Coronavirus restrictions - latest
Updated 31 March 2020
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 days went by the government advice changed. People are now discouraged from all unnecessary travel including driving to take exercise. For those living in Fineshade and within walking distance (e.g. KIng's Cliffe and Duddington) access to the woods is still possible. The usual social distancing is being rigorously maintained.
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.
Bridleway to King's Cliffe flooded
23 December 2019 and updated 15 March 2020
For some weeks, the bridleway leading from King's Cliffe into Fineshade Wood has been blocked by flood water. This is part of the long-distance Jurassic Way path. Until now Ii has scarcely been passable with walking boots, though those wearing wellies have found it possible with care. But the most recent deluge of rain has meant that the water has even been coming over the top of wellington boots.
The reason for this blockage of the Right of Way would appear to be two-fold: there has been more rain than usual in the last months, with December set to be the wettest month since records began. But there was not a flooding problem here until the owner of the adjacent land to the south levelled it, prior to selling it off for housing development. It seems that ditches and waterways were blocked and the new owners of the land find themselves with a serious problem to solve, one that is seriously affecting all those who regularly walk between Fineshade and King's Cliffe.
Update: 15th March. This week, contractors were at work on the adjacent land and creating a new ditch/drain. The effect was immediate, with water levels on the bridelway beginning to fall straight away though it will be some time before we will know if the problem as really been solved.
Extension of nuclear waste site
Updated 8 December 2019
To the northeast of Fineshade Wood lies a landfill site operated by Augean PLC. It handles hazardous waste from the south of the country and is the UK's only site that can also deal with low-level nuclear waste. At present there is a single arable field between the site and the woodland as shown in the photo on the left. But Augean announced in November an intention to purchase 90 acres of land to extend the existing site to the west, presumably bringing the site right to the edge of the wood. They then began to carry out site investigations before the process of seeking planning permission. They said that they:
"wanted to notify you in advance of the investigations and explain what is happening as part of Augean’s commitment to promote transparency and understanding of what we do and what the long term intentions of the company may be."
The annual Open Day for the existing site took place on Saturday 23 November 2019 and the company provided more details of their proposed plan. You can see map and photos of the proposed area on this page, together with comments oo the likely effects on wildlife and landscape .
At last! After four and a half years Forest Holidays (FH) have finally given in to pressure to release the data that their ecological surveyors collected back in 2015. It has taken request after request to prise the data from them. Friends of Fineshade have written repeatedly and have also pressed the Forestry Commission/Forestry England (FE) to do the same. Finally this year, when FE's own ecologists asked once again, they were told by their so-called partners that the records have been sent to the Northants Biological Records Centre. That data is now in the public domain and the Friends and FE now have copies, as has the project officer for the Back from the Brink Project at Fineshade, and the local Wildlife Trust BCN.
They have released data from surveys that were carried out for Bats (7 species), Reptiles (4 species), Great Crested Newts (found in 3 ponds), Badgers, Invertebrates (3 rare or notable species) and Dormice (three nests found in boxes, photo left). The Dormouse records were of particular importance as the species has protection at the European level. The group of three nests were right in the middle of Fineshade Wood close to the proposed Forest Holidays development.
There is more detail here of our battle to get hold of this important and useful data .
Survey data released, but 4 years late
16 November 2019
Have you seen these garish new parking ticket machines in the carpark at Top Lodge? Along with the new machines came some more unwelcome news - increased parking charges. The new prices are shown on the machines and also on the FE website.
Now, if you want to park for more than 3 hours at Top Lodge it will cost you £5.50. Wasn't it £4 until very recently?
We may be wrong, but we think that Forestry England may have just tried to slip this big increase through without comment. We don't recall any announcement on their Facebook page for example, let alone any attempt to justify why the 37% increase was necessary.
As far as we know parking at Wakerley Wood remains free.
Big rise in parking costs
1 November 2019
There's selective felling going on in Hollow Wood, on the east side of Fineshade Wood near King's Cliffe.
