The New Forest Association has been following the progress of stream restoration work done by the Forestry Commission carefully over the years. The Association backed the first of these projects in 2005 with some trepidation. Confidence has grown as the results came through and management techniques evolved. The work has been carried out sympathetically and has done much to enhance the overall environment for the long term.
Our ecologists agree with Natural England that these works should help restore these precious habitats to “favourable” condition. We are delighted with the results of similar completed restorations, we are enthusiastic in our support for this proposal. We join our support to that of the Hampshire and IOW Wildlife Trust, Ringwood Natural History Society, and the British Dragonfly Society, amongst others.
Natural England do condition assessments on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). They found that for many of those sites in “unfavourable” condition on the Forest, a contributing factor was previous drainage works (many Victorian). As the Land Manager of the Crown Lands of the New Forest, the Forestry Commission is obliged to improve units in adverse condition. The programme of wetland restoration was seen as the best response to the condition assessment. The latest tranche of these is being done through the High Level Stewardship Scheme which is part of the wider Environmental Stewardship subsidies (from the EU). These projects are controlled by a project Board whose voting members are the statutory bodies with responsibilities for the Crown Lands: The National Park Authority, the Forestry Commission and the Verderers of the New Forest. Consultation on versions of the scheme at Latchmore has been going on since 2009. Along the way, the proposal was expanded to include all the areas in the stream catchment above Latchmore so that all the project areas that would be needed for eventual success could be rolled into one larger Planning Application. Making the application that size has also meant extra due diligence including a voluntary Environmental Impact Assessment, and extensive consultation.
The project will decrease flood risk downstream. An elementary understanding of hydrology would tell you that taking a straightened Victorian drain, and replacing it with curving meanders will slow down the egress of water from the system. Birmingham and So’ton Uni’s used the river catchment upstream of Brockenhurst, where previous restorations under the HLS, Final 4000 and LIFE3 programs have been completed over the last decade, for a study showing “flooding alleviated by targeted tree planting and river restoration”.
The British Dragonfly Society response to the planning application concludes, “The removal of shade by clearing trees and scrub, the reinstatement of meanders and the other associated works to restore the site will, we believe, improve the opportunities for Southern Damselfly to spread.”
Friends of Latchmore
We have no doubt that the “Friends of Latchmore” and their supporters love the Forest. However, their leaders have waged a one-sided campaign full of scaremongering unsubstantiated claims of ecological disaster. This is strong emotive stuff, if we took what they say at face value, we’d join their barricades, but their black and white view of the matter stifles debate and cheats their followers of the full view of the facts. They don’t even try to discount the great support from ecologists and conservation organizations, they ignore it, and they certainly don’t mention it to their followers. Nor will they concede the great successes of previously completed restorations. They have the gall to selectively quote, on their website, the British Dragonfly Society, who support the project.
Not that they don’t have valid points to make, but they bury them under a white noise of hyperbole, and irrelevancies. Instead of making points constructively and proportionately, they, in their clutching at straws manner, nitpick any small mistake with previous restorations as though it were a thorough refutation. These are the kind of minor notes the NFA and others would simply press upon the FC to add to their maintenance program.
|the Brook in normal conditions
photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission
There is one stream, Ditchend Brook, which had work completed in 2014, which hasn’t bedded in as quickly as some of the other projects (which, frankly have bedded in much more quickly than expected). When particularly dry, there is a stretch that the FoL like to photograph and parade as a “failed restoration” (although they offer no criteria for this “failure”), they are seemingly alarmed by the large stone cobbles (which replicate the type of substrate found here, and are less likely to be washed downstream) .
The FoL are fond of suggesting that the Planning Authority cannot be impartial as the National Park is also a “partner” in the project. Their assertion cynically relies on oversimplification and ignorance.
The National Park Authority is only a “partner” in the project inasmuch as it is one of the statutory bodies required to be on the project board, and only benefits from the project as it successfully fulfills the Park’s statutory purposes “to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area”. The NPA is represented on the board by their Chief Exec Alison Barnes.
The NPA’s Planning Committee is made up of 14 of the 22 members of the Park Authority. The Committee is mostly local Parish, Town, District and County Councillors (12) and 2 Secretary of State Appointees (through DEFRA). As with any Planning Authority they have strict criteria they must adhere to, and whilst they may seek advice from the civil servant staff of the Authority including their own ecologists and the Chief Exec, the decisions are theirs. No previous scheme has been refused because, like the present one, they are worthwhile restorations to improve the habitat. There is no conflict of interest as the Chief Exec on the board of the project serves the members of the Authority, not the other way around.
Does the NFA uncritically support these Wetland Restorations? No. Nor do we unreservedly support all of the Forestry Commission’s plans. For example, we are currently challenging the FC to have a serious rethink of their current version of the proposed Forest Design Plan, and we just successfully campaigned for the FC to tighten their regulation of fungi foraging on the New Forest SSSI.
We continue to campaign for better monitoring both by the Forestry Commission and Natural England which would make the case on paper for this and future restorations much more cut and dried. We may have preferred a more strategic prioritization of restorations (admittedly this could easily have been a tail chasing money burning exercise with little net benefit). We seriously note concerns raised by the New Forest Equestrian Association : road safety and transport of materials, and New Forest History and Archaeology Group : inaccuracies and omissions in the archaeological report, but believe these may be mitigated and rectified, and the Planning Authority and applicants should work with all interested parties to achieve this.
