Monday, 19 September 2016

Fact Checking Our Friends

The Friends of Latchmore have created a Crowdjustice crowd funding page to fund future legal challenges to the restoration project at Latchmore Brook.  It contains some of their most problematic statements to date.  The Crowdjustice site have told me that they do nothing to verify any case promoted through their “platform”, that this is entirely up to the claimants and their legal representatives.

Some of these mistakes might be forgiven in a neophyte, but the authors of these pronouncements have been dogmatically stating their version of this case for several years, clearly having time and motivation to properly research, so we must take some of these as wilful misrepresentations.  Given that their page is asking people to donate money to their cause, I should hope that the more sensible leaders of the Friends of Latchmore ought to feel a little bit queasy over these inaccuracies, which could lead to allegations of a scam.

While we don’t believe there is malicious intent, even the possibly unintentional errors have the feel of those grasping at straws for virtually anything that supports their case, whilst systematically ignoring everything that doesn’t.  We leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide how innocent these mistakes are.

[What follows is the text taken from the site as seen on 18th September 2016, highlights in bold and numbered annotations are ours.]

Stop destruction of New Forest habitat

 The Forestry Commission, New Forest NPA and the Verderers are spending EU money infilling Forest streams and destroying protected wildlife.

Why this case matters

The Verderers of the New Forest, The National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission have formed a partnership and obtained significant funding running into millions of pounds from the EU to 'Restore' wetlands under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme which is an Agricultural subsidy meant to help British farmers(1), The partners described the whole New Forest National Park as a 'farm' in order to claim this money(2) but it has turned into a massive engineering project infilling many streams with waste products(3) in a misguided attempt to restore them, despite their having a wonderful biodiverse habitat supporting many of our rarest and most protected wild species(4).

(1)   The Higher Level Stewardship Scheme is an Environmental subsidy, the key give away is the word Stewardship which indicates a range of Environmental Stewardship programmes.  Entry Level Schemes include subsidy to farmers laying hedgerows, or planting wild flowers beneficial to wildlife on fallow fields.

(2)   The partners would not need to describe the National Park as a “farm”.  The HLS is eligible to both farmers and land managers.  Common land is eligible. The HLS Scheme for the New Forest only applies within the perambulation of the common land, and so does not include the whole National Park.  DEFRA does occasionally treat the New Forest Common lands as one unit, but this is for things like the Single Farm payment scheme (an actual Agricultural subsidy) and to make the cattle movement rules practical for commoning (movement restrictions which apply elsewhere to prevent spread of TB and other vectors would cripple the relative freedom of the cattle on the commons and their movement back to nearby free holdings).

(3)   “Waste products” – this is an utter misrepresentation – the materials for infill include hoggin, washed gravel, clay and heather bales.  The materials used must be approved by Natural England.  Elsewhere the FoL refer to the material as “alien”, the gravel is taken from the same geological strata (on earth) as that on which the New Forest rests.  If we’re being charitable (why shouldn’t we be?), they may have taken the term “rejects” as applied to some of the gravel.  This refers to gravel not pretty enough to be sold in garden centres, but perfectly beautiful enough to be used for infill.  This tabloid culture of infill shaming must be stopped.

The Forestry Commission have just submitted a Planning Application for Latchmore Brook, 3 miles from Fordingbridge, to carry out major works involving 7 km of the stream and importing nearly 100,000 tonnes of infill material.  This area is an SAC, SPA, RAMSAR and SSSI site and thus should be afforded the highest level of protection(4) but the New Forest National Park Planning Authority has not refused any of the previous Planning Applications for these engineering works, as it is one of the partners of the scheme.(5)

(4)    The project is being done at the behest of and with the approval of Natural England.  The Forestry Commission as the land managers of the New Forest SSSI are obligated to remedy the Condition Assessment prescribed by Natural England, part of their duties to monitor and protect SSSI.  Natural England are then asked to give consent to the proposed solution, there is no guarantee of this as the proposal must pass another set of criteria on top of addressing the underlying problem.  Natural England support the project.

