Archived news (6)
News items published July-December 2016
Gruffalo gets festive
Recently the Gruffalo's been looking rather low and lonely, but it was good to see this morning that he's been getting into a seasonal spirit. Emi says that even the wart on the end of his nose is looking less poisonous!
If you want to find him there's a helpful map in the Top Lodge Visitor Centre - it's not too long a walk into the deep dark wood. He might appreciate another hat for his terrible horn, or perhaps a scarf. But whatever you do, please don't mention Gruffalo crumble!
Monday 26th December
Forest Holidays' secret data
Saturday 17th December
A letter has arrived from Forest Holidays' Head of Planning concerning the ecological data that they continue to keep hidden from their partners the Forestry Commission (FC).
A range of wildlife surveys were carried out by ecological surveyors working for Forest Holidays in 2015 and 2016. They were looking for the distribution and density of important and threatened species including Dormice, Adders, Newts, Bats and Birds. The potentially useful data are still being kept from their partner, the Forestry Commission, which has a duty to ensure that it has access to, makes use of, and shares information about priority/protected species and habitats. In September we published a news item entitled “FC are still in the dark” and since then we have been writing regularly to Richard Palmer at Forest Holidays asking him to release the data into the public domain. Eventually, last week, a letter arrived from Richard saying that they are not yet in a position ”to confidently release” the data, either to their partners or the wider world. He didn’t explain why.
So for now the results of those surveys remain a closely guarded secret - and have not even been seen by their partners the Forestry Commission. You can read more about this here.
Monday 21st November
Next weekend Fineshade welcomes the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain for their annual rally in the wood. This spectacular event takes place every year and there will be up to 70 dog teams racing against the clock over a 3-mile course along the forest trails. The teams of dogs pull wheeled sleds, urged on by their "mushers" and enthusiastic onlookers. The start at Top Lodge will take place from 9:00am on Saturday and 8:30am on Sunday.
If you have never seen husky racing it is an interesting, though noisy (!), event to watch and if the weather is good the single-track lane to Top Lodge and the car parks are bound to be very busy. If you are walking the forest trails you'll need to make way for the speeding teams and the organisers ask all dog owners to take particular care. Wakerley Wood may be a better place if you want a quiet dog walk or cycle ride this weekend.
Monday 7th November
Today the last caravanners were taking down their awnings and hitching up to leave, as the Caravan Club site at Top Lodge was closing for the winter once again. It's a sure sign of the change in the season and Fineshade Wood always feels very different once the gates are locked and the regular familiar faces can no longer be seen walking their dogs both early and late in the day. The site is due to reopen in the middle of March.
Many regular visitors have become Friends of Fineshade, and today we also publish a blog from one caravanner who came to Fineshade for the first time in July. But for now, to all our caravanning friends, good wishes for the winter season - the woods won't be the same without you! We look forward to welcoming you back to enjoy Fineshade again next spring.
Rutland Cycling have also gone over to their winter opening hours; they are now open only from Friday to Sunday, but the Top Lodge Cafe remains open every day.
One man went to mow
Monday 24th October
Last week a contractor cut all the grassy rides and track verges in Westhay Wood, the southern part of Fineshade. And as a result that part of the wood is now looking rather lovely!
These rides were widened as part of an enlightened management decision taken in 2014 - see the blog "Three Cheers for the Commission" describing the results of widening a single ride as a pilot. We wrote then: "this is forest management at its very best, benefitting wildlife and creating a superb landscape for people to enjoy too".
Later, over last winter, all the remaining Westhay rides were widened at the same time, rather than the work being spread over 5 years as originally proposed. We were critical of the scale of this work, pointing out the adverse effect this would have on wildlife (see "Westhay - too much, too fast".)
The regrowth of vegetation this summer has been good and, now that the rides and verges have been mown, this part of the wood is looking attractive once again. So the wide rides are certainly having a beneficial effect on the landscape: the effect on wildlife is less obvious and, as far as know, unmonitored. But it's well worth while taking a walk around Westhay, perhaps following the green-marked cycle track, to appreciate the changed landscape of this part of Fineshade Wood.
