Archived news (9)
News items published in the first half of 2018
A new petition: Save our forests!
2 May 2018
In just a couple of days a new 38-degrees petition opposing Forest Holidays' devlopments attracted over 10,000 signatures. Started by our friends at Mortimer Forest near Ludlow, the wording of this petition to Michael Gove is crystal clear:
Please guarantee our forests will be protected from development. This means:
Launching a proper public consultation on Forest Holiday's plans to build chalet complexes on more of our forests
Review the agreement between Forest Holidays and The Forestry Commission
Make a public commitment to protect our forests from profiteering and privatisation
We are urging all Friends of Fineshade and everyone who is concerned about the backdoor privatisation of the Public Forest Estate to sign the petition and get involved with this campaign.
Update: 4 May. Petition passed 50,000 signatures
Currently over 125,000 signatures!
There was an unusual sight from the wildlife hide this afternoon. Around 30 people gathered near the pond to hear advice on how woodland can be managed to protect the habitats favoured by Great Crested Newts. It was part of a day course being run by the Forestry Commission (FC) focussing on European Protected Species - Dormice, GC Newts and bats. The course was aimed at foresters in both the public and private sector and about 30 people attended. And of course, Fineshade is an excellent place to run such a course as it hosts all these species. The group went on to look at the area where Dormice were re-discovered in 2014 (details here), and also at some of the nearby potential bat roosting sites.
We are very pleased that FC now recognise Fineshade as a place to run courses on how to benefit those species that have European Level protection - how different from a few years ago when they offered up Fineshade to Forest Holidays for holiday cabin development. Had that gone ahead there would now be cabins just a stone's throw from the very pond visited by course participants today.
But we wonder how FC can continue to justify not obtaining the survey data collected by their partners Forest Holidays - monitoring of some of the very species like bats and dormice that they were the subject of the course today. (Read more about this here.)
There is another picture of the group on our "Seen from the Hide" gallery.
Learning about protected species
25 April 2018
Articles in Times and Guardian
7 and 27 April 2018
The Times Environment Editor, Ben Webster, has been researching the issue to Forest Holidays' planned expansion into yet more of the Public Forest Estate and the cloak of secrecy under which the Forestry Commission attempts to hide these plans.
His article on 7th April, Forests are growing.. into cabin parks, highlights many of the issues we have been addressing elsewhere on this website. (See for example here, here and here.) While at Fineshade the ambitions of FH/FC have so far been thwarted, this article raises again the wider, national issue of backdoor privatisation of the Public Forest Estate. Ben was alerted to the ongoing situation by the Save Mortimer Forest group whose spokesman is quoted in the article. It is well worth reading Ben's article in full.
The Forest Holidays deal, in effect with the government, is extraordinary. The government has granted a private company exclusive access to exploit a public land bank. There will be no competitors, no rival bidders and no limit to its growth.
Chalet parks in public forests offend every dictate of rural planning. They are space-hungry, traffic-generating and energy-inefficient. Today, buildings (and jobs) should be concentrated on and around existing settlements, not left to sprawl wherever the money is good. Worst of all, these parks derive their private value by diminishing the public value of where they are located.
Again, it is well worth reading the article in full.
A welcome letter from Natural England
31 March 2018
We recently wrote to Natural England (NE) reminding them of our request to designate Fineshade Wood as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and asking whether there has been any progress. Given the extreme financial pressure NE is under, we were not surprised to learn that they have not been able to make progress yet. However, we welcome the tone and some of the content of the reply from Justin Tilley, Northamptonshire Team Leader, Natural England. It is copied below with significant parts highlighted.
As you know the Northants NE team have been long aware of the value of the site, both in its own right, but also as a key part of the wider Rockingham Forest landscape. We’ve discussed both with yourselves and FC about ways to help retain and enhance this area for both wildlife and people. We’re really excited to be taking some of those aims forward as a key partner in the Back from the Brink, as well as our own work with landowners and conservation partners nearby.
We are not aware of any plans to develop a holiday site here, either informally or formally, in the short term or longer term. As you note, the FC is making significant contributions to the BftB project and importantly, using this to carry out habitat improvements in the longer term for their estate across this landscape, which will have a significant positive benefit well beyond the Chequered Skipper reintroduction (as exciting as that is!). We will keep in close contact with our FC colleagues and local contacts to ensure we are made aware at the earliest possible opportunity, should the situation relating to developing the site change.
With regards SSSI designation, the site remains on our local Area Team list as being a key site for consideration as SSSI at some point in future. At present, NE is taking forward the recently published designation pipeline based on our national priorities and risks. Should the situation change with regard to threats to the conservation value of Fineshade, we would of course reassess our approach and work to protect the notable array of wildlife at the site.
Friends of Fineshade very much welcome this expression of support from Natural England. The comparison with recent communications from the Forestry Commission's top managers could not be more marked
Forest Holiday's roadway staked out in an Ancient Woodland area
Supporting Mortimer Forest
26 March 2018
Last month we reported that the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays are proposing to build a large site for holiday cabins on the Public Forest Estate just outside Ludlow. Local opposition to the plans has already been very strong and an excellent website has now been produced where you can show your support. There seem to be very strong similarities between Fineshade Wood and Mortimer Forest and similar reasons why any application there should be rejected. We wish the local residents well.
More protection for Ancient Woodland
6 March 2018
Yesterday the Government published its long-awaited draft revision of the National Planning Policy Framework. (NPPF). You might think that sounds a bit dry and not much related to a quiet walk in Fineshade Wood? But in addition to all the headline-grabbing stuff about addressing the housing crisis, there is also an important proposed change to the rules concerning Ancient Woodland. It is now proposed that:
"development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats such as ancient
woodland should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons.”
