Public consultation on hazardous waste site
16 November 2020
Close to the northeast of Fineshade Wood lies a large landfill site operated by Augean PLC. It handles hazardous waste and is the only site in the south of the UK that can also deal with low-level nuclear waste. At present there is a single arable field between the site and Fineshade Wood. Last year Augean announced an intention to purchase 90 acres of land to extend the existing site to the west bringing the site right to the edge of the wood and, more importantly, severing the fragile connection between Fineshade and Collyweston Great Wood.
During their initial "consultation", we stated strongly that they should be looking south of the existing site rather than west. However, Augean have been progressing their original plans and have now launched a formal Pre-application Public Consultation before bringing forward a planning application next spring. There are more details of the existing site and proposed extension here and links to the public consultation here.
We would urge everyone to take part in this consultation and make their views known to Augean in a formal way. A simple email or phone call is all it needs.
A puzzling stone
29 October 2020
An interesting object was found in Fineshade Wood this week. There are many badger setts in the wood and we try to regularly record how many entrances show signs of recent activity. At one very old sett the occupants had been busy with new excavations and this object has been thrown out along with other rocks and soil. Our first thought was a stone axe-head, then realising how easily it fitted into the hand we wondered if it could be a pre-historic hand axe. There is even a depression that fits a right-handed person's thumb - it feels just right.
We began to make some enquiries and the weight of opinion now seems to be in favour of a fossilised bivalve shellfish, something like a large mussel. However, we are hoping to get some expert advice and once the local museum is open again we will take it for examination. In the meantime, if you have expertise in this area and would like to see the object please do get in touch.
Environmental improvements at Top Lodge
16 September 2020
The seven cottages around the green at Top Lodge were built by the Forestry Commission
in the 1950s and the original sewage disposal system has finally been replaced today. The properties are now all privately owned and householders formed a company (Top Lodge Environmental) to manage the installation which has been carried out by Pumping and Drainage Systems Ltd. of Sleaford. The new unit will be powered from the electricity supplied by solar panels and batteries on one of the cottages and, of course, the outflow from the system should now meet the highest environmental standards.
A new large unit like this required a huge hole to be dug and residents were faced with the potentially expensive problem of what to do with the sub-soil that would be removed. The problem was solved in a sustainable way by using it to create a reptile bank, which will benefit the four species of reptiles that occur here (Common Lizards, Grass Snakes, Slow Worms and Adders).
With Forestry England's approval and advice from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (part of the Back from the Brink partnership) a south-facing bank about 4m long and 1m high was built using the spoil from the excavation.
We hope that visitors to Fineshade will no longer be offended by the unpleasant smells that were often associated with the previous sewage system, and we also hope that Fineshade's reptiles will appreciate basking on the sunny new bank we have been able to build for them.
Forest Holidays - finally the case is closed
27 August 2020
In 2018, the threat that the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays would create a holiday camp deep in Fineshade's precious Ancient Woodland appeared to came to an end when FC announced that they had no intention of allowing FH to bring forward another application to develop Fineshade Wood.
Following that decision, and because of a series of other contentious planning applications elsewhere, the former environment minister, Thérèse Coffey, announced that DEFRA was not happy about the arrangements between FC and FH and initiated a review by government auditors. Their report was initially kept secret but has been revealed after a protracted series of Freedom of Information requests. (The report may now be read here). The report concluded that FC went beyond its lawful powers by entering into an arrangement to develop publicly-owned woodland into a series of private holiday parks without ministerial approval. It recommended that Treasury approval be sought and obtained for transactions which may potentially be novel, contentious or repercussive. "As the landlord of the forest estate, the Defra Secretary of State has the power to approve the leases forming part of the transaction ."
As a result of the completely damning report, a new fiscal clause has now been inserted into FC's framework agreement requiring that it must obtain written approval from DEFRA ministers, the Investment Committee and HM Treasury, before making any investments considered "potentially contentious”. Furthermore, "investments ... in bodies corporate operating on the Public Forest Estate should be presumed potentially contentious”.
