animal Health/Trading Standards in order that the condition of the stock can be independently monitored and assessed.

In 2016, a small number of ponies were found to be stripping trees of their bark in Mark Ash Wood. Other ponies in the area were not touching the trees. All the ponies in the area were in excellent condition. Ponies do sometimes eat woody material but it is not an indication of hunger. Because it can be a learnt behaviour, the animals responsible were identified and removed from the Forest. We and the Forestry Commission are continuing to monitor the situation.

Over the last eight years, the Verderers of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (a partnership between the Forestry Commission, the New Forest National Park Authority and the Verderers working with Natural England) has restored over 10 miles of drainage channels, which were artificially straightened by the Victorians The work has resulted in more natural wetland systems which help to support the unique biodiversity of the New Forest.

In 2017 the Wootton stream restoration was shortlisted for the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence award – the Natural Environment category. It’s a credit to the team and Mott MacDonald who were involved in the planning to restore Wootton Riverine back to its natural meandering route. It’s a truly collaborative project between many partner organisations, who are working towards conserving the New Forest’s unique natural environment.

The Forestry Commission burns about 250 hectares – which is only 2% of the total heathland area across the Crown lands. Even though this is a relatively small proportion of the heath, it ensures we have a healthy and vigorous range of heather heights and ages, which as well as providing diversity also provides us with effective firebreaks to protect large areas of heathland, woodland and private property from wildfire.

There are a number of very rare species in the New Forest whose very existence is due entirely to the hard grazing and the poaching by animals that occurs in some parts of the Forest.

The present high number of animals for which marking fees have been received is, we believe, due wholly to the present farming subsidy scheme. We hope the Basic Payment Scheme, which we do agree with Mr Packham, is not appropriate to the Forest, will change after BREXIT, and we are calling for a bespoke subsidy scheme for the New Forest run by the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the National Park Authority with the invaluable input from Natural England. These are the organisations which, together with the commoners, have managed and protected the Forest and will continue to do so for many years to come.

The Forest is facing ever more pressures, especially from increasing recreational use. The best way to ensure its survival is for the organisations responsible for its management to continue to work in partnership. Those who disagree with their management should engage constructively with them.

30th January 2019

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Guest Post: High Level Stewardship AGM 2018 — Official Verderer

The New Forest HLS is England’s largest environmental improvement scheme, launched in 2010.  The scheme is managed through a formal partnership between the relevant statutory bodies for the Crown Lands: the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

This year the AGM was preceded by an Open Day afternoon in the Garden of Queen’s House, featuring stands and displays from representatives of various HLS projects, festive New Forest Marque nibbles, and a mare and young foal (perhaps one of the first many had seen for the year).  Here Lord Manners, the Official Verderer, reflects on this year’s achievements.

Today

I hope you have all had an opportunity to visit the open day and enjoy the new format. Do please give us your feed back on what you thought worked and on any areas where you think we could have done things better or differently.

As we have had an open day there are no speakers or presentations this evening apart from me. In the next few minutes I propose to run over some of the highlights of the past year.

Education

I would like to start by mentioning the educational aspect of the HLS. It is vital that we do as much as we can to educate our school children about the special qualities of the Forest.

2136 pupils from 47 schools were able to take part in educational visits this year, thanks to HLS education access funding. The slight decrease in numbers is due to curriculum changes at GCSE level. Schools visited all through the year. Human impacts and activities, and investigation of the special qualities of the Forest have remained the most requested teaching sessions. HLS funding ensures that the schoolchildren visiting the Forest not only enjoy their visit, but leave with a much greater understanding of its heritage and landscape.

Lost Lawns Restoration – Tree and scrub management

Consultation site visits took place in March to view the following lost lawn locations: Bramshaw, Brook Wood, Broomy/Splash Bridge and Milking Pound Bottom. Following the issue of a felling licence in September works commenced at 2 out 4 sites – Splash Bridge/Broomy (Dockens Water) and Milking Pound Bottom. At Elkhams Grave, Trenley Lawn, Red Rise tree and scrub felling took place as agreed with consultees. At Bolderwood hollies habitat restoration and pine clearance of some mature trees was carried out. Slender Cotton Grass habitat at Holmsley bog was cleared of willow and birch encroachment. A total area of 66 Ha was achieved.

