Archived news (7)
News items published in early 2017
Petition reaches 5000 signatures
Sunday 10th June
Recently. the online 38-degrees petition "Forest Privatisation by the back door" passed a significant landmark: 5000 signatures. Fineshade resident, Paul Hackett, started the petition when it became clear that Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission were planning to erect 70 cabins in Fineshade Wood. The petition calls for "this duplicitous privatisation of the forests through the back door" to be stopped.
In Feb 2011 the “save our forests” campaign was considered to be over when the Government said the forests would not be privatised. The Forestry Commission and Directors of Forest Holidays and their financial backers appear to have reversed this policy by taking possession of public forests on 125 year leases and using that natural resource for their personal gain. This must be against the stated policy of the current Government and against the wishes of the 700,000 people who voted supporting the original save our Forest campaign.
The amazing level of support that this petition has attracted should certainly be taken into account by FC managers as they review the potential of Fineshade as a Forest Holidays site.
Friday 19th May and updated 1st and 9th June
Friends of Fineshade have always appreciated the support of our local politicians of all parties and at all levels as we have campaigned to protect the wood from exploitation. Parish, District and County Councillors have all been superb as have both of our previous MPs, Andy Sawford and Tom Pursglove. With the Westminster election just weeks away we wondered what those standing for parliament would make of the news that Forestry Commission will be re-assessing Fineshade's potential as a Forest Holidays site.
We heard first from Beth Miller, the Labour Party candidate. Beth says that she grew up in the area and is well aware of this very special area of ancient woodland. Beth issued the following statement:
"As the Labour candidate for Corby, I fully support Friends of Fineshade’s opposition to plans for holiday development. The Forestry Commission should withdraw the threat once and for all."
Similar sentiments were expressed by the Liberal Democrat candidate, Chris Stanbra
"As Liberal Democrat candidate for Corby I fully support Friends of Fineshade’s opposition to plans for holiday development. The Forestry Commission should withdraw the threat once and for all. "
The Conservative Party candidate, Tom Pursglove gave Fineshade very strong support in a lengthy Facebook post on 26th May. We were particularly pleased to read this.
If I am re-elected, I hope to meet urgently with the group (Friends of Fineshade) to discuss these latest developments, before requesting a meeting with the Forestry Commission to reaffirm the concerns raised, and to try and inform their decision-making process.
Tom was re-elected MP for Corby in the 8th June election so we look forward very much to taking him up on his offers. It was great to know that there is a cross-party consensus urging the Forestry Commission to remove the threat to exploit Fineshade.
Support from local politicians
Statement concerning Forest Holidays
Tuesday 16th May
We are very grateful to Jo Atkinson (District Head of Recreation and Public Affairs, Forestry Commission - Central England) for providing the following statement last week during a meeting exploring ways of improving the relationship between FC and the Fineshade community.
The Forestry Commission national team are currently developing the programme for Forest Holidays sites within each Forest District, and as such Fineshade is incorporated within this work as part of a wider Central Forest District strategy.
Potential opportunities for Forest Holidays sites within each of the Districts are currently being assessed as part of a national scoping exercise, and it is hoped that we can complete the Central District exercise by late summer 2017.
Once this exercise has been completed, a clear programme will be developed and communicated to staff and stakeholders.
What does this mean in practice for Fineshade?
You can read our comments on this statement here.
Wednesday 19th April
Sunday 9th April was one of those perfect sunny days in early spring – a day when everyone wants to get out and breathe the air. Very many families came to Top Lodge, encouraged no doubt by the Forestry Commission’s local and national promotion of the Gruffalo Spotters trail. Both the main carpark and the overflow one soon filled with cars and, with no FC organisation, the single track lane to Fineshade filled with cars parked on both sides of the road, particularly in the passing places. It took one Fineshade resident at least half an hour to negotiate his way down the lane.
During Bank-holiday Monday the same situation arose, as these photos show. The two carparks had 165 vehicles parked and a further 21 driving around or waiting for a space. Along the single-track lane there were another 63 vehicles parked partly on the verges, and in the passing places. Resident Chris Arden who works as a fire-fighter in Corby says that in several places the gap between parked vehicles was considerably less than the 2.5 m width of a fire appliance. Chris says:
"Had the Fire Service been required to attend, entry to Fineshade would have been virtually impossible. Even if an appliance had managed to negotiate the traffic, their efforts would have been severely hampered because one visitor had parked their car directly over the only fire hydrant!"
Fineshade residents are very concerned about the impact of increased traffic at Top Lodge. Since the beginning of the year they have been asking the FC for the chance to discuss a range of issues including traffic, but any communication has so far proved impossible.
Certainly it is clear to everyone (except, it seems, FC managers) that Top Lodge and Fineshade Wood cannot cope with the huge numbers of visitors which occur as a result of the promotion of attractions like the Gruffalo Spotters Trail. Fineshade is a small wood and its facilities and access are limited, so it needs much more sensitive management if it is to be preserved for what it is most valued.