The Woodland Trust have long campaigned against the loopholes in the present policy and have welcomed the news. They say:
England has been losing these incredible irreplaceable habitats for decades, in many cases due to the lack of clarity in the policy wording. Short-term decisions based on weak policy have allowed huge chunks of our best woodland to be lost forever, for development which is simply not necessary in that location, such as car parks, holiday lodges, golf courses and paintballing centres, often despite staunch local opposition.
The proposed change of wording will provide greater clarity for local planning authorities, speed up decision making and save resources by heading off inappropriate applications and subsequent long drawn out campaigns against them.
So this proposal provides one further nail in the coffin of the Forest Holidays/Forestry Commission plan to build holiday lodges in Fineshade. You can read which areas of Fineshade are known to be Ancient Woodland, and the Woodland Trust's role in getting it designated on this page: Fineshade's Ancient Woodland.
However, the change in wording to the NPPF is not yet certain. The proposal is out for consultation and the Woodland Trust will be responding and asking for our help too. (See their latest blog here)
Forest Holidays threaten other public forests
22 February 2018
Yet another part of the Public Forest Estate is threatened by backdoor privatisation. This week the Forestry Commission announced that Mortimer Forest, just south of Ludlow on the borders of Herefordshire and Shropshire, is to be next in the firing line. You can see the FC announcement here: "New Opportunities for Mortimer Forest" Notice how the exhibition materials try to play down the fact that they propose to build 68 cabins, some sleeping as many as 10 people, right in the middle of the public woodland. There is no mention of the extra roadways, the sewage works, the displaced wildlife, the destruction of tranquillity. And there is no mention of the huge profits that the private-equity-owned company will make over the 125 years of their lease.
As usual, all this has been sprung on local people, the inhabitants of Ludlow and small villages close to the wood.
There is a new blogspot entitled "Save Mortimer Forest from Forest Holidays Exploitation" where you can comment and send support. You can also see what Andy Boddington, a local councillor thinks about this here. And there is a petition here opposing the development if you care to add your support to that local community.
Meanwhile Forest Holidays have announced that in June they intend to open their new site in Snowdonia, where they were granted planning permission last year. A week's stay for a family of four at the end of July would cost you £2,270, over £300 per night. There's big money to be made by exploiting OUR woodland heritage.
28 February 2018
In Delamere Forest, Cheshire, FH/FC have won their appeal against the unanimous rejection of their plan by the Local Planning Authority. The local community have been fighting this proposed development for years. The Planning Inspector concluded that the damage caused to the green belt is outweighed by supposed benefits of the scheme. He said: "The very special circumstances needed to justify a grant of planning permission for the holiday cabins have, therefore, been demonstrated. " There are details in the Chester Chronicle here.
Artist working in Fineshade
19 February 2018
We were pleased to learn this week that artist Edwina fitzPatrick has a project based in Fineshade Wood. Entitled the archive of the trees, the project has been commissioned by Fermynwoods Contemporary Art with support from the Arts Council.
Edwina is looking for help from forest residents, foresters, local groups and Fineshade visitors. Very small cores will be taken from mature trees and these will reveal much about the history of each tree including the climatic conditions it has experienced. During the summer these will be displayed along with people's recollections of the trees and also observations of unusual weather events that have been experienced over recent decades.
FC refuse to provide information
21st January 2018
This week a reply was received to a Freedom of Information request to the public body that is charged with looking after our public forests. We wanted to know the details of the scoping exercise that the Forestry Commission Central District team told us they had been carrying out last summer. They had been assessing potential opportunities for development as Forest Holidays sites, including at Fineshade. After all, they had said in a statement that "Once this exercise has been completed, a clear programme will be developed and communicated to staff and stakeholders." Fine words, promising open-ness and clarity.
This week a masterpiece of secrecy and lack of clarity was received from the FC's "Head of Information Rights". You can see what we learned from that response here. It certainly shows that national FC staff have no intention of engaging positively with stakeholders and the local community that they serve, or of revealing any of their thinking concerning Fineshade's future.
21st January 2018
Gigaclear are working with Northants County Council to bring superfast fibre broadband to more than 30 rural villages in the county - and, amazingly, that includes the 11 residential properties at Top Lodge.
So starting this week, access to Fineshade may be disrupted as the new cables are laid from the A43, up the single-track lane and round the corner to the houses.
Recording Fineshade's biodiversity
9 January 2018
We have been claiming for years that Fineshade Wood's wildlife is extraordinarily rich and have been at pains to draw attention to some of the rare plants and animals that occur here. See for example Yellow Star of Bethlehem, Adders, Crossbills, Palmate Newts, Dormice, Concolorous Moth, Purple Emperor Butterfly and the Yellow Porecrust Fungus.
But biological diversity is not just a matter of rare species, it is also about the number of species on a site, many of them common and widespread. Over the past two years we have been working hard to increase the recording of different species of all types and have been helped in this by visiting expert naturalists and recorders of different groups of species. For example, botanist Brian Laney has helped us find and record 389 species of plants, county moth recorder Mark Hammond sorted out the 753 moth species that have been recorded over the years. Northants Biological Records Centre has also given us access to all the historical Fineshade records in their data base ,and other county recorders have provided lists of their recent records.
Over the winter months we've managed to put all these data together and come up with the total number of different plant and animal species that we know have been recorded here. And the total is currently over 1650 - a very respectable total indeed. We think we have definitive lists for all the major groups of organisms. Do get in touch if you'd like a copy.
But we know that there are lots of other organisms here that no one has ever been to record and so we are making plans to remedy that and details will be available shortly. Perhaps by the end of the year we can see the total species number get close to, or exceed 2000. (Numbers recorded in the various species groups can be found here.)