Wetland Restoration

In Summary the following wetland restoration areas were achieved:-

  • 2532m of meanders were restored.
  • 1078m of drain was in-filled
  • 1079m of channel was bed-level raised

Two planning application sites were part completed:

  • Wootton Riverine Woodland Phase 1 was completed following the work that was undertaken last year.
  • Pondhead (Parkhill Lawn, Matley) was part completed. Weather and seasonal constraints limited full completion in 2017.

Noads Mire This site has been re-programmed into the summer 2018 wetland restoration works and will be completed by George Farwell.

Ferny Crofts South was also partially completed this year.  However due to the weather delays experienced on site through August and September 2017 it was decided that the completion of this site should be delayed until August/September 2018.

Coxlease Lawn. The site was subject to wet weather delays for seven days. The site became too wet to continue work within the 2017 wetland restoration season and it is proposed that this work will be completed in 2018.

The short wetland restoration season was curtailed further by wet weather causing many of the sites being too wet to work for large periods of the summer. Work was not possible due to wet ground conditions on approximately 45 days out of a possible 105.

Bracken Management

This was carried out by two local contractors MJ Hoare and Dan Shutler. 33 days of bracken forage harvesting was carried out between them covering a total area of 69 Ha.

The bracken sprayer covered an area of 134Ha over the following sites: Bolderwood, Turfhill, Sloden and Milkham.

Control of Non native species

Non-native plant management was carried out across the Forest, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Catherine Chatters and her hardworking team of volunteers. This involves control of Pitcher Plants, monitoring and controlling Cotoneaster, Control of Parrot’s Feather, Japanese knotweed, Pickerel weed, Yellow Azalea and Golden Club.
Rhododendron. Cut & burn areas were tackled in January on the beat of Patrick Cook, site locations covered include the following SSSI units: Busketts, Ironshill, Rhinefield, Bolderwood, Burley through to Anderwood, Knightwood, Gritnam, Allum Green, Acres Down & Lucy Hill. Total time spent equivalent to 80 man days. Rhododendron spraying was carried out at Acres Down, Burley, Minstead and Allum Green, Bolderwood.

Gemma Stride, HLS Monitoring Officer

Riverfly Partnership

Volunteer rangers have been carrying out surveying of specific wetland restoration stream sites for riverflies, since 2015. All of their collected data has been input into the National riverfly database, and used locally to see abundance scores of riverflies and how they have re-acted before and after restoration. I would like to express particular thanks to those volunteers for participating in what is an extremely valuable but painstaking process.

Programme of Data Processing and Ground Surveys for Historical Features

2017 saw a successful survey season with the target coverage of 2,013 hectares reached. This work involved 131 volunteer days. Again I would like to express my thanks to the volunteers. During these days the volunteers helped to record archaeological sites, undertake detailed geophysical surveys of specific sites identified during the Lidar surveys and clear vegetation from scheduled monuments. During 2017, work also continued to clean survey data and submit records to the County Historic Environment Records Office. All the above work continued to feed into wetland restoration, lost lawn, verge restoration and ridge and furrow proposed schemes. Of the 20,130 hectares to be surveyed during the HLS scheme, only 3,342 hectares remain to be surveyed. This leaves 1,671 hectares to be surveyed during 2018. This work started in January. Work will also continue to identify monuments that require restoration works and collaboration between the appropriate parties to ensure the best results for the monuments and the habitats they are found in.

Beaulieu Road Sales Yard

Grazing Management

The HLS supports a wide variety of activities in order to maintain and improve grazing management.
494 Commoners received grazing payments

The HLS makes funds available to improve and develop Infrastructure for Livestock Management by means of a Small grant scheme. The HLS delivered 39 grants in 2017 for contributions towards stock handling systems. 15 grants are still to be claimed for 2017.