This may mean that any proposed development schemes on publicly-owned forest such as Fineshade could not simply be hatched by Forest Holidays and FC managers and rushed through the Local Planning Authority. Instead it would need approval at a much higher level. Friends of Fineshade believe that this is the final nail in the coffin of any remaining aspirations that Forest Holidays may have to build a holiday camp here.
First Dormouse for five years
18 August 2020
Once a month for many summers, volunteers from the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants have been checking wooden Dormouse best boxes in Fineshade Wood. The boxes are arranged in three transects in the northern part of Fineshade Wood. Often there have been Wood Mice and Shrews in residence, but not since 2015 have the volunteer team encountered a Dormouse using one of the boxes.
Finally today persistence was rewarded when Judy and David Stroud found an adult male tucked up in a nest in one of the boxes. He weighed in at a healthy 24.3g. It's great to know that there is still a small population of this rare and vulnerable species living in this part of the woodland. You can read more about Fineshade's Dormice here.
Sadly our plans to track down Dormice using footprint tunnels in other parts of the wood had to be suspended earlier this year because of Covid-19. Perhaps we will be able to revive that project next summer.
Discovery of a remarkable tree
17 August 2020.
Some years ago Seán Karley and other Friends of Fineshade from the Kettering and District Natural History Society visited Fineshade Wood looking for plant galls and fungi Seán is the county recorder for galls - the lumps, bumps and growths that develop on different parts of plants when they are invaded by particular organisms. They can for example be caused by fungi, insects or mites. Common examples include so called Oak Apples, Robins Pincushions on wild roses and Witches Broom on Birch trees etc.
During that visit Seán also discovered a tree where the trunk had grown into a complete circle. Not an actual gall he thought and most likely the result of man’s intervention. Probably someone simply tied a young sapling into a circle and left it to grow.
Recently Seán has come back and found the tree again. It is part of an ancient coppice stool, one of many in Dales Wood that have been worked for probably hundreds of years. Seán says “Ash is rather prone to fusions where two parts of, usually, the same plant join together. This is the finest example I have ever found.”.
We’ve agreed that it should be named the "Whirligig Ash” and have reported its location to Forestry England so that it isn’t inadvertently felled when management work is carried out. It’s certainly one of Fineshade’s most curious trees and is well worth conserving.
Coronavirus restrictions - latest
Updated August 2020. Carpark open with portaloos. Cafe serving takeaways.
Play areas and art gallery also open. Congestion along access road at weekends.
On 23 March Forestry England took the decision to close all recreation facilities in the woods they manage. In the case of Fineshade this included the Top Lodge car parks, cafe and toilet facilities. This was a national decision and taken in response to the failure of some people to observe social distancing guidance. The Caravan Site was also closed and all caravans asked to leave. Since the woods remained open many people continued to drive to Fineshade, parked outside and took their daily exercise by walking in the woods
As weeks went by the government advice changed. People were at first discouraged from all unnecessary travel including driving to take exercise. For those living in Fineshade, KIng's Cliffe and Duddington, access to the woods on foot was still possible. The usual social distancing was rigorously maintained.
Travel restrictions were relaxed during the second week of May so that people were allowed to drive to take exercise. However, Forestry England were unable to open the car parks and still discouraged people from driving to the wood. The lack of parking space at Top Lodge caused extreme congestion in the access lane until the car parks were eventually opened on 19th May.
Both children's play areas are now open again. The cafe is open for takeaway service only, with a one way system through the courtyard which gives access to Art in the Arches. There are six portaloos stationed in the car parks. Most (but not all) visitors are acting sensitively and in accordance with government guidelines. Weekends are very busy indeed.
