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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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Rereation 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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Proposed tree felling at Slap Bottom Burley

Statement Issued 20th December 2019

The Association’s attention has been drawn to concerns raised about proposed tree felling within the New Forest at Slap Bottom, Burley. We note comments made by objectors, the intervention of local MP, Sir Desmond Swayne and recent press reports. Some objectors have sought our support.

As Forestry England know well, we are the first to object to any of their proposals for forest operations that we consider not to be in the best interests of the long-term protection of the New Forest. In making these judgements we take the best scientific advice available regarding the implications, overall effects and likely long-term consequences for the New Forest.

In this case we have visited the site and reviewed the proposal together with the necessary consents obtained by Forestry England. These include the Felling License application with associated maps, the habitat restoration purpose of the works, proper consideration under any appropriate assessment requirements of Regulation 63 of the Habitats Regulations, and the views of Natural England that the whole proposal, as submitted, is directly connected to or necessary for the management of this European Site for the interest features for which The New Forest Special Area of Conservation, New Forest Special Protection Area, New Forest RAMSAR Site has been designated. 

In conclusion this proposal is one that is fully supported by the Friends of the New Forest as a well-considered and moderate proposal to restore habitats without harmful landscape impacts.

In a relatively small area an invasive exotic tree, Scots Pine, is being removed from valuable open wetland habitat, which is being damaged by their shade. However, retention of evergreens, both Scots Pine and Holly, is proposed for the neighbouring properties. This is not a large-scale felling but a necessary one to restore degraded habitat, which is internationally threatened and in itself makes a valuable contribution to carbon fixing. The scheme is already a compromise and has been modified to retain a landscape screen for the neighbours.

One of the stated reasons for objection that has been widely circulated by objectors concerns the loss of trees at a time of Climate Crisis, when trees should be planted not felled. The general view that trees are an important part of carbon capture is to be lauded, but in this case it is simplistic and misguided, based on not understanding the interaction of different types and ages of trees and other habitats to maximise opportunities for carbon fixing.

So far as the Climate Change Crisis is concerned, science tells us that removing trees from organic-rich soils will enhance the capacity of that landscape to absorb carbon. If that tree removal is accompanied by wetland restoration then that capacity is further enhanced. More carbon is held in organic-rich soils than in standing trees. In addition, the world (and the New Forest) is facing a Biodiversity Crisis with species extinction, and the Forest’s bogs and heaths have an international importance for wildlife that depends on them being kept free from invasive species such as Scots Pine.

The proposed works will both improve the habitat and prevent the drying out of wetland, so increasing the retention of stored carbon with an overall gain in terms of carbon capture.

www.friendsofthenewforest.org www.facebook.com/NewForestAssociation Registered Charity No: 260328           Hon Secretary: Tara Dempsey secretary@friendsofthenewforest.org Chair: John Ward chair@friendsofthenewforest.org
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Presentment: New Forest Crown Freehold Properties

Here we welcome a guest post from Dr Tony Hockley, Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

I would like to begin with a quotation from the only person I have yet encountered with 100% confidence in their own knowledge of this landscape:

“It is not the flowers, not the birds or the deer or the badgers or the butterflies that are in most urgent need of conservation here but the people, the real people of this place.” *

Chris Packham’s wise words are deeply relevant to what I have to say.

It is now more than two years after I succeeded Dr Ferris as Chair of the CDA. Since then nothing has caused me greater and more consistent concern than the challenge of ensuring that there will be affordable land and homes available for the next generation of commoners – in Britain’s least affordable National Park ** .

We are fortunate that we have a keen and active young commoners group in the CDA. Young people who are willing to commit their lives to sustaining the grazing of the New Forest – An incredible vocational commitment, amongst all the other pressures of modern life, upon which everything that is so special about this landscape depends.

In 1991, after a thorough review of the challenges and all options to sustain grazing, the Secretary of State determined that the 65 Crown holdings should be prioritised for those who would commit to New Forest grazing, and that they should be kept truly affordable to them. Since the time of the Illingworth Report these holdings have enabled families with a long history of commoning to maintain the practice, from one generation to the next. We all benefit from their love of the New Forest, their deep knowledge of the livestock and the landscape, and their lifelong commitment to commoning. The Crown holdings have been crucial in this.

In 2016 all that changed – on a whim. The Forestry Commission simply decided that market rents would help fill the coffers: To cash in on property values in Britain’s most expensive and least affordable National Park. In 2017 Sir Desmond Swayne prompted ministers to remind the Commission that such a change of policy would require a formal and inclusive review, and a decision by ministers. Since then we have caught the Commission advertising cottages to the highest bidder, with no mention of grazing, and allocating them to its own managers however it sees fit.

