The place of Fineshade in the wider landscape of Rockingham Forest
"I really believe that this area has huge potential to demonstrate landscape-scale conservation in practice"
Justin Tilley, Natural England
View from Fineshade Wood toward Wakerley along the Welland Valley
For some years Natural England (NE) have been expressing their support for our efforts to conserve Fineshade Wood. They have said both publicly and privately how important they believe Fineshade’s rich biodiversity to be and have strongly supported basing the Roots of Rockingham Back from the Brink project here. As previously reported in 2016 the NE Chief Executive wrote to our MP Tom Pursglove saying:
“Fineshade Wood is a wonderful place for wildlife. It forms part of the wider Rockingham Forest which is a very important landscape for nature and the people of Northamptonshire. Natural England is already working with various organisations to look after this rich natural environment.”
If the threat to Fineshade should reappear, Natural England would ensure that inappropriate development is prevented
Therefore we were very pleased to welcome the NE Northamptonshire Team Leader, Justin Tilley to Fineshade at the end of September 2018. Justin already knew Fineshade well but it was good to be able to give him new perspectives from personal experience, bringing to life how important a place Fineshade is.
We discussed, of course, the need for the new areas of Ancient Woodland to be added to the official maps and Justin re-assured us that this was in the pipeline and promised that it would happen very soon. (UPDATE: the newly designated area appeared on the maps in October 2018)
Another issue was our strong and detailed request for Fineshade to be designated as SSSI. Here the news was less good: the NE position has not changed since 2016 when Fineshade Wood was placed on the list of sites for possible designation, and it is still unlikely there would be action by NE here in the short term. Justin did offer re-assurance, however, that our work in meticulously recording important wildlife would not be in vain. he made clear that the argument we have laid out detailing Fineshade’s SSSI-worthiness would be of fundamental importance were any further holiday development plans to appear. In that circumstance, NE would use all the evidence the Friends of Fineshade have collected to ensure that inappropriate development is prevented, and that the special wildlife of the site received protection.
However, it was the discussion of Fineshade’s position in relation to the wider Rockingham Forest that gave us most encouragement. NE are keen to work to conserve and improve the Rockingham Forest landscape as a whole (see the map below) and it became clear that Fineshade has a central strategic place in that vision.
After a wide-ranging discussion, Justin summarized the NE position like this:
The Lawton Review (2010) set out a clear vision, moving away from the idea of wildlife contained in isolated reserves and towards whole landscapes that are vibrant, wildlife-rich, and ecologically functioning.
Launching the report, Professor Sir John Lawton said:
“There is compelling evidence that England’s collection of wildlife sites are generally too small and too isolated, leading to declines in many of England’s characteristic species."
25 Year Environment Plan (2018).
"We will achieve a growing and resilient network ... that is richer in plants and wildlife.
We will do this by:
creating or restoring 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site network, focusing on priority habitats as part of a wider set of land management changes providing extensive benefits
taking action to recover threatened, iconic or economically important species of animals, plants and fungi
increasing woodland in England in line with our aspiration of 12% cover by 2060: this would involve planting 180,000 hectares by end of 2042"
"As you know, there are a number of significant landowners with a conservation remit here (NE, FC, Wildlife Trust); a range of effective and inspired groups and projects (including Friends of Fineshade and Back from the Brink) and a host of relatively large sites which hold significant wildlife interests. I really believe that this area has huge potential to demonstrate landscape-scale conservation in practice. It could and should be an exemplar of how a range of partners can come together, and put the ambitions described in the Lawton Review and Defra 25-year Plan into practice.
"We’re really keen to promote further collaboration between us all, to develop a strong partnership that enhances the natural and cultural heritage of this area. Fineshade is a significant piece of this North Rockingham jigsaw, as are sites such as Wakerley Wood, Collyweston Great Wood and Easton Hornstocks NNR, Bedford Purlieus NNR and Old Sulehay/Ring Haw SSSI. There is ample opportunity across Rockingham for us to carry out research on nature conservation, and share best practice that can inform sustainable management practices elsewhere. There is the opportunity to engage, inform and educate people about their local environment, promoting the many benefits that come from volunteering in the outdoors. We’ve seen the positive and inspiring steps taken with Back from the Brink, so we are keen to help deliver the aims of that scheme, and to ensure that it has a lasting legacy in the area.
"I see a key role for the Friends of Fineshade group in all of this, especially in terms of galvanising the community to appreciate their local area, to learn new skills and get their hands (and boots) dirty with survey and monitoring, and to inspire others to get involved with nature. I look forward to further conversations about our collaborating in future."
The Friends of Fineshade were delighted to hear this vision for landscape-scale conservation and pledged our support to work with NE and the other partners to make the dream become a reality.
Map showing the northern area of Rockingham Forest showing the various large blocks of woodland mentioned in Justin's statement.
The shading indicates various features including Ancient Woodland, National Nature Reserves (bright green diagonals), SSSIs, important wildlife sites, Forestry Commission woodlands etc. It is clear that Fineshade Wood is the largest unbroken block in what Justin calls "this North Rockingham jigsaw".