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Archived news (3)

News items published September to December 2015

Westhay open - but very different

Monday 21st December


Regular visitors will know that since September there has been harvesting work going on in Westhay, the southern part of Fineshade wood, and this has resulted in closures to the FC trails and public rights of way. FC sources have told us that all felling is now complete, though there are still piles of timber and brash to be extracted.  


Today a walk around the entire perimeter track confirmed that all the routes are now open. Contractors (Clixby's Land Design) appeared to be levelling off the very last section of the vehicle track, so presumably it will be possible to walk or cycle around Westhay during the holiday period. The track itself is a bit muddy but level and easily passable - so walking boots are probably best.  Also it's worth pointing out that, unlike most of Fineshade, Westhay does not have Open Access as it is leased, not owned, by the Commission on our behalf.


However, you will find that Westhay looks an entirely different woodland, so be prepared for a bit of a shock. We will be publishing a blog about it soon and would really like to hear your opinion of what you see.  It is certain that after the work that has gone on this autumn this part of Fineshade will never be the same again.


Re-introduction of an extinct butterfly

Thursday 10th December


The Chequered Skipper butterfly is thought to have become extinct in England forty years ago but now, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it could be seen flying again in Fineshade Wood. Butterfly Conservation have announced that a new ambitious project, called ‘Back from the brink’

will include the re-introduction of this beautiful, dappled butterfly to Rockingham Forest. 


The species formerly occurred in this country, inhabiting larger woods of central and east England, where the butterfly's larvae used a grass called False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) as their foodplant. The butterfly's last known sites were the larger woods of north-east Northamptonshire. The precise habitat requirements of the butterfly are not fully understood, although flower-rich areas in sunny, sheltered locations are crucial for adults, with False Brome necessary for the larvae. 


Fineshade Wood is one of the largest remnants of Rockingham Forest. A botanical survey carried out by J. Handley in 2014 for Forest Holidays reported that part of the area they wanted to develop (pictured left) was tall ash woodland where False Brome is the prevailing grass. Add to this the fact that the southern edge of the area is sunny and sheltered and that there are plenty of nearby Bluebells and other flowering plants and you can see that this would make an ideal location to translocate the Chequered long as it doesn't have luxury cabins built on it of course.



Carterocephalus palaemon-03 (xndr) by Svdmolen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons




Updated Thursday 3rd December


It is now three months since contractors began to widen more of the rides in the southern part of Fineshade, known as Westhay Wood. The result of this forest management was that all of the Commission's way-marked trails have been subject to diversion during that time. At the moment the public bridleway between Kings Cliffe and Top Lodge has also been closed off with official closure orders in place, but no alternative routes indicated.


Originally the FC website said that this work would "start on 7th September and last 8 weeks". Then we had "Starting Monday 26th October for a short period of time".  Yesterday the notice on the FC website, was changed again but now there is no indication of how much longer the closures will last. 

The notice claims that diversions are signposted but it is a very different story on the ground and you may come across trail closures and work in progress anywhere in the southern part of Fineshade Wood.  

However, this ride-widening work will have a long-tern benefit to the biodiversity and landscape quality of the wood. It began last year and is already making a great difference to the feel and biodiversity of the wood - as you can see for example in the blog: "Three cheers for the Commission". Once the bird nesting season was over, work recommenced, starting by cutting back the edge of "Justice Riding" (name explained here). Some of the mature trees alongside the track were left but almost all of the hedgerow and scrubby young trees have been removed.  It is always sad to see the vegetation being cut back in this way and Justice Riding (pictured left) certainly did not look as good this year as it did last autumn.  (See here for example) 


It's winter and the huskies are here

Saturday 28 November


With recent gales and the first overnight frosts it really seems that autumn is over and winter has come. And another sign of winter here is the coming of the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain for their annual rally at Fineshade. This spectacular event takes place this weekend, 28th and 29th November and there are up to 70 dog teams racing over a 3-mile course along the forest trails.  The teams of dogs pull wheeled sleds, urged on by their "mushers".   The start at Top Lodge takes place from 9:30am on Saturday and 9:00am on Sunday.


If the weather is good and you have never seen husky racing it is an interesting (though noisy!) event and the single-track lane to Top Lodge and the car park are bound to be busy.  What a shame that Forest Holidays' traffic survey will not be recording the traffic (see below).  However, if you do come to the event do please spare a moment to consider what this annual event would be like if there were to be an extra 100 vehicles per hour passing up and down the road and right through the car park - as FC/FH proposed in their last application for a holiday camp here. 


I'm late. I'm very, very late

Thursday 12th November.


We all know that it's been a very mild autumn but this is quite remarkable. On Sunday 8th November Lynda Peirce noticed an Adder moving through the area at the back of her house at Top Lodge Fineshade.  Adders hibernate and they are rarely seen after September so we contacted Brian Laney, the reptile recorder for Northants. Brian says there are no previous November records in the county.


The background colour of adders varies considerably but the colour of the zigzag can usually be used to determine the sex. This one's zigzag is brown rather than black so it is probably a female. 


Just how dangerous are adders? It is said that "there are around 100 Adder bites to humans each year in the UK. Victims are usually male, who have picked up the Adder with their hands! There have been only 12 reported deaths from Adder bite, and none since the mid 1970s."


The sight of this rare reptile now is a reminder of Fineshade Wood's extreme importance for reptiles. There are lots more pictures and details on the Reptiles and Amphibians page.  It is one of the main reasons why Fineshade is worthy of SSSI status: as Dr Tony Gent, Chief Executive Office of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation said in July this year: "Consideration of Fineshade as an SSSI is therefore appropriate and where a threat exists to a site this should be done with some urgency." (See his full comment and reason for SSSI status here.)