The HLS also makes funds available to improve and develop infrastructure for livestock management by improving sightline fencing and drift fencing,

Projects delivered were Boltons Bench: 120m Drift style fence, Pilley Allotment : 210m of wire fence, Hatchet Mill : replacement of oak split rails, Burbush : 85m of oak sightline fencing.

Sloden & Trim Holly Pounds were rebuilt in 2017.

Improvements to the welfare standard for ponies are achieved through the pony welfare scheme. The number of ponies entering the welfare scheme has increased this year as commoners are becoming more aware of the scheme. The scheme does appear to be reducing the older mares on the Forest as we are having less welfare issues over the winter.

Improvements to the value and diversity of the New Forest Pony Breed is achieved through the New Forest Livestock Society

The New Forest Livestock Society receives VGS funding towards the cost of marketing in order to increase sales at Beaulieu Road. The aim is to provide known potential buyers with regular reminders about sale dates, and to advertise the sales as widely as possible to attract new customers.

Looking ahead

This year the HLS is funding ridge and furrow restoration and stump removal in areas that have been felled. I think these are particularly exciting projects as they will not only improve the habitat but also improve the restored areas for stock and making drifting over those areas possible. I would encourage you to visit the area recently restored at Dur Hill as an excellent example of what can be achieved.

We have now completed 8 years of the Verderers HLS. The current scheme expires in February 2020. The Forest Farming Group, under the energetic chairmanship of Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre, is actively engaging with Government both at the political level and with the relevant civil servants. Our strong preference is for a bespoke, flexible scheme that suits the needs of the Forest. It is too early to say what the future holds but I am confident that the public and environmental benefits delivered by the Forest make it a strong candidate for future support.

Finally a thank you to the many people who work so hard to deliver the benefits of the HLS, they are too numerous to mention but they know who they are and they are due thanks not just from me but from all of us.

Lord Manners
Official Verderer
25 April 2018

Provided with permission by the Official Verderer, to whom we send our thanks.
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NFA Habitat and Landscape 2017-18

RSPB Franchises Lodge - credit Terry Bagley

Habitat and Landscape Chair, Brian Tarnoff reviews with uncharacteristic brevity the past year on the Forest Design Plan, Recreation Management Strategy and the England Coast Path.  Part of our series of Annual Reports relevant to our AGM on Saturday 21st April 2018.  Updates since original publication, reflecting these ever changing issues, are provided below each section.

Once again I am full of gratitude and amazement at the generous contributions of our committee members this year. This included countless hours volunteered to pour over one of the most vital consultations we’ve seen in some time, and days spent trudging the Forest in all weathers on site visits for works proposed by the Forestry Commission on the open Forest.

The Forest Design Plan

Consultation continued this year. Our ecologists took part in round table discussions on this year’s draft, a palpable improvement over the March 2016 version. The detail, which had concerned us previously, now was much more in line with the commitment from the 1999 Minister’s Mandate (strongly supported by subsequent policy) to restore pasture woodlands, heathlands, valley mires and Ancient and Semi-Natural native woodland, and favour broadleaves over conifer. In these meetings, Forestry Commission staff expressed sound underlying principles that would serve this plan, both in its current form, and going forward, to manage towards these goals.

Our main quibble is that the documentation of the plan does not adequately express those principles. This may seem a small thing, given how close the detail plan is to delivering many of our Association’s goals, but without them in place the plan may not be able to show its logic adequately to stand on its own against Habitats Regulations Assessment, or possible changes in future management of the Forest which could veer away from the promise this plan holds.

After the public consultation on the plan, the Forest Services review determined that consent under EIA regulations is required for the deforestation proposals (some areas being returned to open Forest habitats). Forest Enterprise has been tasked with producing an Environmental Statement for consideration, and we are amongst the stakeholders invited to a scoping exercise in January 2018. DEFRA have agreed to roll forward some elements of the FC’s expired felling license, which was dependent on the now unknown date for approval of the plan by the Inspectorate for renewal.