Forestry England is now attempting to entrap this Court in its disgraceful strategy of privatisation by stealth. By selecting just one small part of the Government policy, for one cottage at New Park; this is the involvement of Verderers in tenant selection. Clearly, it hopes that the Court will not notice:

  1. Every other holding has been auctioned or allocated to staff. With no consultation with this Court: Powdermill, Kings Hat, Longbeech, Springfield.
  2. The rent for Little New Park has been fixed at more than 100% of many young commoners’ household income. Not the 15% stipulated by Government. With no consultation with this Court.
  3. An arbitrary qualification has been set, that at least 10 ponies will be turned out from Little New Park’s 1.3 acres of back-up land. With no consultation with this Court
  4. It has separated the barn from the property: Again with no consultation with this Court.
  5. For Little New Park it is demanding income statements from anyone interested, to check they can afford £18,000 a year in rent alone and to deter all those commoners who cannot.

Tenant selection is, therefore, just a trap that the Court would be wise to avoid. This is simply a diversion along the route to effective privatisation of the Crown freeholds; removing them from support for commoning.

This open defiance of government policy for Crown property is shameful from a public body. It not only defies policies that have worked well to sustain Forest grazing over a quarter century. It also defies the Ministers Mandate to the Commission; that it should put the Forest first, ahead of its corporate financial interests. And it defies the 2018 Accord with National Parks England. I am very sorry to say that we no longer have confidence in the Deputy Surveyor to put the Forest first in this regard.

This is a matter of the utmost gravity for the future of commoning in the New Forest. We have tried for three years to work with the Forestry Commission – willing to discuss update the Illingworth policies, but their ears are deaf to the voice of the Forest. They will push on regardless of all due process. Standing idly by whilst Forestry England misappropriates these Crown properties, so that tenancy is a matter of income rather than the good of the Forest, will have lasting consequences for the conservation of this precious landscape. We are very grateful to the Friends of the New Forest for their support.

I have written to the Secretary of State to ask him to put a stop to this disgraceful episode. I would urge the Court and the National Park Authority to do likewise.

Dr Tony Hockley is a Practicing Commoner and Chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association. This has been shared with his express permission, and represents the view of the CDA.

The Friends of the New Forest fully support this position, and have and will continue to stress the importance of all initiatives to maintain affordable housing stock for practicing commoners which is essential to commoning’s continuing service to the Forest.

The CDA Blog post detailing more of the history including the Illingworth report may be read here.

* Chris Packham, Foreword to Clive Chatters “Flowers of the New Forest” WildGuides (2009), p9
** Average property values within the National Park boundary are now 15.9 times average local income.

 

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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: Ashurst Hospital Site

1909 Map including the layout of the Ashurst Workhouse

 

We welcome a guest post from our former chair, Peter Roberts, who gave this Presentment in this month’s Verderers Court.

Ashurst workhouse from the west c.1907.

My name is Peter Roberts. I am a former Verderer and a former resident of Ashurst.

Yesterday the National Park Authority published their Plan Amendments which includes the use of of land at Ashurst for housing. This land is the former Workhouse Site, which was taken from the open Forest in 1836. When the grant for the land was made there was a specific reservation that in the event of the workhouse no longer being required it should revert to the Forest. Seven acres of the site were returned to the Forest in 1988, thanks mainly to the work of the late Verderer David Stagg.

The remaining land is commonable land from which the common rights have never been removed. It should be returned to the open Forest for grazing for the commoners stock. I implore you to object most strongly to the National Park Proposed Main Modifications and work towards returning this land to the rightful users.


1836 Site Plan

Notes:
The grant was made on 31st December 1836 and may be found in the Wood Lease Books now held by the Forestry Commission in Queen’s House (Vol 4 pp 279-285). The original is at Kew: NRA ‘Grants of land for Workhouse 1836-1915’, F10/52 4079/1.

We thank Peter for permission to share this Presentment, and his notes.  For the 150th Anniversary of the New Forest Association (aka Friends of the New Forest) he wrote our history in Saving the New Forest.

At last month’s court, in a short, off the cuff, two sentence presentment, one of our trustees similarly urged the Verderers to assert the Forest’s rights to the land in question. Our planning committee had made a representation to the New Forest National Park Local Plan Inspectors regarding the site.  Notes from both Peter Roberts and Richard Reeves regarding the site were shared privately with the Verderers at that time.