Unfortunately there is a still a very real threat to Fineshade's Adder population with Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission still intending to build a holiday camp in the middle of the largest undisturbed area.


late adder
Woodcock with a worm in winter

More about winter birds 

Updated Monday 9th November


During the winter the avian population of the wood changes dramatically. Gone now are most of the warblers whose songs filled the woodland during the spring and summer. Most of them will now be back in Africa though, increasingly, one woodland warbler, the Blackcap, remains here and survives through our generally milder winters.


Resident birds such as Red KItes, Buzzards and Jackdaws are still very much in evidence and there are large noisy gangs of tits moving through the woods. Look out for the Marsh Tit and listen for the harsh call of the Willow Tit, one of Fineshade's particular specialities. Jays, Nuthatches and woodpeckers all stay on through the winter. In the last few years we've increasingly heard a new winter sound too: the cronk of Ravens. At night, calls of Tawny Owls are common and, more occasionally, Barn Owls.  There is at least one record of a Long-eared Owl this year.


In late September some of Fineshade's winter visitors were first seen - small flocks of Siskins and Redpolls feeding on seed heads and alder cones. Other new arrivals are big flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings, often raiding the hawthorn bushes along the lane up to Top Lodge: the first flocks of Redwings were seen on seen 20th October and Fieldfares from 27th October. 


Also crossing the North Sea from Scandinavia to winter in Fineshade are the secretive Woodcock, pictured left. If you stray off the tracks anywhere in the wood these birds may erupt from their hiding place almost beneath your feed. The first report of Woodcock was on 2nd November.  Perhaps this year there will be Crossbills feeding on the pine cones too. These birds with their parrot-like bills are irregular in their habits - some winters there are large flocks and other years none at all.  Please do let us know if you come across them, or any other interesting wildlife.

Winter birds

So long for now

Wednesday 3rd November


On Monday the Caravan Club site at Top Lodge closed for the winter. It's amazing just how many caravanners come back, time after time and year after year, to the Fineshade site. We're delighted that so many have now joined the Friends of Fineshade, and they will be able to keep in touch with developments throughout the year. From time to time there will also be posts from the Friends on the Caravan Club's own forum, "Club together".


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.


Also this week the Rutland Cycling shop at Top Lodge went over to its winter hours, only opening from Friday to Sunday. As a result the wood was very quiet indeed today - as befits an Area of Tranquillity.

Mistimed vehicle counter

Another mis-timed survey

Thursday 29th October


Forest Holidays (FH) appear to have messed up the timing of yet another
survey. We are told that they are preparing a new application to exploit the Public Forest Estate here, so it seems highly likely that they are responsible for the vehicle counter that has appeared this week in the single-track lane to Top Lodge. Their previous application was heavily criticised for failure to provide reliable evidence of the maximum number of vehicles using the lane at peak times (school holidays, the summer months, etc.) Instead they relied on a traffic survey carried out in early spring betwen 10-23 March 2014. 


Since then the developers have had two summers to rectify their mistake and measure peak use of the lane. But what do we find? The new survey is started in late autumn, the day after the end of British Summer Time, as the caravan site is closing for the winter, the cycle shop is often closed and when the FC have had to close large parts of the wood (see above.) Could Forest Holidays be deliberately trying to underestimate traffic flows, or is this just more incompetence on their part?


Update: For one week there was also a camera counter at the junction itself.  The counter in the lane stayed longer but was removed before the big winter event at the end of November - the Siberian Husky Club rally


Most local people have experienced just how busy the lane can be at peak times in mid summer (see pictures here) and the good councillors of East Northants are unlikely to be influenced by this ill-timed attempt to prove otherwise.  We have already highlighted problems with Forest Holidays' new ecological surveys this year (see particularly reptiles here, but also bats here and dormice here).  Can any of their surveys be trusted? One wonders whether the FC still considers them trustworthy partners. Do they care what this partnership is doing to the Commission's reputation?  

Plans for nearby holiday park approved

Updated 9th November


On 2nd November East Northants Council (ENC) approved a significant holiday development at Jacks Green, approximately 3 miles to the east of Fineshade Wood. The site is a clearing of about 6.3ha bounded by mature and ancient woodland and was part of a US military airfield during World War 2. 


The approved plan from Rockingham Forest Park Ltd will provide 55 holiday lodges and 9 camping pitches. There is a long list of conditions attached to the approval, many of them proposed by the local Wildlife Trust and other conservation groups in order to protect the adjacent woodland. Other conditions are designed to allay the concerns of local Parish Councils and nearby residents.


Please note: this is not the threatened development by Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission within Fineshade Wood.


This decision by the Local Planning Authority is in stark contrast to their refusals to allow the exploitation of Fineshade Wood for holiday lodges and a glamping/camping site. (See here and here.)

Because this Jacks Green development will provide considerable additional holiday accommodation in Rockingham Forest, it seems that any future similar applications here at Fineshade are even less likely to be acceptable.


Forest Holidays decide not to appeal

Tuesday 15 September


In February, the planning committtee of East Northants Councill (ENC) discussed a planning application for a holiday camp in Fineshade Wood presented by Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission. Members of the committee agreed with a whole range of objections that had been raised by individuals, groups and organisations. However, only certain material considerations can be used as robust reasons for rejecting a planning application and, advised by the council's Head of Planning Services, the committee decided to give just two reasons: the proposal would have an adverse impact on biodiversity and it would also be detrimental to the character, appearance and tranquillity of the wood.


Forest Holidays had 6 months to appeal against that decision but have failed to do so - a tacit acceptance that the council's reasoning was sound.


You can read the story of the failed FC/FH appllication here:


No appeal
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