This is an Oak plantation created in 1930 on an Ancient Woodland Site and is one of the best examples in Fineshade of well managed woodland producing a valuable crop while sustaining rich biodiversity. Over the years, successive thinning of the mature trees has taken place and exactly 10 years ago Fineshade residents were actively coppicing the area (There are pictures of that work here.)
Further thinning is happening again now and a contractor has been carefully removing more of the Oaks. You can see some of the fine 90-year old trees that are being extracted on this thinning in this picture, along with those that are being left for the future.
This process is an example of the "Low impact Silvicultural Systems" (LISS) that are being proposed in the current consultation for the Fineshade Forest Plan.
More tree felling
28 October 2019
Hear about the forest's future
20 September 2019 and updated 13 October
The new Forest Plan was published on 4th October and can be downloaded here. On Wednesday 23rd October, from 2 to 7pm, there will be an open event in the Little Barn at Top Lodge when Forestry England staff will be on hand to explain and discuss the plan. There will then be two weeks during which any member of the public may comment on the proposals before the plan is adopted. If you are interested in the long-term future of Fineshade Wood (as well as Wakerley and Southwick Woods) you should try to attend the open event and then take part in the consultation.
Friends of Fineshade have been able to see drafts of some of the detailed maps that are being produced. One of the plan's main purposes is to set out which parts of the wood will be clear-felled and replanted over the period up to 2055 and beyond. For example, it seems that parts of the western edge of Mill Wood could be felled and replanted soon. Such action obviously affects the landscape, with views of the wood from the A43 being altered. However, other areas like the sections of Ancient Woodland north of Top Lodge will not be clear-felled, just thinned. The plan's main emphasis will be large scale tree felling and planting, rather than dealing with the nitty gritty of ride management, car parks and recreation facilities.
Do try to attend the event on October 23rd and have your say about the forest's future. We will shortly be publishing a summary and comments here.
What are Forestry England planning next for Fineshade Wood? Now that the threat of development as a Forest Holidays site has been withdrawn (see details here) the way is clear for a Forest Management Plan to be carried out, and we understand that such a plan is being drawn up this autumn. Plans like this are supposed to set out how Forestry England (FE) aims to manage the woodland over the next 30 or more years. According to this page of the FE website the plan will describe the woods as they are now, list the main points considered when deciding what is best for the woods, describe how the forest will develop over time, and give specific information about tree felling, replanting and regeneration over the next 10 years.
There are many questions of interest. For example, what is planned for the remaining conifer blocks? Will the previous Ancient Woodland Project (removing conifer and allowing natural regeneration) be continued? Will Ancient Woodland areas be managed or left to their own devices? Will traditional coppicing be encouraged? Will the ride widening of recent years be maintained? How will growing demands for public access be dealt with? What will be Fineshade's place in the broader Rockingham Forest landscape of the years ahead?
The previous 10-year plan for Fineshade was drawn up in 2006 and was due to be reviewed in 2016 so it is good to know that a new plan is being produced. We understand that there will be an opportunity for the public to comment on the plan and we hope that there will also be opportunities for local people and stakeholders to make suggestions. Watch this website for details of the plan and how you can get involved.
Forest Plan for Fineshade due this autumn
15 August 2019
Plan for static-caravan site withdrawn
30 July 2019
In 31st July the Planning Management Committee of East Northants Council were due to consider the proposal to erect 32 static caravan on the field in front of Top Lodge. Today we heard that the owners of the field had withdrawn the application.
This, the latest of four proposals to develop the field, was the most visually intrusive yet and had been strongly opposed by local residents and other Friends of Fineshade from across a wide area. The Forestry Commission too had objected to the plans stating that it would have an adverse affect on the visitor centre and to the setting of the Grade-II listed building.
The committee had visited Top Lodge last week to view the proposed development and what they saw will have convinced them that this was totally unacceptable. Their Planning Officer had already provided advice to reject the proposal, giving five sound reasons that would be likely to stand up in the event that the owners of the field tried to lodge an appeal. You can read that report, together with more about the proposed development here.
So, faced with almost certain defeat, the owners of the field have withdrawn their application. One more threat to the tranquillity of Fineshade Wood has come and gone.