New Forest Local Plan Modifications are open to consultation until 31st May 2019.  More information, including the additional Ashurst Workhouse allocation, which does NOT recognize nor even mentions the Forest rights of the portion not returned to the Forest, may be found here.

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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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Announcements & Decisions Verderers Court 17th April 2019

This month’s announcements include warnings about dumping garden waste on the Forest as a hazard to the livestock, foals on Forest roads, out of control dogs, pleas to not feed livestock, the HLS AGM and Open Evening, and the appointment of the DEFRA Verderer.

Garden Waste

We are approaching the time of year when we will all be cutting our lawns and tidying our gardens after the winter. Please may we remind residents that lawn mowings are very dangerous to ponies and donkeys and they must not be left where the animals can get to them. Tipping your grass cuttings over the fence or emptying a bag on the Open Forest may be a cheap and easy way of disposing of your garden waste, but it can result in a very sick or dead pony.

Mown grass left in a heap heats up and when eaten, the resulting gasses that accumulate in the stomach of a pony or donkey can result in a very painful death for the unfortunate animal. Many garden plants and shrubs are toxic and can also cause illness or the death of any animal which eats them. Please dispose of your garden waste responsibly. Compost it on your property or take it to the tip. Please remember if you live in an area accessible to Forest stock and your garden waste is collected by NFDC always keep the waste sacks inside your boundary for collection.

Foals On The Forest’s Roads

The time is approaching when foals will soon be born on the Forest. Like all young things, foals love to play. However, they have no road sense and will run across the road without warning, so we would like to remind drivers to please take extra care in the Forest.

Please Don’t Feed The Animals

We constantly have to remind people not to hand feed the Forest ponies and donkeys. The Forestry Commission puts up signs and the Ranger teams visit picnic sites and busy car parks talking to people and explaining why it is so important that people don’t feed the animals.

Unfortunately, however, despite all our efforts some people ignore our requests and as a result, every year we have to order ponies and donkeys off the Forest because they have become too demanding in trying to persuade people to feed them. This is not fair on the animals which face a very uncertain future and it is not fair on their owners who want their animals to be out on the Forest. Please DON’T feed the animals.

Out Of Control Dogs

Another commoner’s animal has been attacked by a dog.

A donkey was found at the weekend on the Northern Commons with extremely serious injuries to her muzzle, face and neck. The vet who was called to treat the animal confirmed the injuries were definitely been caused by a large dog. The donkey’s owner is now incurring costly veterinary fees and the animal is badly traumatised, in a lot of pain and struggling to eat. It is quite possible that the donkey will not survive.

The New Forest is a wonderful place to take a dog for a walk but it is irresponsible and unfair to allow a dog to inflict injury on another animal. Every year several Forest animals are either badly injured or die as a result of dog attacks. Anyone who cannot be certain of keeping a dog in their charge under proper control, should not let it off the lead.

Defra’s Appointed Verderer

I am sorry to have to report that Hallam Mills, who has served the Court as Defra’s appointed Verderer for the past six years, has decided not to seek appointment for a further three years.

Hallam has made a valuable contribution to the running of the Verderers’ Court and we will miss his knowledge and wise counsel.

As a result of Hallam deciding to step down in July, Defra is seeking his replacement. An advertisement will appear shortly in the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times and a copy of the advert will also be available on our website.

Applicants for this unpaid position should have a good knowledge of animal welfare and in addition, ideally both a working knowledge of livestock and experience of the New Forest’s unique system of depasturing stock. In addition, they should have an understanding of the pressures arising from the need to balance the interests of agriculture, conservation, and recreation in the Forest.

Please note that whilst we are happy to answer general queries about the duties of a Verderer, Defra is handling the actual appointment process. Details of how to apply will be contained in the advertisement. Completed applications must be returned to Defra by 31st May 2019.

HLS 2019 Celebration Evening

Please join us on Wednesday 22nd May from 6pm at Minstead Village Hall for an evening celebrating the work taking place to protect and enhance the internationally important habitats of the New Forest. It will be a great opportunity to look back at the achievements of the HLS scheme over the last 9 years. It is also an opportunity to thank our volunteers who have contributed so much of their time to help deliver the scheme’s objectives. The Verderers HLS Scheme is due to expire at the end of February 2020. A great deal of effort is going into trying to secure a future scheme to provide funding for commoning and other environmental support for the Forest. There has been extensive contact with politicians, Defra officials and Natural England. However it is too soon to predict with any certainty what the outcome of those discussions will be.

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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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Rewilding The New Forest?