No Help for Heroes in 2016
Sunday 9th October
We were very sad to hear that what has become a feature of Fineshade's late autumn season has been cancelled. Peterborough 5x5 Challenge are a group of cyclists and runners who organise events to raise money for local and national charities, particularly the British Legion Poppy Appeal. Their November event, in which they use the tracks in the wood, starts and finishes in the Caravan Club site at Top Lodge. It has become very popular and has raised over £12,000 for this most worthwhile cause. You can see pictures of last year's event here. However, we have heard that this admirable and well organised event will not be going ahead this year, entirely because the Forestry Commission (FC) have refused to grant permission for the wood to be used in this way.
When the 5x5 Challenge organisers applied for permission back in January they were apparently told that local residents had expressed concerns about the event. As soon as we heard this we pointed out that it was absolutely and categorically untrue.
So the event organisers appealed against the FC refusal, first locally and then nationally. Now we hear that the FC claim to have a lack of staff to administer the application - they cannot be serious? How difficult and time consuming can it be to grant an application like this? And it seems that the FC also claim not to have staff available on the day. But the organisers have very efficient stewards and the event has always been superbly managed. The FC don't even need to open up the caravan site because this is carried out for the Caravan Club by a local resident. All that FC staff need to do is open two gates to allow access to the tracks in the wood.
What is the Commission playing at? They are continuing to allow the husky racing at Top Lodge - another similar and well-organised winter event, so why not an event to support Help for Heroes?
This sort of nonsense does the Commissions' reputation and public standing no good at all. These are public woods - they are part of the Public Forest Estate and the Forestry Commission's job is to manage them for the public good. It seems that some who work for the Commission need to be reminded of this.
FC are still in the dark!
Friday 23rd September
It seems that the Forestry Commission have still not obtained the results of some of the most comprehensive ecological surveys ever carried out in Fineshade Wood. In 2015-16 a range of surveys were carried out on this part of the Public Forest Estate, in order to identify parts of the wood being used by Dormice, Adders, Bats, Badgers, Birds etc.. We know that the Forestry Commission gave their partners, Forest Holidays, permission to employ consultants to find this information and such information would, of course, inform the Commission's present and future decisions about how to manage the wood, not least in relation to the proposed Back from the Brink project.
In April a Freedom of Information request elicited that FC did not have the results of those surveys and had not asked for them. This week they informed us that "it remains the case that we do not hold any recorded information on the ecological surveys carried out for or by Forest Holidays".
We have responded pointing out that it could be considered a key part of meeting the Section 40 biodiversity duty of public bodies to ensure that FC has access to, makes use of, and shares information about priority/protected species and habitats. It certainly seems in everyone's best interests, and in the interests of Fineshade Wood itself, that the results of those surveys should now be out in the open, rather than gathering dust in the planning department of Forest Holidays' offices.
The State of Nature
Wednesday 14th September
This morning's news programmes and media were full of discussion of the State of Nature 2016 report and it certainly wasn't good news, The Guardian put it starkly: "The UK is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world, according to a major report from more than 50 conservation groups. More than one in 10 species is threatened with extinction - but some are making a comeback."
Attention was particularly focussed on the worst affected habitat type - farmland, but reading the report it is clear that in England our woodland wildlife has also been suffering badly, as the two graphs below show. Here at Fineshade we enjoy what still appear to be healthy populations of birds and butterflies: as the Chief Executive of Natural England said earlier this year "Fineshade is a wonderful place for wildlife". But the State of Nature report comes as a reminder of how important it is to protect woodlands such as this, especially in this nature-depleted country. We still believe that the wood deserves the status of SSSI and needs the protection it would bring but we are delighted that the Back from the Brink project will be managing habitats for wildlife. As the report says: "Well-planned, targeted and sufficiently resourced conservation action can turn around the fortunes of our wildlife".
Photo Iain H Leach
Dormice are in the news
Friday 9th September
Dormice do not often make it into the national news, but today they were the subject of an item on Radio 4's Today programme at 07:23, and, of course, it wasn't a good news story! Over the last 16 years, the population of dormice has declined by almost 40% and it is now vulnerable to extinction.
Change in woodland management practice is one of the key reasons for the decline of the dormouse and, if/when the Back from the Brink project gets going in Fineshade, the proposed habitat restoration could benefit the tiny mammal here. There have been a few records of Dormice here in recent years - see more on this web page. But where exactly are the Dormice doing best in Fineshade? We need to know where they are distributed, but the results of a survey carried out by Forest Holiday's surveyors in the central part of the wood have still not been published.
