Fineshade Forest Plan 2020-2029
This page summarises the current Forest Plan that came into effect in March 2020, following a consultation process that started the previous year.
What Forestry England set out to do
The aim of Forestry England (FE) was for the plan to "define the long term vision for Fineshade, Wakerley and Southwick Woods and set out how management will move towards achieving this vision over the next ten years".
Management objectives are to:
diversify the species and age structure to mitigate against the
impacts of climate change, pests and disease;
grow sustainable commercial crops;
gradually revert Plantations on Ancient Woodland (PAWS) to mixed
woodlands dominated by broadleaves;
facilitate public access on freehold land;
conserve the landscape and conservation value of the woodlands;
manage the natural resources to maintain soil and water quality.
It is clear from the details of the plan that this list of management objectives is in a firmly prioritised order. Items at the top of the list are given much greater importance.
Pages 11 to 13 of the plan display a table of national, district and local objectives, grouped under the headings of Economy, Nature and People. The first objective of the national strategy under the heading of People is:
Encourage communities to become involved in the Estate,
its management and direction
Taking this at face value, individual Friends of Fineshade engaged as whole-heartedly as possible both in discussing early versions of the plan and then more widely in the public consultation exercise.
The public consultation
A proposed plan having been drawn up it was out for public consultation from 4th October 2019 to 8th November. The proposed plan can still be downloaded here.
This enables a comparison to be made between the before-and-after-public-consulattion versions of the plan.
There was a well attended public Drop in Meeting at Top Lodge, Fineshade, on Wednesday 23rd October 2019 from 14:00 until 19:00. It was a useful opportunity to view the proposed plan and discuss the proposals with Forestry England staff.
We were told that Forestry England would examine the feedback from the consultation, contact those who responded and, where possible, incorporate suggestions into the Forest Plan.
Five organisations responded to the consultation (Butterfly Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Natural England, Small Woods Association, Northants Archaeological Field Group). In addition 25 individuals submitted comments and suggestions. Many of the responses were lengthy, detailed and passionate. (See one example here.) Most consultees received an acknowledgement that their comment had been received.
A public consultation should provide an opportunity to encourage communities to become involved in the management and direction of the Public Forest Estate
On 28th January 2020 Friends of Fineshade were told that an amended version of the plan had been prepared, but there had been admin delays within the Forestry Commission (as opposed to Forestry England.) It seemed we were waiting for FC to place an amended version "on the public register to run concurrently with the public consultation".
In June 2020 we had still heard nothing but a search on FE's website revealed that the plan had by then been published. Dates on the plan indicated that decisions had been taken before the Coronavirus lockdown. It appeared that consulltees had not been informed and that FE had taken the decision not to respond in detail to the many comments received. Instead, in the final plan, consultee comments were very briefly summarised and the Forest District response was listed in many cases in this way:
Forestry England acknowledged the comments and will take these into considered (sic) alongside others received during the consultation when implementing the management operations outlined in the plan.
Several consultees had raised issues about recreation facilities. These included the closure of toilet facilities in Wakerley Wood carpark and lack of consultation or long-term planning. The listed responses from the Forest District indicate that these concerns were forwarded onto the recreation team. However, there has been no acknowledgement or response from that team, either to individual consultees or more generally.
The most frequently occurring comment was that, when replanting takes place, there should be less conifers and more broadleaves. However, the final version of the plan actually showed a small increase in the area of conifers to be planted.
Comparing the original proposed plan with the final version, one has to look very carefully to find changes that came about because of the consultation process. There are details that were changed and some suggestions that were taken up but, in respect to conifer planting and all the issues relating to recreation about which people feel most strongly, this lengthy and expensive consultation process appears to have made very little difference at all. We wonder how the Forest District's responses to this consultation have furthered the national objective of encouraging communities to become involved in the management of this part of public forest.
The public consultation seems to have made no difference at all to the issues that people feel most strongly about
What does the plan say?
One Friend of Fineshade has said "What the Plan says is OK - it's what it doesn't say that I'm worried about".
Here's a list of things that this Plan does not deal with:
There are no plans, either strategic or tactical, for recreation facilities - walking and cycling trails, carparks, toilets, tourist attractions and accommodation. For many people it is these things that most affect their enjoyment of the wood.
