Visit: New Forest 28 February 2012
Three members of the Panel – Alan Knight, Mike Clarke and Tom Franklin – were warmly welcomed to the New Forest for a visit to explore a wide range of issues that affect the forest and the surrounding area.
The morning session focussed on landscape and habitats, forestry management and commoning. On the way to Fritham, the panel members were given an overview of the area and an understanding of the role played by both the National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission.
The New Forest is a unique example of an English medieval landscape that has essentially changed little since its establishment by William I. The 20,000 ha of Open Forest is made up heath and Forest lawns as well as woodland and has been managed over the last millennium by the practice of commoning; it is one of the last remaining strongholds of commoning in western Europe.
Being close to dense population areas, the New Forest is a very popular destination for lot of recreational activities: it’s estimated that there are 13.5 million day visitors every year. The need to balance the needs of a working forest and the unique environment with access and recreation opportunities for a broad range of people was a recurring theme throughout the day.
At Hampton Ridge, the Panel were able to see a drift pound, where the commoners stock is collected annually as part of the stock management process. The importance of commoning both in terms of cultural heritage but also as part of the active management of the forest was emphasised. The Panel also heard from a local sawmill owner, Tony Giddings who highlighted the integrated nature of activity in the forest and the importance of businesses such as his for local employment. He also emphasised the need for integrated management that balances the needs of all the forest users, for example balancing environmental requirements with the need for productive softwood timber.
A walk up to Gaze Hill provided the Panel with a 360 degree panoramic view, demonstrating the many different landscape features and habitats of the New Forest and the different ways in which the forest has been used over time.
Lunch at the Verderers Court gave the Panel a chance to understand more about the history and governance of the New Forest. Dominic May (Official Verderer) and Peter Roberts from the New Forest Association provided a historical perspective that again showed the essential role of the commoning tradition to the New Forest.
The focus of the visit then moved on to consider issues around community engagement, access, recreation and tourism. Alasdair Duncan of the National Forest local access forum discussed the many different types of recreational activity that people enjoy in the forest, the increasing pressure on the forest from growing visitor number and then need to balance the needs of the different groups, for example those looking to the New Forest for a place of peace and tranquillity with those wanting to use it for more active recreation. The forest has become more accessible over time and there was recognition of the continuing need for evolution into the future.
The Panel members learnt about a number of ways in which community engagement is supported in the New Forest. Tim Greenwood explained the role of the Consultative Panel which represents 80 organisations with an interest in the National Park. Through public meetings, the Consultative Panel acts as a bridge between the local community and the National Park Authority and Forestry Commission, as well a providing a mechanism for dialogue between panel organisations.
Next the Panel travelled to Setley Pond to meet conservation volunteers hard at work. The Panel were able to gain an understanding about the Forestry Commission’s volunteering systems and get an appreciation of what volunteering means to the individuals involved.
The visit ended at Holland Wood campsite, where a representative of Forest Holidays explained the nature of the business there. There was a discussion of the tension between the need to protect the commoners stock and the environmental features of the SSSI site on which the campsite is based, the financial contribution made to the local economy and the desire of visitor to get close to nature.