(5)    The National Park Authority, Verderers and Forestry Commission are only "partners" in the project inasmuch as they are the statutory bodies required to be on the project board, and only benefits the Park as it successfully fulfils their statutory purposes "to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area".  The NPA is represented on the board by their Chief Exec Alison Barnes.
The NPA's Planning Committee is made up of 14 of the 22 members of the Park Authority.  The Committee is mostly local Parish, Town, District and County Councillors (12) and 2 Secretary of State Appointees (through DEFRA).  As with any Planning Authority they have strict criteria they must adhere to, and whilst they may seek advice from the civil servant staff of the Authority including their own ecologists and the Chief Exec, the decisions are theirs.  No previous scheme has been refused because, like the present one, they are worthwhile restorations to improve the habitat, and have met the criteria for planning approval.  There is no conflict of interest as the Chief Exec on the board of the project serves the members of the Authority, not the other way around.

The Forestry Commission still uses the same methods for each new project despite substantial evidence of serious adverse effects(6) on the biodiversity of large areas caused by previous failed restoration attempts(7).

(6)    They do not have substantial evidence, in fact, in this short a time after the completion of previous projects, results are promising, but there is no substantial amount of data, which would require years of monitoring to support claims.  An encouraging independent study by the River Restoration Centre and Jonathan Cox Associates, The New Forest Wetland Restoration Review, surveyed post restoration sites from 2004.
(7)    This is one of the laziest and unsubstantiated claims, none of these are considered failed.  Where they claim restorations are failed they provide no evidence or relevant criteria to make this claim.  The best they seem to be able to do, is to take photos of a dry stream bed before the project has finished bedding in and ignore that this is not its constant or eventual state.  Not to mention that Ditchend Brook is situated in a valley where streams notoriously run dry in Summer (oh, we did mention that).
Ditchend Brook in normal conditions
photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission

CAPTION: "Failed Restoration" [Friends of Latchmore photo of Ditchend Brook as a dry stream bed, looking like a gravel path, above you will see instead a less shocking photo of Ditchend Brook.  An NFA member reported a visit from earlier this year finding numerous small fish, newts and tadpoles in the very spot of the FoL photo. ]

It's not just the fragile ecosystem which is at risk, but there are also precious archaeological sites(8) as well as significant geological areas, not to mention the serious knock-on effect the works will have on tourism and local businesses as well as the lives of local residents - massive tipper lorries each carrying in excess of 30 tonnes of material will be driving down narrow Forest lanes(9), putting the lives of the ponies and cattle at risk(10), as well as walkers, horse riders and cyclists, not to mention the potential for structural damage to properties(11) adjacent to the planned routes.

(8)   The New Forest History and Archaeology Group have raised issues with the archaeological survey conducted to support the Environmental Impact Assessment.  We believe these concerns may be mitigated and rectified, and we would support all interested parties to achieve this.

(9)    Slight error, the tipper lorries proposed have a maximum load of 20 tonnes.  Odd though, as if their weird claim were true, it would mean at least 33% fewer HGV movements.

(10)    The same drivers will be used, and will be made aware of the "possible pedestrians, cyclists and livestock in the carriageway", there will be "speed restrictions for delivery vehicles;" - 15mph on the Forest's gravel tracks, 5mph under the ordinary 20mph restriction under the byelaws, and "traffic management with radios on the Ogdens route" as well as term time restrictions for school run to local schools.  Consider the number of large scale refurbishments to properties along the route, which would have had none of these extra precautions taken for their HGV movements, and no protest over these.

(11)    Vibration study was carried out as part of EIA.

How you can help
We need your help to stop what Sir Desmond Swayne MP calls 'state-funded
vandalism' (12)

(12)    This quite vocal campaign group is in his constituency.  His views about protecting the Forest though are inconsistent.  In early 2011 at the time of Env. Minister Caroline Spelman's disastrous proposal to sell off the public forests, only one of the two New Forest Conservative MPs (plus one from nearby Romsey) rebelled against their party.  It was Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis, not Desmond who opposed the sell off.

We are crowdfunding to pay for legal representation and expert opinions to
mount significant legal challenges and if necessary to support a possible Judicial Review. We hope to challenge the legality of whole scheme and require the Authorities to put a stop to interference with balanced ecosystems (13) on this massive scale.

(13)    The ecosystem is not balanced, it was broken when Victorian engineers diverted the watercourse away from the natural meanders into artificial straight drains.  The project seeks to undo this damage to bring balance back to the ecosystem of the area.

[for space we've omitted two paragraphs, one about their legal firm, and one about the author of the page]

Fast facts
- one of the most iconic and beautiful streams in the New Forest will be
irreparably damaged (14)

- the Forestry Commission have just submitted a Planning Application to the New Forest National Park Authority

(14)    Clearly the author does not understand the difference between fact and unsubstantiated conjecture.