For the moment, at least, if you want to experience Fineshade’s tranquility and rich wildlife, it’s certainly best to avoid weekends.
Wednesday 26th April
This response was received from the Forestry Commission's via Twitter today.
Hi, sorry for the delay in getting back to you about the parking issues on the Bank holiday weekend.
It was a warm weekend and from conversations with our competitors (e.g. country parks etc), all available green spaces were put under significant pressure from the public, causing similar issues at many sites. Whilst we own the land after the railway bridge, the grass verges remain part of the public highway and whilst we have signs up asking people not to park on the verges we own, we are unable to carry out any enforcement on these verges, or the land that we do not own.
We have contacted the local highways community liaison officer and the local police, and we are working with them to discuss any potential solutions that can mitigate dangerous parking, both on and off our land. Meanwhile we are looking into plans and seeking resources to increase the capacity within the existing car park.
Gridlock at weekends (updated)
Wednesday 5th April
Yesterday, another attempt by Forest Holidays (FH) to exploit a much-loved part of the Public Forest Estate in the face of passionate local opposition was thrown out by a Local Planning Authority. A previous application in Delamere Forest in Cheshire had already been rejected by the Secretary of State because it lies within the Green Belt but, unaccountably, FH supported by the Forestry Commission had brought back a very slightly amended planning application.
The full meeting of the planning committee is available to view online here. It is item 7 on the agenda and is well worth watching, particularly for the contributions of two of the two public speakers, Mr Medland and Mr Gilding. As well as dealing with the local issues, their words have more general importance that apply equally to Fineshade and other parts of the Public Forest Estate.
Rather than someone from Forest Holidays itself, the application was supported by none other than the Chief Executive of Forestry Commission England, Simon Hodgson. But the planning committee were not at all impressed and, watching the video, one can certainly understand why. Just as at Fineshade, the whole sorry episode can have done little to improve the Forestry Commission’s reputation both locally and nationally. We hope that the Commissioners will take note.
Forest Holidays rejected again
Friday 31st March
It was announced today that HLF has granted funding for a nationwide project aimed at bring some of the UK’s rarest species back from the brink of extinction. The project is being run by Natural England and the Partnership for Species Conservation – a coalition of seven of the UK’s leading wildlife charities (Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). By working together at sites across the country, ‘Back from the Brink’ will save 20 species from extinction and help another 118 species that are under threat move to a more certain future.
One of the areas that will be targeted is Rockingham Forest and the particular site to receive attention with be here at Fineshade Wood, where the Chequered Skipper Butterfly will be re-introduced. The project recognises the significant biodiversity value of the wood and will be a means of managing the habitat sensitively so as to benefit threatened species. The Friends of Fineshade have been keen to offer community support for this project and look forward to working with the project team and the Forestry Commission to ensure the project’s success.
You can read more about the project here
Female Chequered Skipper on bluebells.
Photo copyright Peter Eeles
Back from the Brink to go ahead
Friday 17th March
The caravan site at Top Lodge opened again today after the winter closure, and all day caravans have been making their way cautiously up the single track lane. Overnight the resident population of Top Lodge is multiplied ten-fold. And already we're seeing old Friends of Fineshade (and their dogs) walking in the woods once again. The site is very popular and, from now until next October, almost every pitch will be occupied, with some people spending weeks at a time here. There may be as many as 5000 caravanners visiting during the season.
However, there are some changes this year. There are new wardens - welcome Lynne and Neil: we hope you'll enjoy your time in Fineshade. But also the name of the club has changed. The previous Caravan Club has been re-branded as the Caravan and Motorhome club. (Details here).
But we'd like to propose a further change of name. The Club calls this their "Stamford" site. Now, Stamford is a very attractive town and is only 8 miles away, but why doesn't the Club refer to it as its "Fineshade" site we wonder? After all Fineshade is a very attractive name. But, as Shakespeare's Juliet said "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet".
Welcome back, with a new name
Friday 24th February
The storm that swept rapidly across the UK yesterday has been followed by blue skies, light breezes and signs of spring. But yesterday was another matter entirely and, at times, it was quite blowy at Top Lodge! Soon after 8:00 yesterday morning the Forestry Commission took the very sensible decision to close the carparks and Visitor Centre - they also put up warning signs about the dangers of falling trees. We had not had storm force winds here for some years, so there were lots of dead trees and branches ready to come crashing down to the forest floor. It was clearly not a day to be walking in the wood.
Today it's obvious that there has been damage - particularly along the western parts of the wood that were exposed to the worst that Doris could do. For example, in the northern part of Far Markham Wood several mature trees were blown over and, within sight of the Tree House, an enormous branch of a huge Beech tree now lies on the ground. But on the whole, most of the walking tracks were little affected.
At Top Lodge itself one of the gate-posts at the entrance to the carpark was snapped off. Also, very sadly, one of the beautiful ancient apple trees lost one of its main branches in what used to be the Fineshade community's orchard.
There's more about the effects of the storm on Fineshade's biodiversity in the Wildlife Diary.
Also more pictures in a new gallery: After the Storm.
