Archived news (5)
News items published April - June 2016
Letter from Natural England
Tuesday 14th June
We are grateful to Tom Pursglove MP for sending a copy of a letter he recently received from the Chief Executive Officer of Natural England. It certainly makes abundantly clear what the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England now believes in relation to Fineshade.
The letter begins:
Fineshade Wood is a wonderful place for wildlife. It forms part of the wider Rockingham Forest which is a very important landscape for nature and the people of Northamptonshire. Natural England is already working with various organisations to look after this rich natural environment.
Such a statement will be of great importance if the the Local Planning Authority were to be presented with any further planning applications for development in the wood.
You can read the letter in full here.
Monday 13th June
We’re coming up to the peak time for butterflies and our Friends at Butterfly Conservation (Beds and Northants branch) are organising a butterfly walk in Fineshade Wood on Sunday 17th July at 10:30 am. Led by former recorder, Douglas Goddard, it will be a good chance to sort out the hairstreaks and maybe find the admirals and emperors. You can find details of the butterfly walk here.
There will be a lot of insect activity around that time and we’re very pleased that
John Showers, the Northants Diptera (Flies) recorder will be coming to see what types of this overlooked group can be found here. Also more Friends from just over the border, the Rutland Natural History Society will be coming to Fineshade to record crickets, grasshoppers and other species and then Brian Laney, botanist extraordinare, is going to be looking to be looking for more rare plants.
So there is sure to be lots of interesting wildlife to report on in July – watch this space! If you’re able to help us record and enjoy Fineshade’s rich wildlife please do get in touch.
Butterfly walk and insect recording
Tom Pursglove's visit
Friday 3rd June
Today Tom Pursglove MP came to visit residents in Fineshade and assured them of his unswerving support in ensuring that the Forestry Commission do not allow Forest Holidays to exploit the wood. There are only 11 houses within the wood itself and Tom spoke individually with most of the residents. Later he met a larger group of Friends, those who live locally and value the tranquillity and biodiversity of the wood as a place for quiet recreation and relaxation.
The weather was grey but, despite that, the wood was looking fresh and green as Tom walked into the very site where Forest Holidays planned the hub of their development - an area of mature oaks and flowering hawthorn.
In an interview with Mike Cartright, the BBC Look East reporter, Tom said:
As the local MP as a part of my Listening Campaign I’m determined to do everything I can to make sure that concerns are heard loud and clear when planners come to reach a decision on this.
To my mind, what should happen is the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays should have another look at this. The local opposition is overwhelming. I’m going to be writing to the Chief Excecutive of the Forestry Commission to ask for a meeting to talk about this as soon as I leave here later today. I think there are some really serious concerns that are being raised and they need to be heard and they need to be acted upon.
In our area we need more amenity space not less, we need more community facilities not less. We certainly don’t need unacceptable and unnecessary development in our woodlands. We need to protect them for generations to come. This is a beautiful spot and it must remain so.
I just don’t think that Fineshade is a suitable site to be developed in the way that is proposed.
I would argue that it’s been incorrectly categorized as a site that is suitable for this sort of development and the Forestry Commission need to go back to the drawing board, have another look at this, review the situation and I believe they should walk away from this proposed development.
Read more about Tom's visit by the Northants Telegraph: Holiday Lodge plans would be 'ruinious' for Fineshade Wood. We particularly liked this quote from Tom:
“It makes no sense to have this development here.
Survey results not available
Saturday 28th May
Wouldn't it be good to know what rare species of bats are in Fineshade Wood? Wouldn't it be good to know the extent to which Dormice use the wood, or where exactly adders can be found, or which badger setts might be affected by a holiday camp? The Forestry Commission allowed Forest Holidays to carry out surveys to find all this out last year but, quite amazingly, the Commission does not yet know the results and have not asked for them.
This has been revealed by a recent Freedom of Information request and it raises all sorts of questions about the Commission's real involvement with Forest Holidays' plans. Use the orange button to read more about this.
