|More of our year in review for this Saturday's NFA AGM. NFA Chair John Ward reports to our council the issues the NFA has continued to address this year.|
“Another busy year for the New Forest Association, with aspirations to do more than we have, but struggling to find enough time and volunteers.”
This could have been the standard opening sentence for the Association’s annual report in recent years and 2015 was no exception, demonstrating how even when life in the Forest is generally going well there is a constant flow of issues, decisions and proposals from various directions causing lively debate at Council meetings.
The issue of fungi picking in the New Forest came to the fore and Council decided that the NFA would campaign strongly and publicly to raise general public awareness about the increasing scale of the problem and to galvanise action by the New Forest National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission. We were pleased when The National Trust set out its intention to ban picking within its own protected areas.
Tranquillity research, power lines, ancient woodland re-stocking, habitat restoration, planning applications and much more have formed the workload delivered through our two functional committees, the Planning & Transport and Habitat & Landscape Committees.
Cycling was very much a topic of vigorous debate in 2014. While the rhetoric calmed down during 2015, the Association’s concern about the harm done by off-road cycling on the open forest away from designated gravel roads is just as strong, including the growing sport of off-road cycling with bright lights during darkness. Hitherto the Forest and its wildlife have been generally undisturbed during the night and the NFA will campaign vigorously to prevent such disturbance.
But it was the potential long term threats to the New Forest from the Government’s various proposals to reform national housing and planning policies that made 2015 an uncomfortable year for those seeking to protect the relatively small New Forest National Park from the impact of development within and around its boundary. Large-scale urban development in and close to the New Forest in the 1970s and 1980s added immensely to pressures on the Forest. Supported by the NFA, a complete planning policy change from growth to restraint followed to take us into the new century. The risk now is that a drive to solve national and regional housing needs may once again threaten the New Forest, if it is delivered though opportunistic and uncoordinated development instead of a robust planning framework that recognises the special qualities of National Parks to provide public well-being through the qualities of their special landscapes.
Ironically, at the same time proposals to extend “Right to Buy” to housing association properties cast doubt about the future for small village housing schemes to meet local needs.
We are fortunate to have well-developed and close working relationships with other National Park Societies and the Campaign for National Parks to assist us in forming co-ordinated responses to national proposals such as these.
A positive boost to the protection of the New Forest came in the form of a £2.89 million Heritage Lottery Fund Landscape Partnership grant awarded to the New Forest National Park Authority. We were pleased at their success in securing this funding to restore lost habitats, develop Forest skills and inspire a new generation to champion and care for the New Forest.
We did also manage to enjoy ourselves during the year with some informative walks for members and the annual barbecue. And the Secondary Schools New Forest Conference at Brockenhurst was a great success. The Association’s Education Group is working with the National Park Authority on the 2016 conference.
2017 will be the New Forest Association’s 150 year anniversary and we realised that although that might seem some way off in 2015 we needed to start our thinking now. A small working group was formed and the beginnings of an Anniversary Year Programme have been put together. There will be lots for members to participate in. We also volunteered to host the National Parks Societies annual conference as a part of our year of celebrations. The venue was booked and the date fixed – Balmer Lawn Hotel from 12th to 14th October 2017. There is no doubt that 2016 will be a busy year again.
-- John Ward, Chair, New Forest Association