The previous weekend the Caravan and Motorhome Club Site at Top Lodge re-opened after the lockdown period and over 60 caravans arrived up the single track line to Top Lodge. In anticipation of this, new warning signs had been erected along the road requesting motorists to keep the passing places clear. A particular concern was that caravans and emergency vehicles should be able to pass each other using the passing places, all of which are clearly marked as such.
Despite all the warning signage, people still parked one of the passing places and, for the first time as far as we know, local police were on hand and issued parking tickets. We understand that they will be returning frequently at weekends to penalise those who park irresponsibly.
We urge all visitors to Fineshade to park safely and legally, and not to obstruct the highway. Lives could depend on it.
Police issue parking fines
9 July 2020
Fineshade Forest Plan is published
29 June 2020
Sometime during the lockdown period, Forestry England's long-awaited Forest Plan for Fineshade, Wakerley and Southwick Woods was published.
A proposed plan had been drawn up in 2019 and a public consultation was run from 4th October until 8th November last year. There was a well attended meeting on Wednesday 23rd October after which 5 organisations and 25 individuals, many of them Friends of Fineshade, submitted comments. Some of these comments were lengthy, detailed and passionate. Comments were formally acknowledged and 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. After early November everything went very quiet.
In late January we were told that some amendments had been made to the plan by Forestry England but that there had been admin delays within the Forestry Commission (as opposed to Forestry England.) It is now clear that the amended plan was signed off by the Forest District Manager on 26th November and finally signed by a Forestry Commission Officer on the 10th March. Sometime between then and mid June the amended plan appeared on the Forestry Commission website. There was no announcement on Forestry England's social media, the 30 consultees were not informed, there is no mention of the plan on the Fineshade page of the FE website.
However, you can find a link to download the final plan here. You will also see our comments on the consultation exercise and on the final plan.
Grow your own Elm from seed
26 April 2020
It's almost exactly a year since we started our project to record and identify all of Fineshade's remaining Elm trees. You can read what we were able to do last year on this page of the website. With the current situation and the country in lockdown, very few people are able to come and enjoy the sight of many of the trees covered in the Elms' attractive seeds (known as samaras).
However, perhaps trying to get them to germinate at home would be an interesting project for some people to take on? We offered to send out some fresh seed from a known species inviting peoples to try to grow their own trees.
Field becomes Local Wildlife Site
10 April 2020
We have just heard that the field in front of Top Lodge has been designated as a Local Wildlife Site, giving it further protection from inappropriate development. Since 2014 the owners of the field have made a series of unsuccessful planning applications for the field: (Glamping, Camping and Static Caravans). You can read about our campaigns to oppose those developments here.
Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) are designated as areas of land that are especially important for their wildlife, and the field at Top Lodge Fineshade has been designated because of its importance within a key area of the county for Adders. A survey, carried out by ecological consultants to support a planning application in 2019, indicated the presence of breeding Adders and other reptiles. Following the withdrawal of that planning application, Friends of Fineshade proposed that the local Wildlife Trust should take appropriate measures to recognise the field as a LWS. That process is now complete and from 1st April 2020 the field has been given this recognition. It now enjoys the same status as the Top Lodge Orchard and Meadow, making it even more unlikely that the field will ever be developed for holiday accommodation.
You can read more about the status of LWS here: www.wildlifetrusts.org/local-wildlife-sites
And here is a link to LWS in Northamptonshire: www.wildlifebcn.org/what-we-do/nature-recovery-network/local-wildlife-sites.
The formal designation document may be downloaded using this link.
Friends of Fineshade are very grateful to the staff at the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire who helped to bring this about and also to the Back from The Brink, Roots of Rockingham project for supplying supporting evidence on the importance of the Fineshade Adder population,
Sensitively managing the rides
15th March 2020
Over the years we have written much about the way wide rides have been created in Westhay Wood, the southern section of Fineshade. In June 2015 we praised the idea and initial trial, in 2016 we were very critical of the scale and speed of the implementation but in 2017 we reported on the positive benefits for wildlife that were already becoming apparent. But wild rides need to be kept wide, and the intention is to cut them on a 3-year rotation, mowing one third of the rides over each winter.
