In My View: The Future of the New Forest
I very much welcome the comments made by Chris Packham who believes the New Forest could be ruined without better management.
Chris Packham isn’t like most celebrities. He very obviously shares a passion for the New Forest that stems from a high level of knowledge about it’s special qualities and makes intelligent, reasoned, points about past failures and future risks if bodies managing the area don’t act together to help preserve and enhance the area.
I don’t speak for all members of the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) but share the frustration of most that we aren’t able to do more than we have been able to. It isn’t just a resources issue. Of course, it doesn’t help that we have no assets as such. We own no car parks or visitor centres. Almost all of the reducing amount of income received from central government is spent on staff salaries.
These are the people who deliver the park purposes. They deal with planning issues, they are rangers, access and recreation officers, all of whom are doing a great job. Sometimes it’s in the face of hostility from a public who think the way they want to enjoy the New Forest should be completely unhindered.
The difficult first years of the NPA were marked by conflict and myths. It’s all well and good talking about the merits of closing roads or even putting up toll booths. However, the roads are all under the control of highways authorities, like Hampshire County Council. It’s a different National Park from many others. People live and work here. The needs of the residents need to be considered.
It’s clear that very many people love to walk dogs in the New Forest. Chris is right that this does have undesirable impacts, especially on ground nesting birds during the breeding season. I think that his idea of having areas and facilities where dog walkers are encouraged to go is a good one. The NPA is already putting a lot of effort into educating people into acting responsibly.
It’s the Forestry Commission who cull deer in the the New Forest. Again, I think he is right that there are probably too many deer and this reduces the range of plant life and insects. It’s especially concerning that the government are busy carrying out a cull of Forestry Commission employees, without reference to the views of Park Authorities. Indeed, only a massive uprising of public opinion has caused them to re-think the question of forest ownership.
Again, Chris is right to highlight the issue of managing the numbers of ponies and cattle. The NPA isn’t in a position to dictate to the Commoners and would be unwise to try. Ultimately, it’s in the interests of everyone to discuss these issues on the basis of evidence and be prepared to make compromises.
The NPA ha to work in partnership with all sorts of organisations, including Parish Councils, the Verderers, New Forest District Council, Hampshire County Council and the New Forest Association. Making sure that we have a New Forest to take pride in is a joint responsibility, we will only succeed if issues are faced up to, together.