Natural England see natural Fineshade
Thursday 19th May
This week Aidan Lonergan, Area Manger for Natural England (NE), accompanied by Julie Danby, Team Leader for Northamptonshire visited Fineshade Wood. The West Anglia Area (one of 14 across the country) extends from Essex to Northamptonshire, so Aidan was at the extreme north-west corner of his range and this was his first visit to Fineshade. He was keen to learn at first hand the issues of concern relating to the joint Forest Holidays (FH) and Forestry Commission (FC) plan to develop the site for holiday accommodation.
Friends of Fineshade showed Aidan and Julie the various parts of the area that FH proposed to develop in the application that was defeated last year. They saw the sites of the proposed sewage system, the maintenance area, the main reception area and car park. They saw some of the stakes that still remain, marking out proposed roadways and cabin sites, and they saw the trees and other habitat that would be destroyed. The walk also went through the nearby areas that NE now recognise as Ancient Woodland and which were the subject of the first FH application.
The discussion ranged widely during the walk. We were able to discuss our view that FC had made a fundamental error when in 2012 they picked Fineshade as one of the areas for development by FH, a mistake now recognised by many within the FC itself. We explained that, since Fineshade is still on that list, there is an urgent need to protect the wood by means of designation as SSSI. Aidan re-iterated the position laid out in his response (here): NE now have very limited resources to carry out new SSSI designations, so they will not be able to deal with Fineshade’s case in the immediate future.
However, positive things came out of the visit. NE have recently designated Rockingham Forest as one of their priority areas, although little detail yet exists about what that will mean on the ground. But there was clear re-assurance that those who had drawn Fineshade so forcefully to NE’s attention in the open letter requesting a SSSI would be involved in NE’s planning. It is also good to know that when/if a new application is presented by FH to East Northants Council and when Natural England are consulted, they will have first-hand experience of the wood, supported by strong data on which to base their recommendation to the Local Planning Authority.
Wanted: wildlife recorders
Sunday 15th May
Over the past couple of years we've been most grateful for all the expert support we've had in recording the range of wildlife in the wood and as a result species of all types have been discovered or rediscovered. We want to continue this process because there is probably much more to be discovered. For example, we are very pleased that members of Rutland Natural History Society are intending to come to monitor crickets and grasshoppers during July.
We would particularly like to hear from any specialist invertebrate recorders and there's still a lot of areas where the flora needs attention. However, recorders and enthusiasts of all types are needed. Please do contact us.
Strong support from our MP
Thursday 28th April
This week we learned that our MP, Tom Pursglove, has had a meeting with Curtin&Co, the PR company hired by Forest Holidays to carry out a "consultation" prior to their making a new application for a holiday camp in Fineshade Wood. Read about Curtin&Co, the persuaders, here:
In a reply to Mark Avery, one of the Friends of Fineshade, Tom said:
'I have met with representatives of Curtin & Co. At that meeting, I expressed my grave concerns about the past application and emphasised the lack of trust the community has in Forest Holidays. I also stressed that, if they are intending to submit a fresh application – regardless of local feeling – there must be far better communication and consultation with the local community, which has been woefully inadequate in the past. However, I did stress that the local opposition would remain overwhelming.’
Tom also re-asserted his strong support for Fineshade, saying:
‘As you mention, I strongly objected to the planning application submitted at Fineshade Wood both in November 2104, and again in February 2015, and was extremely pleased when those plans were refused. Should the application be re-submitted, and local concern persists, I will of course be objecting again in the strongest possible terms – Fineshade Wood is a beautiful spot and it must be preserved.‘
Natural England's reply
Tuesday 26th April
Aidan Lonergan, Natural England's Area Manager has responded to the open letter sent by the Friends of Fineshade and co-signed by leading conservation groups and experts. You can click here to read the full reply.
NE are not at the moment in a position to act swiftly to protect Fineshade Wood by means of SSSI notification but, nevertheless, the response includes some very positive words. In particular:
they were impressed by the data presented in the letter,
they will place Fineshade on the list of sites for possible further investigation for future designation,
they are keen to work with us to ensure the value of the site is properly considered by the local planning authority and other organisations,
they want to meet us to discuss a positive future for Fineshade Wood.