After Storm Doris
Saturday 18th February
It was exactly two years ago that Forest Holidays' and the Forestry Commission's plans were unanimously rejected by East Northants Councillors. The 15-month fight was over and Fineshade Wood, part of the Public Forest Estate, was safe from exploitation for private gain. It was certainly a night to remember for the Friends of Fineshade many of whom were in the packed public gallery. Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife was there that night, and he wrote about it here. And leading environmental blogger Mark Avery was there too, and he wrote about it here. And local supporters were there in huge numbers - one wrote about it here. All these accounts are well worth a read.
Since then there has been a series of further threats, that have come and, probably, gone:
in 2015 the company threatened to appeal the decision - they didn’t;
in 2015-16 the company carried out surveys in preparation for a new application - that’s all gone quiet, but they still resolutely refuse to make the survey results public;
in 2016 the company employed PR consultants who got a very rough ride - and seem to have gone away.
On the other hand the Forestry Commission are now proceeding as if they do not believe that Forest Holidays will come back:
the FC Chief Exec told our MP: “it is unclear when any firm proposal for the area will be forthcoming soon, if at all”;
the Commission are supporting a plan to run a high-profile project to introduce a rare butterfly into the wood;
the FC have resumed routine maintenance of the area threatened by the previous application.
So perhaps the threat has gone away for now, but it still lurks in the background and that will continue until the Commission finally takes Fineshade off the list of woodlands that Forest Holidays may develop.
But tonight, two years on, there may be another little celebration in Fineshade.
Saturday 21st January
There's a Forestry Commission consultation going on: "Wildlife enthusiasts in the forest". We almost missed it... perhaps you did too? It opened on 10th and closes on 27th January and the responses could be quite important in shaping the Commission's future emphasis on wildlife issues.
You can find the consultation survey here:
It only takes a few minutes to complete and can be carried out anonymously or not. There are a number of questions about you and your interests including a difficult one where you have to rank your top three types of wildlife. Next some questions about how, when and where you visit the forest.
Towards the end is a most interesting 6-part question. Yo are asked how strongly you agree or disagree with these statements about the Forestry Commission:
it is dedicated to wildlife conservation,
its forests allow me the chance to access wildlife I wouldn’t be able to see elsewhere,
its forests are too busy for me to see the wildlife I care about,
its forests are the primary way in which I engage with wildlife,
it is good at promoting wildlife it cares for,
its staff are knowledgeable about wildlife,
Please, if you care about the wildlife in Fineshade Wood and all the other forests in the Public Forest Estate, do take part in this consultation.
Important consultation about wildlife
Saturday 4th February
There has been a lot of maintenance work going on in the wood over the last few weeks. The main car park has been resurfaced and many of the marked trails' surfaces are also being improved. This weekend, for example, there are well-signed diversions from the horse trail, the main family cycle trail and also the so-called Mill Wood trail. There are notifications on the Forestry Commission website.
It's not just the hard tracks that have had attention. Vehicles with particularly wide tyres have been mowing many of the rides. We have reported before on the way in which, since 2013, the rides in Westhay Wood, the southern part of Fineshade, have been opened up to benefit the biodiversity.
(See here, here, here and here.) This winter some but not all of these areas have been mown again, cutting back regrowth in an aim to eventually produce a patchwork of very diverse habitats.
What is different this winter is that the old rides in the northern part of the wood have also been mown. The picture on the left shows a ride in Dales Wood. Historically, these rides, passing through or close to the Ancient Woodland areas, were mown quite regularly, but the Forestry Commission stopped that when Forest Holidays were offered these areas for possible development. As a result the old rides had become choked, overgrown and almost inaccessible. So it is very pleasing indeed to see them again being opened up. Perhaps this is a further signal that the Commission does not intend their "partners" to try once again to develop this part of the Public Forest Estate. What is needed now is a clear statement that the threat from Forest Holidays has gone away for good.
More maintenance and mowing
Friday 13th January
We were interested to see the new signs along a walking trail in Fineshade Wood this week . This is part of a national promotion by Forestry Commission England entitled “Why stars matter”.
The FC urge us to: “Experience stars in the night sky like never before when visiting the forest after dark this winter. As the sun sets behind the trees and the stars appear above, the forest becomes a magical place to visit”. We couldn’t agree more.
We’re really pleased that the Forestry Commission are celebrating the dark skies above our forests, particularly here at Fineshade. One of the objections made to Forest Holidays’ plans to build a holiday camp here was the increased light pollution which would adversely affect the dark Fineshade sky – see this image representing the effect of the light from 70 cabins shining in the dark forest. Since that last unsuccessful planning application, the Local Planning Authority (LPA) has adopted a new local planning document which places Fineshade in an “Area of Tranquility”, where “Development should preserve tranquility... by minimising light and noise pollution.”
So it’s great to know that the Forestry Commission and the Planning Authority are in agreement about the importance of maintaining dark skies in Fineshade.
You can find more about Dark-sky Discovery Sites here. Perhaps it's time that Fineshade Wood became one of these sites?