The Forestry Commission have opened up the next stage of consultation which runs for eight weeks from 11 Apr 2016 to 6 Jun 2016. This will produce the version of the plan which will be submitted for the inspectorate, and final consultation later this year. The NFA will argue that the planned eight weeks may not be sufficient for less nimble organizations (those that meet less frequently, such as Parish Councils, or those larger whose relevant knowledge is spread across expert and consequentially busy staff); we would prefer ten to twelve weeks. When the timeframe was sprung upon the great breadth of Forest organizations in attendance at a special launch day on March 22nd, the FC suggested that they may be “flexible” about the length of the consultation. We will be making our case later this month.

Wetland Restoration Strategy

In a similar spirit of openness the Forestry Commission proposed a Wetland Restoration Strategy at a well-attended December workshop including representatives across the spectrum of the debate. In addition to more constructive engagement with all stakeholders, we hope this will lead to a monitoring program that is apt, affordable and will adequately support future efforts.

The FC have just updated us (12/04/2018) with a view of present and future monitoring plans. We believe these will be robust and adequately adapt and augment standard river monitoring techniques to the unique challenges of the New Forest’s streams and wetlands.  We hope sufficient funding will be allowed to cover a range of catchments including both restored and untouched.

England Coast Path

Understandably our section of Coast, with a nearly uninterrupted series of very protected habitats (some garnering between four and five layers of designation, nationally and internationally), has been a very thorny problem for Natural England, who have nudged the consultation forward throughout the year. Once mooted for March 2017, now February 2018 (the original target date for implementation was March 2018).

Although a habitat adjacent inland route may be viable, the coastal margin created by the default spreading room designated in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 would potentially create up to 3,500 acres of new access land on these easily disturbed habitats, where it would cause irreparable damage. We hope that Natural England will exclude these, but even if they do, the Ordnance Survey will not show those exclusions. Our main role currently seems to be to remind one and all of the immense importance of our Coast with greater fragility and importance than the precious habitats of the Crown Lands that typically draw our focus.

The eight week consultation on the Highcliffe-Calshot stretch finally began on 14th March 2018 and is due to run until 9th of May 2018. The route itself (barring some quibbles) is reasonable, however the exclusions for spreading room are either incomplete or lacking classification for habitat protection.  The consultation documents themselves are of greater scale and complexity (the sensitive features appraisal alone, at 215 pages is three times larger than the equivalent document for any of the other published stretches), and yet we’re expected to comment on them within the standard 8 week consultation window.  The Sensitive Features Appraisal is rife with error and stops short of a full Habitats Regulation Assessment (relying on flimsy mitigation measures which have failed elsewhere).  We could go on (and we will elsewhere….), but in short, the needs of our habitat point up severe flaws in the legislation, specification and consultation processes.

Recreation Management Strategy

The welcome review of the NPA’s Recreation Management Strategy has been mentioned above in this annual report. Unfortunately the public survey reiterated paragraphs from the current strategy alongside each potential subject heading, leaving some confused as to whether to respond to these remarks or implicitly approve them? For our response we asked that the next RMS should feature priority projects with clear objectives and timeframes. We proposed a comprehensive review of recreation infrastructure within the park, including surveys of habitats, campsites and parking, with actions leading to a provision that is ‘Fit for Purpose’. We proposed initiatives to raise the profile of the National Park so the decision makers of adjacent Authorities and communities become more aware of their impacts on the Forest and ‘Section 62 Duties’, create adequate, proportional mitigation, and petition Central Government for more strategic targets to take pressure off the Forest. We also asked for clearer messages in Education that would easily highlight the Forest’s need for protection as a National Nature Reserve, Working Farm and Working Forest.

Our full response to the RMS survey is here. Subsequent remarks on the Park Authority’s flawed draft interpretation here.