The Plan does not mention support for local businesses dedicated to woodland management. Is there a policy for encouraging local forestry contractors? Or for new businesses to be set up specialising in, for example, coppice products, wood turning etc.
It does not deal with the management of key ecological features such as rides, open areas such as the Deer Lawn, streams and ponds. This Plan is all about trees.
Clear-felling and restocking
We are generally happy with the proposed strategy for clear felling as summarised in the felling map copied below. But there are concerns about the stated plans for restocking, i.e the creation of new plantations. Overall there will only be a slight reduction in non-native conifer plantations but we would prefer much more of the conifer to be replaced with native hardwoods.The Plan states that: "Secondary woodland sites currently planted with conifers will continue to be managed as conifer woodland in future rotations." We believe that the Forestry Commission made huge mistakes when, years ago, it created conifer plantations of Norway Spruce, Corsican Pines etc, in Rockingham Forest. There is a danger of repeating the mistakes of previous experiments, for example, with the planting of Serbian Spruce.
We understand the aspiration to plant for resilience, including planting some species sourced from further south. However, when the Plan talks of increased diversity, this appears to entail introducing a broader range of exotic species on the clear fell areas. Increasing tree diversity does not equate with biodiversity gain. It is clear that species such as Oriental Spruce will bring very little biodiversity gain: it offers no more benefits for our native fauna and flora than do the largely sterile conifer plantations it will replace. We would have prefered to see the Plan referring to a mixture of native and non-native species.
In particular we note with great concern that there is no mention anywhere in the Plan of native trees being used to restock clear-felled areas. "Native" seems to have become a dirty word, for some parts of Forestry England.
Low impact management
We are pleased to see that the plan identifies substantial areas where no clear-fell and subsequent replanting will take place. We are pleased that on mature Ancient Woodland sites “low impact silvicultural systems (LISS) will be favoured”. The management techniques set out for these sound appealing, but we are concerned by statements such as: “The use of nursery grown trees will again allow new provenances and different species to be introduced to increase resilience to pest, disease and climate change.”
The emphasis again, even on Ancient Woodland sites, appears to be on non-native trees whose contribution to the woods’ biodiversity is questionable.
A remaining block of conifer (Corsican Pine). When it is felled it will be replaced with more exotic conifer (perhaps Serbian Spruce)
We say that there should be no further planting of non-native conifer in Fineshade Wood. It's not good for people, it's not good for wildlife and its economic value is very questionable.
There is no mention anywhere in the Plan of native trees being used.
To parts of FE, "Native" seems to have become a dirty word
An example of LISS management in 2019. An Oak plantation thinned in Hollow Wood near King's Cliffe
We are very pleased indeed to see a small area set aside as a "Natural Reserve" (marked red on the map below.) In this area no active woodland management will be undertaken and the area (2.4ha) will be allowed to evolve naturally without any human intervention.
We understand that, in order to maintain UKWAS designation, Forestry England need to create Natural Reserves across 1% of secondary woodland and 5% of Ancient Woodland across each district. This red area is only 0.5% of the total area of Fineshade, so in our consultation responses we urged an increase in the area of this plot (it is "Plantation on Ancient Woodland"). We suggested several other parts of Fineshade which would be best left to evolve naturally. These proposals were not taken up.
We were pleased that a suggestion was accepted to re-open a previous view point to the north towards Tixover and also like the idea to open up another view to the west. Such views allow people to appreciate the wider landscape of Rockingham Forest and Fineshade's integral place within that landscape.
Part of the small area where a Natural Reserve is planned
Fineshade felling map
This map, together with those of Wakerley and Southwick Woods are probably the most
important part of the Plan, indicating when different areas are to be felled. As well as key decisions stated on the map, it is worth noting a move away from straight line edges to more natural curves in some parts of the wood.
A final comment
Friends of Fineshade feel that there are aspects of this plan that are very good and represent really positive steps forward in the management of Fineshade Wood.
However, many Friends of Fineshade are very disappointed at the way FE's Central District have responded to aspects of the public consultation procedure: this was no way to "Encourage communities to become involved in the Estate, its management and direction".