Letter to the Minister
Thursday 21st April
As expected, there has been no response yet from Natural England to our open letter requesting they consider notifying Fineshade Wood for SSSI status. However, our MP Tom Pursglove quickly responded to the news by writing to the responsible Minister. Informing us of his action he says:
"Regarding Fineshade Wood's designation as an SSSI, I have today written to the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asking her to review your concerns and to let me have her thoughts on the matters raised at the earliest opportunity."
We await her reply with interest.
Also this week there was a response from the Forestry Commission (FC). One of the Friends of Fineshade wrote to Andy Medhurst, Forest Management Director, asking him whether the Commission would support the request for SSSI notification. After all, "as you manage this wood for the public, you will no doubt be keen to have this special status applied to this wood in order to help protect a little bit more of our threatened scarce wildlife". Mr Medhurst avoided answering the question, but said instead:
"Whether or not any land at Fineshade is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) will be a decision for Natural England following due process, which so far as we are aware does not require an application from the landowner or manager. If approached by Natural England with a view to designating any of the land we manage at Fineshade as a SSSI we will of course give the process our full co-operation."
So how do you read this response?
Strong support from the Woodland Trust
Monday 25th April
We are delighted that the UK's leading woodland conservation charity has now joined the call for Fineshade Wood to be given the protection of SSSI status. In a strongly worded letter Christine Reid, the Woodland Trust's Head of Conservation, urges Natural England to give serious consideration to notifying Fineshade Wood as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Rather than concentrating on the intrinsic wildlife value of the site as others have done, the Woodland Trust's letter draws particular attention to the threats facing the wood. They say:
"We believe that the long term ecological integrity of this large and important woodland site may be put at risk by the cumulative impact of a series of developments, coupled with significant changes in management and recreational patterns and usage levels.
"We are concerned that the incremental nature of the impacts from a series of modifications and developments that have taken place over a period of years in the wider woodland may not have been fully assessed."
Of course, these comments draw attention to the Forestry Commission's management of the wood and, particularly, their decision to allow Forest Holidays to exploit the wood still further. The letter goes on:
"We feel that the capacity of this site to absorb significant additional activity, without jeopardising its important conservation and biodiversity value is a key consideration here."
We are most grateful for this uncompromising support for Fineshade.
You can read the full Woodland Trust letter here.
Call for protection for Fineshade
Thursday 14th April
Yesterday an open letter was sent to Natural England requesting that, as a matter of urgency, they consider the case for notifying the entire Fineshade Wood complex as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The letter was co-signed by leading conservation groups including the RSPB and the local Wildlife Trust, by expert county wildlife recorders, by individual ecologists of national repute, by the local Parish Council and by former Forestry Commission employees who know Fineshade well. All agree that Fineshade Wood is special for wildlife and needs statutory protection.
We'll publish responses and comments here as soon as possible.
An uncomfortable night for Curtin&Co
Thursday 7th April
Tuesday night saw the first public event of the the Curtin&Co persuasion performance at a meeting of Duddington-with-Fineshade Parish Council. Despite late changes to the cast, it was all very low-key and lack lustre. Rather than the young Mr Shetcliffe, two of Curtin’s directors turned up to address the councillors, aiming to discuss informally a possible ”consultation” for another possible application by Forest Holidays.
They said that they had come along to “say hello” and to have a conversation. But when the PC chairman declared “public time” the conversation they said they wanted went something like this.
Curtin&Co directors: How would you like us to stage a consultation?
Local people: “We wouldn’t. This development should not go ahead. Not now, not ever. The selection of this site by the Forestry Commission was inept and incompetent. Please go and tell Forest Holidays that.”
Curtin&Co directors “Well, we’ll see about that”.
One obvious question seemed to cause them particular problems: “Please can you tell us one single benefit there would be for all the thousands of local people who visit Fineshade?” There was a stunned and embarrassed silence, before the usual PR response of answering a totally different question.
The two persuaders from London had looked pretty much out of their comfort zone since they arrived at the tiny village hall. They were clearly not used to listening to such important items as the local bobby reporting on how speeding in the village was being dealt with. And as soon as their part of proceedings were over they scuttled off back to the city, not staying to hear the Parish Council discuss whether to support a request to Natural England to designate Fineshade Wood as a SSSI.