Going Forward — Other areas of concern to address in 2018:

Dibden Bay (ABP) / Fawley Power Station (Fawley Waterside Ltd)

Along with Associated British Ports revisiting their goal of a deep-water container port at Dibden Bay, our Association and the whole of the Forest will be facing many challenges for renewed development of the already heavily urbanised Waterside. This includes the proposal by Fawley Waterside Ltd for the development of a new town, with an estimated population of 3,500 on the site of the Fawley Power Station. The development on the brownfield portion of the site, originally exempted from the National Park, might be hard to resist, but the current proposal includes a ‘village’ built out into the National Park on Tom Tiddler’s Ground*, which is a young coastal grazing marsh and forms a rough habitat that is prime for rehabilitation.

— excerpted with updates and links from the NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee Annual report, by Committee Chair, Brian Tarnoff

* Tom Tiddler’s Ground is considered over several pages in committee member Clive Chatter’s tome Flowers of the Forest.

Finally, we should note that many of our committee members were involved in steering the process which led to the purchase by the RSPB of a major landholding in the Forest, now to be known as RSPB Franchises Lodge.  We’ve been embargoed from discussing this effort as it has unfolded over the years (and at long last announced on 23 Mar 2018).  I wish to thank the RSPB for the purchase, and the members of our committee who identified and shepherded this opportunity to fruition.

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The Wild Trout Trust and New Forest River Restorations

For some perspective on some of the issues raised by river restorations we contacted the Wild Trout Trust, themselves deliverers or partners in many river restoration projects addressing similar issues to those met by the Latchmore proposal.  As it turns out, they had made an advisory visit in September 2015; this was undertaken by their Conservation Officer, Mike Blackmore.

Their advisory visit programme is “very much focussed on identifying good and poor trout habitat and what can be done practically to make the poor good. Mike looked at a 1 km reach of the Brook and a 500m reach of a tributary, the Thompson’s Castle Stream.” 

Their key findings were:

  • Valuable wild trout habitat is under threat by the status quo condition of the Latchmore Brook and tributaries.
  • Channel incision and accelerated morphological processes as outlined by the JBA Consulting report and as observed during the site visit are limiting the abundance and quality of marginal habitat (important for freshwater invertebrates and juvenile trout). These factors are also likely to be significantly impacting the viability of spawning habitat in the main channel.
  • Reconnecting paleo-meanders will result in a net increase in habitat for wild trout (as a result of increased channel length) and is likely to help protect existing spawning habitat by reducing the rate of channel incision and the magnitude of cut and fill events.
  • The overall paucity of in-stream and low-level bankside woody habitat features significantly limit the abundance, diversity and quality of cover and refuge habitat for trout.
  • Habitat quality and diversity is being significantly reduced by over-grazing and bank poaching by livestock.
  • Further habitat enhancement, including tree planting and the introduction and retention of woody habitat features, will be required to provide a good quality and diverse habitat for wild trout.
  • Improvement in the wild trout population of the Latchmore Brook and the aquatic ecosystem upon which it is dependent will require a significant change in land management including improved protection of the riverbanks from grazing livestock.

Their conclusions recognize the problems with the status quo and acknowledge the benefits of the project to fish species and wildlife. They also suggest measures which would make the habitat optimal for trout species, promotion of stream shading scrub, and fencing to prevent livestock poaching scrub and vegetation bankside, which would fly in the face of traditional forest management, and would even restrict the amenity in ways to which even the protesters would object.  How would Forest users react to the sight of a fenced off stream, with access only through gates?

Scrub does vary over time, and we know that historically there has been, at times, little scrub along stretches of the stream on the open forest.  Even now, there is about a kilometre stretch with next to no riparian shade.  The Commoners often push for active scrub removal to create more grazing (The NFA will usually push for key nectar species to be left where possible), and of course the livestock themselves will have nibbles that hamper growth.  