With any new scheme it is accepted that there will be some disruption in the immediate vicinity. Much of the scrub clearance would have been carried out as part of normal open Forest work for Commoning pasture management. This work compliments ancient lawn maintenance and adds to biodiversity. The area will recover quickly and be a better place for wildlife and the stream will meander across the lawn as it did once before. On balance, we have concluded that this project is worthwhile and should be approved.
If you are on the fence about support for this project, we hope that you will avail yourself of information (see further reading below). But, if you’d prefer to ponder this over a pleasant walk, we’d suggest you go and walk the Warwickslade Cutting, near Rhinefield Drive. The restoration on this stretch was completed in 2009. It was proposed and funded under the Final 4000, a project between the Forestry Commission, the National Park Authority, Natural England and the Environment Agency. It was done with the approval of the Verderers and with no opposition from the Commoners Defence Association (keep in mind that this project did not include any subsidy to benefit either). When you walk the stream at Warwickslade, you will be hard pressed to even imagine that work was done there, the only indication of the original straight channel you may glimpse is a gap in the canopy of the trees that were once either side. This is a mere seven years later, but it already looked this good five years ago.
|Latchmore Brook, abandoned meander.|
You may also want to go walk the Latchmore Brook itself. The original meanders are still very apparent, although the Victorians cut the throat of their source to convert the Brook to a drain. In the photo at the top of this note you’ll see part of the meander to the left of the current course. It’s edged by an area of parched grass to the left that would likely be green improved grazing if the meander were in place and functioning with its floodplain. Imagine a stream gently flowing through the middle of the picture on the right, consider whether that harms, improves or equals the beauty we have now.
Finally, please consider this: The Victorian Engineers who put in the drainage works did not do Environmental Impact Assessments, they did not use sensitive methods of moving stream beds aside, so that invertebrates and other features of the habitat could be preserved, as done in the restorations we have now. Spoil heaps were left willy-nilly, conditions for erosion and bank instability were created, and the stream was disconnected from its natural flood plain. Despite the bullishly done works of our forebears, these areas have bounced back. Nature is resilient. We need look further than our own lifetimes, both to the future and the past. If this work does not go forward, it will be a missed opportunity to provide an ecosystem more resilient to change, and to restore landscape and habitat.
Going forward the NFA hope we can all hold the Forestry Commission up to the highest standards for implementation, monitoring and maintenance of this work.
– Brian Tarnoff, Chair, Habitat and Landscape Committee, New Forest Association
(a modified version appeared previously as a note on our Facebook page)
For more information on the schemes, as well as a good look at all the very successful schemes the FoL neglect to mention:
For a smattering of both sides of the argument have a look at the Presentments from the June 2012 Verderers Court: http://www.verderers.org.uk/jun12mins.pdf
For the official NFA Response to the Planning Application from our Planning Committee: http://publicaccess.newforestnpa.gov.uk/online-applications/files/6E1746670EAA39568B650AFD5B85BDF0/pdf/16_00571-MR_G_BAKER__NEW_FOREST_ASSOCIATION__-_NEIGHBOUR_REPRESENTEE-578576.pdf
For the supplemental NFA Response to the Planning Application from our Habitat and Landscape Committee: http://publicaccess.newforestnpa.gov.uk/online-applications/files/D1506ED02A3ADDF94479BB09D0A55E3F/pdf/16_00571-MR_B_TARNOFF__CHAIR_HABITAT___LANDSCAPE_COMMITTEE_NEW_FOREST_ASSOCIATION-582830.pdf
For the rest of the BDS response: http://publicaccess.newforestnpa.gov.uk/online-applications/files/3FCA4CD543DBA6FD8C17CBD415C58F63/pdf/16_00571-DR_P_TAYLOR__BRITISH_DRAGONFLY_SOCIETY__-_NEIGHBOUR_REPRESENTEE-577179.pdf
This study from Birmingham and So’ton Uni’s used the river catchment upstream of Brockenhurst where previous restorations under the HLS, Final 4000 and LIFE3 programs have been completed over the last decade: “Flooding alleviated by targeted tree planting and river restoration, scientists discover”
The River Restoration Centre used the work at Warwickslade Cutting for their Manual of River Restoration Techniques, although these may not be the same for the Latchmore project, it gives an indication of the great care that is taken in these restorations, and is worth a look http://www.therrc.co.uk/MOT/Final_Versions_%28Secure%29/1.11_Highland_Water.pdf
Warwickslade project for comparison: a mix of 8,000 tonnes of hoggin (dug sand and gravel mix) and 800 tonnes of firm clay by-product, both sourced locally, for 2km stretch, at a cost of £214,500.
Much larger project for Latchmore Brook and the many restorations further up the catchment: 5km of old Brook meanders will be restored, 8km of main channel, tributaries and side drains will have their bed level raised, and 4.6km of main channel, tributaries and side drains will be infilled. Total 13km restored/repaired, 4.6km infilled. Approx 96,000 tonnes Cost Approx £1,500,000. (based on estimates available at time of writing)