Open letter to Natural England
The following open letter was sent to James Cross, the Chief Executive of Natural England on 13th April 2016.
The reply from Aidan Lonergan, West Anglia Area Manager, Natural England is published below, together with comments.
Dear Mr Cross
We are writing to you to ask Natural England to consider, as a matter of urgency, the complex of woodland known as Fineshade Wood (SP99) in Northamptonshire for notification as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (“SSSI”).
Collectively, through a mixture of formal surveys and ad-hoc records gathered by local wildlife groups and individuals, we have amassed significant evidence of the value of Fineshade Wood for wildlife across a range of habitats and species groups. We have compared this with the latest available Guidelines for Selection of Biological SSSIs (published on the website of the Joint Nature Conservancy Council). On the evidence already gathered, we believe that Fineshade Wood qualifies for notification as a SSSI for the following reasons:
Fineshade Wood has an “outstanding” assemblage of native reptile species in a local context, with all four of the widespread species present (adder, common lizard, slow-worm and grass snake). The population of adders is particularly important in a county and regional context.
The breeding bird assemblage scores for Fineshade Wood exceed the thresholds for SSSI notification in the main habitat types found there (lowland scrub and woodland).
At 497 hectares, Fineshade Wood is one of the largest blocks of ancient semi-natural woodland in Rockingham Forest that is without protection.
In several further areas, additional biological surveys may show that the site also qualifies against other taxonomic criteria, particularly for vascular plants, mammals, and invertebrates. We have provided strong existing supporting evidence for each of these groups.
Detailed information and further evidence relating to the above points can be accessed on the Friends of Fineshade website, and is also set out in the enclosed Annex to this letter. There you will see that we believe that the "Critical Standard Principle" should be applied to Fineshade Wood, so the site has to reach the qualifying standard for only one habitat or species to be eligible for selection as a SSSI.
We know that Natural England is engaged in a review of its strategic approach to designation. However, the matter is urgent because Fineshade Wood is threatened by another planning application for a huge holiday development. Because this is a matter of considerable public interest, both locally and nationally, please be aware that we intend to publish this letter and your response on the Friends of Fineshade website, and possibly elsewhere.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Signed by Barrie Galpin, for the Friends of Fineshade and on behalf of:
Colin Wilkinson Senior Conservation Planner, RSPB Midlands Region
Brian Eversham CEO, Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants
Dr Tony Gent Chief Executive Officer, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
Simon Dudhill Chairman of Hawk & Owl Trust East Midlands Group
Martin Izzard B.E.M. Branch Secretary, Beds & Northants Butterfly Conservation
Linda Biddle Chairman, Rutland Natural History Society
Sandra Parsons Chairman, Duddington-with-Fineshade Parish Council
Richard Reed Parish Clerk, Duddington-with-Fineshade Parish Council.
Mark Avery Writer, blogger and environmental campaigner
Tom Langton Ecologist specialising in Reptiles and Amphibians
Brian Laney Reptiles and Amphibians Recorder, Northants
Mike Alibone Birds Recorder, Northants
Rob Wilson Botanical Recorder, Northants
Douglas Goddard Butterfly Recorder, Northants
Phil Richardson Northants Bat Group and Mammal Recorder, Northants
Peter Edwards Sett Recorder, North Northants Badger Group
Richard Eckton Formerly FC Wildlife Ranger for Fineshade Wood
Fraser Bradbury Silvecologist and formerly FC Beat Forester for Fineshade Wood
Response from Natural England
From: Aidan Lonergan Area Manager West Anglia Area Team, Eastbrook, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge, CB2 8DR
Dated: 25 April 2016
Thank you very much for your letter of 13 April 2016 to Natural England’s’ CEO James Cross regarding Fineshades Wood in Northamptonshire. I am responding on his behalf as Area Manager for West Anglia which covers the area under discussion. We are both very impressed with the data you and your colleagues have collected and the passion you clearly have for the site.
Our designations programme and pipeline is carefully planned well in advance, taking into account our strategic designation priorities, national programmes (such as Marine Conservation Zones) and more local priorities based on the work and knowledge of our Area Teams. For the first time we have recently published that forward programme Natural England designations programme for areas, sites and trails.
Designations themselves can take a considerable period of time to progress from investigation and data gathering, through liaison with interested parties and final confirmation depending on the size and complexity of the site.
As a result of you bringing the site and the information to our attention, we will place Fineshades Wood on a list of sites for possible further investigation for future designation. Our local designation priorities in 2016/17 are the Crouch and Roach Estuaries, Hamford Water Special Protection Area, stretches of the England Coast Path in Essex and work on Tranche 3 Marine Conservation Zones. We will not be taking any further action in the short term on investigating Fineshades Wood.
Rockingham Forest is a very important landscape for wildlife and the people of Northamptonshire, we are already working with partners such as Butterfly Conservation and the Forestry Commission to improve the management of existing woodlands and through our Countryside Stewardship scheme to help connect these places with new wildlife-rich habitats. We are very keen to work with you and others to ensure that the value of this site within the wider Rockingham Forest area is properly considered by other organisations including the local planning authority. We would very much like to meet with you to discuss a collaborative way forward to ensure a positive future for Fineshades Wood. I will be in touch directly to organise that meeting very shortly.
The Friends of Fineshade very much welcome this reply.
We understand the reasons why NE are not able to take immediate action to begin the notification process and are very pleased that Fineshade Wood is now on the list of possible sites for future designation. We urge NE to make all possible haste to investigate the possiblilty further.
We note that the letter does not give any indication at all that NE think Fineshade Wood is unworthy of SSSI status - quite the opposite. The chief executive and area manager "are both very impressed with the data... collected".
We are interested in the sentence that includes "to ensure that the value of this site within the wider Rockingham Forest area is properly considered by other organisations including the local planning authority." The local planning authority has shown already that it appreciates the value of the site by rejecting the previous applications for holiday developments. So which "other organisations" do NE have in mind who might not be considering the value of the site? Could it possibly be a reference to the Forestry Commission?
We very much welcome the opportunity to meet to discuss a collaborative way forward to ensure a positive future for Fineshade Wood.
Fineshade is now on the NE list of possible sites for future designation.
NE are impressed with the SSSI data collected for Fineshade
NE want to ensure that the value of Fineshade is properly considered by "other organisations"
We were invited to discuss a positive future for Fineshade Wood with NE staff
A visit by NE
On Monday 16th May Mr Lonergan and Julie Julie Danby, Team Leader for Northamptonshire visited Fineshade Wood. You can read a report of that visit here.
Latest news: letter from the Chief Executive
On 24th May 2016 James Cross wrote to our MP Tom Purslove clarifying still further the position that Natural England is taking. You can read that letter here.