So, neither the current stream nor the proposed change would be absolutely ideal for fish species, but here’s where the point is being missed by objectors’ narrow focus.  Habitats are complex.  What benefits some species may be detrimental to others.  The biodiverse rich habitat of the New Forest is not managed solely for any single species.  Scrub removal may warm some of the unshaded water, but this will benefit the Dragonflies, even if it narrows the tolerances for the fish.

Despite the insufficient scrub, both historically and at present, fish tolerate the conditions in the Brook.  Restoring the meanders will recreate the more natural morphology that benefits these species.  The claim that changing the stream will frighten away shy fish, is refuted by many the projects elsewhere aimed at wild fish habitat improvement which restore meanders (some other successful projects go even further and create meanders), including projects directed at fisheries (over 900 in the RRC database), and even more strikingly here in the New Forest, by the fish themselves.  Brown Trout were recorded spawning in a restored section at Harvestslade within three months of the completion of that project.

We thank the Wild Trout Trust for their permission to share their findings (particularly their director, Shaun Leonard who provided the bullet point summary quoted above), and for their candour and generosity in response to our queries.  We commend them for their fine works in implementing and promoting habitat restoration. According to Environment Agency monitoring, their upper Itchen project has produced a four-fold increase in trout biomass, compared to unimproved, control sites.

For further information on some of their projects, and ways to help, on the WTT website: http://www.wildtrout.org/content/projects-1. 

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Verderers View: Leaving The EU: The Implication For Higher Level Stewardship Funding

At September’s Verderers Court, in his Announcements and Decisions, the Official Verderer, Dominic May, updated the Court on the fate of funding for High Level Stewardship, post Brexit, along with an appreciation of the achievements of the scheme.

I am pleased to inform the Court that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 13th August that agri-environment schemes will be fully funded, even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU. Our Higher Level Stewardship, the largest in the country, runs until February 2020, and we can continue doing so much good work improving the New Forest with this very important financial backing.

The New Forest suffers over time by a ratchet affect. No one activity will by itself ruin it, and each disturbance taken in isolation may on the face of it appear negligible. But add up every human intervention, such as artificial drainage, car parks, gravel tracks, utility structures such as telegraph poles or pumping stations, and incrementally over time we experience the significant loss of grazing, loss of landscape amenity, loss of habitat, and loss of good environmental condition.

Our HLS funds projects to conserve or improve the ecology and environment of the New Forest Crown Lands. We find ourselves in an impoverished financial climate within the public sector, so the £2,000,000 per year which we are spending from the HLS is absolutely fundamental to the future good condition of the New Forest.

Tylers Copse, New Forest. - geograph.org.uk - 661931This money enables us to turn the clock back to remove previous man-made interventions. We are improving the landscape amenity of the forest. We are improving grazing for the benefit of the forest stock, which are the architects of our beautiful New Forest landscape.

Our wetland restorations remove man-made drainage, so damaging to the ecology encourage the re-establishment of the flood plain, depositing beneficial organic matter on the forest rather than it being washed out to sea. And a positive by-product is to reduce flood risk downstream.

We are experiencing some concerted opposition to our wetland work: happily we live in a democracy with its foundation on freedom of speech, so this opposition is entirely proper. It is therefore up to us to win the debate, and provide justification for our plans. Some opposition is based on scientific principles; some on the use of public money; and some is based on what people are used to seeing in “their” area. However, the time horizon of us humans is very short, compared to the 937 years since the legal governance of the New Forest was formalised in 1079.

The HLS-funded terrestrial work on the New Forest has increased in importance and is providing ecological benefits as well as improved grazing. In the last year the HLS has paid to remove 136 acres of rhododendron. It has paid to restore 56 acres of lost lawns. It has paid to remove self-seeded non-native conifers over 316 acres of open forest. It has paid heather removal over 32 acres. And the HLS has paid for 355 acres of bracken control.

Ponies in the pound at a driftWe are keen that the HLS leaves a legacy for the future. This year the HLS has funded new stock pounds at Woodgreen, Holmsley, Appleslade and Woodfidley; these are built in hardwood for longevity.