Sir Charles Burrell, Diana Westerhoff, Debbie Tann and Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre

The growl of a large grizzly bear filled the hall at Lyndhurst Community Centre and the audience of two hundred people gasped. As curtains drew back and they were confronted with a huge picture of the bear, they listened attentively to Sir Charles Burrell’s description of his pioneering rewilding project at his family estate, Knepp, in West Sussex. At the event organised by the Friends of the New Forest, Sir Charles explained that rewilding is not currently about bringing back such major predators as we don’t have the right eco-systems. He showed how Britain has only tiny pockets of true ‘nature’, and we need to care for these but also need more, bigger, better and more joined-up areas if we are to have a real impact on nature conservation.

Sir Charles went on to describe how over a period of six years, the Knepp estate moved away from traditional arable and pastoral farming on what he said was very poor quality Wealden Clay land, whose production capacity was falling short of national averages. He divided the estate into three main areas, which were treated differently. In the southern block, formerly mainly arable land, field hedges were removed, and the land was stocked with Tamworth pigs, Old English Longhorn cattle and Exmoor ponies, while three species of deer soon made themselves at home.  Scrub developed quickly, though each former field responded differently.

The middle block where the old Knepp Castle had been was believed to be a cultural landscape, a park with a large hammer pond designed by Repton. It was re-seeded with grass and wildflowers, which deterred an exuberant explosion of scrub. The resulting grassland is stocked with ponies, cattle and deer but no pigs.

The northern block had been farmed for dairy cattle, and was re-seeded with grasses but no wildflowers, and is now stocked just with cattle. The resulting open farmscape is slowly developing a little scrub. Sir Charles explained how he had been criticised for creating scrubland, and pointed out that pollen data from 6,000 years ago reveals that only one third of Britain was covered by woodland, contrary to the popular myth that a squirrel could once pass from tree to tree without touching the ground from Lands End to John O’Groats.

The Knepp project is steered by an advisory board of international experts from many relevant fields,. In order to have a more convenient term for a ‘long-term, minimum intervention, natural process-led area’, which although accurate would hardly inspire anyone,  ‘rewilding’ was adopted. This team looked at the UK’s extinct animals and selected proxies which would be appropriate, for example, cattle to replace aurochs. Sir Charles enthusiastically described how the animals seem to complement each other, and the new habitats have drawn in huge numbers and varieties of insects, birds and animals as well as plants, many more than when the estate was farmed traditionally. The estate employs a full-time ecologist to survey, monitor and record these. They have also found that their soil biodiversity and function have improved significantly.

Perhaps surprisingly Sir Charles then demonstrated how the changes have also benefitted the estate financially. Even excluding the tourism, camping and glamping activities which he has developed, the income from the farming side of the estate now well exceeds the national average by some 30%.

Sir Charles was then joined on the platform by Debbie Tann, Chief Executive of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and Diana Westerhoff, a Verderer, to answer questions from the floor. Debbie Tann said that she has visited Knepp and been most impressed by what the estate is doing. She said that wildlife in Britain is disappearing at an alarming rate and we need imagination and new bold thinking to put nature into recovery. She reported that the Trust is looking for opportunities in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to create larger scale reserves and one or two ‘Knepps’.

Diana Westerhoff commented that while the New Forest is very different to Knepp, there have been some efforts at rewilding. The Forest Design Plan is resulting in restoration to traditional land use in some areas, while the wetland restoration programme is returning lost habitats to a favourable condition.

Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre, President of the Friends of the New Forest, noted that one of the six reasons for rewilding listed on the Knepp website was the revitalisation of communities, and wondered how this could be achieved where farms are smaller. To this question, Sir Charles responded with news of an upland farmer he had met at the Oxford farming conference. By changing his pattern of sheep farming including actually reducing stock numbers, and diversifying into holiday lets, he had managed to make his business much more sustainable.

In reply to a question about the impact of global warming on wildlife habitats, Debbie Tann agreed that there is some impact on habitats but possibly more on the food needed by wildlife. She gave the examples of a crash in insect numbers and changes in timing of bird migration having severe effects. Diana Westerhoff added an example of the falcon species, the hobby, declining in the Forest because of a decline in the numbers of house martins, a favoured food of their young. And Sir Charles gave his own example of cuckoos, which have returned to Knepp in good numbers. However they feed with swifts in sub-Saharan Africa, and if it doesn’t rain there for five weeks and there are no insects, they never arrive in Britain.