This winter's extremely wet weather has meant that conventional mowing methods have not been possible, so this week a special tracked vehicle has been used so that the ground surface can be disturbed as little as possible. You can see the work that has been done as you walk along the hard-surfaced tracks around the perimeter of the wood.
The area mown will be of particular benefit to flowers used by butterflies in the summer but, since Adders are already emerging from hibernation, all the rides were carefully checked for these rare reptiles before the mowing took place and known hibernation sites were avoided. The work has been done with great sensitivity as part of the collaboration between the Roots of Rockingham, Back from the Brink Project and Forestry England.
9 March 2020
Meet Fineshade's newest residents, a herd of twelve Highland Cattle who are now grazing the wide way-leave that crosses the northern part of Fineshade, known as the Assarts. This wide grassy area was created in the 1970s when Rutland Water was being built, and one of the reservoir's huge water supply pipes lies buried beneath the grass. Apart from a brief spell when Fineshade residents grazed Hebridean sheep there, the ride has simply been cut once a year for the 50 years ever since.
Now Forestry England have decided that a better use for the grassland is for it to be grazed by rare-breed cattle. They have erected secure stock-proof fencing and, last week, the Highland Cattle were introduced to their new home. It is likely that they will only stay for six months each year and then they will be moved to other woodland sites in the broader Rockingham Forest, where traditional methods of grazing amongst trees - wood pasture - is being re-instated.
It is interesting to think how land-use has gone full circle. A hundred years ago this was part of Assart Farm - the remains of the farmhouse are very close to the new enclosure. You can read an interesting article by Cherry Bonney describing how her family grazed cattle and sheep here back in the days before World War II. The farmland was planted with trees when it was acquired by the Forestry Commission, then the trees were felled to make way for the water pipeline, and now the grassland is being used for grazing once again.
Path to the east opening up
23 February 2020
Today we've done a great new walk!
The old railway line that passes through Fineshade continues east through King's Cliffe towards Nassington. The railway was dismantled as part of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s and is now, mostly, in private hands. But the Wildplaces Group, part of Transition King's Cliffe, led by Charles Tomalin, have gained landowners' permission and have been gradually opening up sections of the old route. A lot of hard work has been necessary but now a section about 2km long is accessible where the railway runs around the north of King's Cliffe village and away to the east towards Jacks' Green, Apethorpe and Yarwell.
This means that it is now possible to walk east from Top Lodge, Fineshade as far as Old Sulehay Forest near Wansford, without using any roads at all. The distance to Old Sulehay would be approximately 10km. This route crosses the landscape that Natural England believe "has huge potential to demonstrate landscape-scale conservation in practice" (see this page to read more and see a map). By helping to make that landscape more accessible the Wildplaces group are moving forward the vision for a revitalised Rockingham Forest.
A new project for 2020
Updated 9 Febuary 2020
Six Friends of Fineshade met at Top Lodge on 14th January to plan a new project to investigate which areas of Fineshade Wood are still occupied by one of the UK's most vulnerable mammals, the Hazel Dormouse. It was agreed that, with the help of the local Wildlife Trust and the approval of Forestry England, we will use the latest monitoring techniques in two parts of the wood during the summer of 2020.
Following the meeting we advertised for help and quickly formed a team of people to carry out the monitoring. We have agreed to put up and then check regularly a large number of plastic tunnels where, we hope, Dormice will leave their footprints as they explore. You can read more about the project here.
Even if you are not able to help out on the ground, perhaps you could contribute a little to the costs of the project? We launched a crowdfunding appeal here and quickly exceeded our target of £300 enabling us to order the footprint tunnels. The appeal is still open should you wish to help out with the costs of other equipment.