With the inexorable increase in the number of cars, we are seeing a huge loss of grazing and thus habitat interest: areas of grass on the edge of roads or outside houses are being lost to bare gravel. You have all seen it. The causes are widespread: over-running the verge at junctions; dog walkers not using car parks; car parking in villages; ignorance from visitors. We are therefore funding a programme of works which will protect eroded verges, and in the longer term allow re-growth of natural vegetation. This verge restoration programme has been slow to get going, but this year the HLS has funded work in Woodgreen and Fritham, with plans in and around East Boldre in the near future.

Himalayan Balsam - geograph.org.uk - 963201
Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera)
in middle distance along the riverbank
at Newbridge in the New Forest.

The HLS funds the New Forest Non-Native Plants Removal Project, removing parrots feather, bog arum, skunk cabbage, Montbretia, Japanese Knotweed, Japanese Iris, buddleia, Himalayan honeysuckle, Himalayan balsam and  pitcher plant.

This summary of our Higher Level Stewardship achievements enables everyone to understand how important it is to the New Forest, and the Chancellor’s confirmation of continued funding to 2020 will enable us to keep up our very important work.

Dominic May
Official Verderer
21st September 2016

–used with permission with our thanks.

This is part of the NFA’s initiative to publicise good works on the Forest.  Announcements and Decisions by the Verderers ordinarily do not enter the public record until the minutes of the whole Court, including the in camera sessions, are approved at the subsequent month’s sitting, unless directly reported by the local papers.

The High Level Stewardship scheme is an Environmental subsidy, as evidenced by the word “Stewardship”.  The New Forest HLS scheme is England’s largest.  Whilst this statement from the Official Verderer confirms funding for the current scheme to 2020, there will still be post Brexit implications to subsequent schemes, other habitat funding, agricultural funding and environmental and habitat protections safeguarded under EU legislation, which may need to be back-stopped or re-invented before the formal exit process begins.

The NFA spoke at the July 2016 Verderers Court about some related issues in their Presentment Brexit and The Forest.

Rumour, Wishful Thinking, or Fiction?

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

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

The August 30th Press Release Begins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BR: Through what channels …?

FoL: Board of Natural England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFA Habitat & Landscape 2015-16

Highlighting tomorrow’s NFA AGM, further amended excerpts from our Habitat and Landscape Committee’s Annual Report

Our ecologists have had a very busy year, and I hope they will forgive me if this report cannot hope to capture the full scope of their efforts. They have my, and I presume the Association’s, deepest thanks.

Site Visits

HAL members attended site visits and provided feedback for a variety of Forestry Commission led habitat restoration and maintenance project proposals. This has included:

  •     Linford Bottom
  •     Norley Mire, Bagshot Moor, Upper Crockford Bottom,
  •     Three Beech Bottom and Horseshoe Earth
  •     Ogdens Mire and Sloden Inclosure
  •     Lyndhurst South (Coxlease Lawn, Brick Kiln Mire, Allum Green)
  •     Waters Copse, Withycombe Shade
  •     Broomy/Ocknell Plain (Suburbs Wood Mire, Broomy Bottom, Linford Brook Mire)
  •     Dibden Bottom, The Noads Mire, Ferny Croft

We continue to support the FC’s restorations. We would like to see more resources for monitoring, a more procedural basis for prioritizing the schemes with clear reference to the framework provided by the habitats regulations and the SAC Management Plan and a cohesive grand design for habitat restoration across the whole of the Forest.

The Forest Design Plan

In July 2015, we were one of a select group of conservation organizations invited by the Forestry Commission to comment on their earliest draft of the next Forest Design Plan. With a shift towards much more broadleaf planting, it represents a huge sea change for the foresters. In a much appreciated move, the FC is actively seeking our input and expertise. We hope to see more detail and nuance as the plan is further developed this year, with public consultation this Autumn. Much of this committee’s work over the last decade has been preparing research and evidence to bolster the NFA’s vision for the inclosures as presented in Recovering Lost Landscapes, and has been aided further by changes in government policy as evidenced in the Lawton Report and the Policy on Ancient Woodland Sites.