Another audience member proposed that people are increasingly intolerant of wild landscapes and incapable of being sensible round large herbivores, and wondered if rewilding as a concept would help. Maybe because visitors to Knepp understand they are visiting a ‘rewilded’ landscape, they are more respectful of the large grazing herbivores than visitors to the New Forest are with the free-roaming livestock. Sir Charles recalled a neighbouring farmer who runs educational visits finding that even young farmers could not name common trees, and he suggested that we need more nature education as part of the curriculum. Debbie Tann suggested that we need to rewild people and regretted that many children have never known the fun of running around in long grass.

Questioned about the complexities of environmental stewardship schemes, Sir Charles noted that the Rural Payments Agency uses Google satellite images to categorise landscape, resulting in confused and contradictory definitions which need to be sorted out soon. Diana Westerhoff reported that the Higher Level Stewardship scheme includes more or less all grazed land but the Rural Payments Agency excludes gorse as non-grazing land even though ponies happily eat it in winter.

Comparing the New Forest to Knepp, the next questioner noted that while Knepp has withdrawn from management, in the New Forest we manage both land and stock much more. Diana Westerhoff pointed out that the Forest starts from a very different position, resulting from biodiversity developed over thousands of years. It would be good to have other Knepps around the Forest but we could lose from emulating it in the Forest itself. Debbie Tann added that only 55% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the Forest are classified as in a ‘favourable’ condition, little better than  compared with 45% across the whole of Hampshire, and some extra wilding activity might be helpful to improve this. Sir Charles picked up the point of rewilding people and felt that this arises from inspirational things in the landscape – think beyond the box. What about bison?

Focusing on the Forest, it was suggested that the grazed areas of the forest do not enjoy the abundance of wildlife described at Knepp and the questioner asked what impact animal density has on this. Sir Charles felt that it was not necessary to worry about it. This is just a moment in time, and livestock numbers wax and wane over long periods. Diana Westerhoff endorsed this and added that even short-grazed turf may be home to species missing from other habitats. The woodlands are rich in insects like moths and in bats but we just don’t often see them.

Sir Charles was asked to explain the term ‘pop-up Knepps’ mentioned in his talk. He pointed out that farms and estates pass down the generations and landowners may not wish to tie the land forever to specific conservation designations like SSSIs. So a commitment to plan for 10 or 20 years would enable people to choose to return to conventional farming in the future. The Knepp estate has footpaths crossing it and Sir Charles was asked how he manages the public. He stated that longhorn cattle were useful in deterring people from straying from paths, but that dog-walkers were a problem for ground-nesting birds.  He suggested that good paths, routes, maps and signs were all needed.

Thinking again of the Forest, two questions raised the effect of grazing levels on the possible decline in wildlife and growth of new trees, issues welcomed by the audience with applause. Diana Westerhoff noted that studies on the impact of grazing on ground-nesting birds showed that it was hard to separate it from other factors like deer numbers, dog-walking, predators and climate change. But she commented that it was hard to control over-grazing. Tree regeneration is a long-term business and the Forest includes pasture woodland rather than dense canopy woodland.

At this point John Ward, Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest, said that he did not feel comfortable at being told we don’t have enough information so cannot take action, and asked the panel whether, nonetheless, it might be possible to divide the Forest into areas and exclude recreational access to part of it in order to test rewilding. Sir Charles responded positively, saying that the Forest is large enough to do this. Joking, he even suggested bringing back wolves to control the deer! But he felt that it was possible to amend stock intensity and deer density. He also pointed out the value of thorn bushes which protect young trees, quoting an ancient forestry saying: ‘the thorn is the mother of the oak’. An audience member added that a 400-year old oak only needs one seedling produced during its lifetime to replace itself.

The next question raised the issue of recreational pressure. Debbie Tann agreed that for the New Forest this is the greatest current problem. The words ‘National Park’ mislead the public, and some rewilding might make the nature and purpose of the Forest clearer. We need to be braver, for example in challenging plans for housing development, and local authorities should be providing alternative green space for recreation outside the Forest.

Finally Peter Roberts, previous Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest, enquired what would be the smallest area which could engage in rewilding, with the large estates around the Forest and the Forestry Commission in mind. Sir Charles gave examples of the area which a pig needs per week, because scale matters. The smaller the area, the more management you have to do. The bigger you get, the more you can sit back and leave it alone.

At the end of a stimulating and wide-ranging discussion, Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre thanked Sir Charles for his talk and admired his courage in rewilding Knepp, also thanking Debbie Tann and Diana Westerhoff for their contribution and finally urging the audience to join the Friends of the New Forest to support its fight for the Forest’s sustainable future.

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