The Friends of Fineshade are now calling on Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission to make public the results of all their ecological surveys. After all, this is public land and there is a strong public interest in making the results known.
Back from the Brink in Rockingham Forest
Updated Saturday 3rd September
Back in December we reported that the Heritage Lottery Fund intended to support a major project to help England's threatened wildlife. We pointed out then that Fineshade would be an ideal place for the part of the project that wants to re-introduce the Chequered Skipper, an extinct butterfly, to the Rockingham Forest area. Since then the Friends of Fineshade, together with Northants and Beds Butterfly Conservation, have been quietly working to encourage the project team to propose Fineshade as a key location for the project.
Excellent news reached us yesterday in a statement from the Project's Development Officer - the intention will indeed be for Fineshade to be a key location for the Rockingham Forest part of the Back from the Brink project. This decision, if confirmed by project funding, could have a very significant effect on the future of Fineshade Wood. You can read the public statement, together with comments and analysis here.
Monday 15th August
Last Saturday morning a group of 15 Friends met at Top Lodge to learn more about Fineshade's rich flora in the company of self-taught botanic expert Brian Laney. It turned out to be a very good time to see a wide range of flowers and 75 different species were recorded as we proceded along the bridleway towards King's Cliffe and then down towards Mill Wood. As well as flowers many butterflies were seen and a Raven flew noisily overhead.
Click the icon to download the full list of 170 plants recorded, both during the guided
walk and during Brian's survey of Westhay which took place the previous day.
Many thanks to John Rogers who has written a blog with more detail about the walk.
The latest wildflower walk
Tranquillity to be preserved - it's official
Sunday 24th July
Fineshade's local planning authority announced this week that a new planning policy document has been formally adopted - the North Northamptonshire Joint Core Stratgey (JCS). This may not sound too exciting, but the new document could have very important consequences for the future of Fineshade Wood. One new policy refers to an area called "King's Cliffe Hills and Valleys Landscape Character Area" which entends across a large area from Deenethorpe in the south, to the A47 in the north, from Yarwell in the east to well beyong the A43 in the west. The planning policy requires that, within this large area (which includes the whole of Fineshade) tranquillity should be preserved.
What exactly this will mean in practice remains to be seen, but the new policy document seems certain to make large-scale developments even less likely to gain planning approval. There are many more details on this Area of Tranquillity page.
Are Forest Holidays backing off? Letter from the FC
Monday 11th July
As he promised, our MP Tom Pursglove wrote to the Chief Exceutive of Forest Enterprise, requesting a meeting. In his reply declining to meet our elected representative, Simon Hodgson said the following:
I note your opposition to development at Fineshade and my understanding of the current situation is that Forest Holidays have no immediate plans to submit a planning application for a cabin site. Following various consultation activities they are reconsidering how they approach Fineshade and it is unclear when any firm proposal for the area will be forthcoming soon, if at all.
Taken at face value this may be good news... but the letter suggests that the threat is still there, even if a proposal may not be imminent. You can see the full letter and read more comments about this development here.
Trail news - insects and the Gruffalo
Tuesday 3rd July
There's a new Forestry Commission trail that starts at the car park in Fineshade. It's the "Friend or Foe? Insect Trail". There's a lot of colourful posters enabling children to find out more about some of the different types of insects in the forest. What a great idea! The posters present some quite interesting information: we were surprised to read for example that gnats do not bite! The idea is to encourage children (young and old!) to look out for insects they can see and to decide whether they are actually friends or foes.
You can read more about the trail and provide feedback to the Forestry Commission here www.forestry.gov.uk/learning. Also on that page are some recommended activities for familes including Spotter Guides to use during a visit to the wood.
Update 13th July
The popular Stickman trail is now closed. We're not entirely sure why the Forestry Commission decided to close this atttraction just at the start of the school holidays. There are similar trails still open at FC sites elsewhere - the nearest ones are at Salcey Forest in southern Northants and Hicks Lodge in Leicestershire. All that remains of the Stickman trail are the two panels where you can still make a rubbing of the characters.
But the good news is that the Gruffalo is still being seen in Fineshade Wood (see the picture at the top of this page). In the atrium in the Visitor Centre there are now maps and instructions to help you find where he can sometimes be seen.