The Forestry Commission have opened up the next stage of consultation which runs for eight weeks from 11 Apr 2016 to 6 Jun 2016. This will produce the version of the plan which will be submitted for the inspectorate, and final consultation later this year. The NFA will argue that the planned eight weeks may not be sufficient for less nimble organizations (those that meet less frequently, such as Parish Councils, or those larger whose relevant knowledge is spread across expert and consequentially busy staff); we would prefer ten to twelve weeks. When the timeframe was sprung upon the great breadth of Forest organizations in attendance at a special launch day on March 22nd, the FC suggested that they may be “flexible” about the length of the consultation. We will be making our case later this month.

Busketts and Felling Licenses

In Autumn 2015, Neil Sanderson, one of our leading ecologists, spotted veteran and woodland edge trees marked for felling at Busketts Lawn. Whilst this had been done as part of a scheme to improve grazing – and had been granted a felling license – many trees of value, but not detrimental to the lawn, had been marked including glade edge Oaks, nectar source Crab Apples and Hawthorns.

The NFA had not previously been aware of the plans due to the sparse detail available in the list of works we receive through our membership of the Open Forest Advisory Committee, and the equally slim notification of the felling licenses through the parish councils. To the FC’s credit they did manage to arrange a site visit before the works commenced and took on board some of our advice. Whilst from our point of view this was damage limitation rather than success – we saved some trees and shrubs and a large mature Oak – we were also able to make suggestions that were accepted as useful going forward: we got some Oak pollarding, preventing loss of grassland to shade, not previously considered as a tool in lawn management; and by cutting back Holly from former wood edge trees, we agreed to maintain a transition from lawn to wood, both aesthetically, and functionally within the habitat, desirable.

We will be pressing for improvements in the way the FC and Natural England notify felling licenses and document works of this type on the open forest.

New Forest Water Blitz 2016

We did a trial email shot to our members looking for volunteers for the New Forest Water Blitz, a survey taking place during the four week period of 12th March – 10th April 2016. This was a trial run survey taking place as part of the larger Clean Water for Wildlife project. The NFA are promoting this study as a member of the New Forest Catchment Development Group, a clean water initiative between the National Park and the Freshwater Habitats Trust. Over twenty volunteers administered very easy to use water test kits, collecting two samples from assigned locations within the New Forest during the four week period.

Whilst nearly all the Association’s work is done through our council and committees by volunteers from our membership, this was the first time we were able to offer a small scale, “Citizen Science” style volunteer opportunity to engage our members. We were very heartened by the enthusiastic response we received. There will be further opportunities for all to volunteer both as the New Forest Water Blitz is due to be extended (popular demand!) and as the Clean Water for Wildlife project moves forward.

Naomi Ewald of the Freshwater Habitats Trust will be one of the Association’s guest speakers at our post AGM members event. She will be discussing the New Forest Catchment Project and the New Forest Water Blitz.

Going Forward — Other areas of concern to address in 2016:

Countryside Stewardship Scheme – This new version of the HLS funding will need our particular attention. We were very disappointed in the NELMES consultation that produced Natural England’s Countryside Stewardship Statement of Priorities. As funding may be targeted based on the erratic outcomes of the consultation, we are hoping to have these refined or corrected.

Having received negative feedback, Natural England are duly redrafting the document. The NFA are happier that this is being addressed, but will be reviewing the result still wary of the process that produced the original version.

Night Disturbance from LEDs – As part of our tranquillity remit, we want to see the nocturnal disturbance to wildlife and infringement of the New Forest byelaws cease. With our neighbouring conurbations, it is unlikely that we’d ever qualify as an International Dark Sky Reserve (a designation held by 3 other National Parks), but any steps in this direction would be welcome.

— excerpted with updates from the NFA Habitat and Landscape Committee Annual report, by Committee Chair, Brian Tarnoff, with permission.