In My View: The New Forest National Park Authority celebrated a tenth birthday
The New Forest National Park Authority celebrated a tenth birthday on Sunday 1st March. Its’ creation was, at the time, a big deal. The first new National Park to be created in Britain for 50 years.
The following represents my own personal view, as a member of the authority for the past five years.
The members set the policy of the organisation which must line up with the two purposes. These purposes are to “Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage” and “Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public”.
I think that most members of the authority approach the role in a “small c” conservative manner. I think they should do so in a more radical, progressive manner. There are a lot of organisations that hold power and influence in the New Forest that adopt the former approach, examples include The Verderers and The New Forest Association. I’m not saying that it is always wrong to resist change and to reject new ideas. However, I think that the NPA was created to solve a problem, not to reinforce the status quo.
I think the public generally underestimate how much of a threat there was and still is to the New Forest. The biggest threat, of course, is people, especially those who drive cars! It is said that about 10 million people live within a 90 minute drive of the New Forest. Hardly surprising, therefore, that some of the towns, villages and particularly sensitive habits can be damaged very easily by the sheer weight of visitor numbers. Anyone who has tried to drive through Lyndhurst on a weekend in the summer will understand that.
Many areas of the New Forest were assessed by experts as in poor condition, usually because of actions taken by people, whether through poor land management, neglect or a failure to appreciate what consequences certain things they do can have.
I really welcome the work being done to restore habitats, to encourage land owners to manage their property in a more environmentally friendly way, to try and educate both visitors and New Forest people. That’s all been very positive stuff and there are many examples of the NPA achieving some quick “wins” having got off to a terrible public relations start when it somehow managed to unite all manner of different interest groups against it.
Where I think the NPA is failing is in addressing the most significant impacts that damage the environment and the ability of both visitors and residents to enjoy it. Sometimes, you fail to see what is blindingly obvious because things have always been like that, (at least in your lifetime).
I want the NPA to spend the next ten years promoting and improving public transport and grenner means of travelling around with a real zeal. This includes cycling, probably the greenest means of getting around any distance that there is.
Specifically, the NPA should acknowledge that it was gripped by a collective madness in dropping the bike hire scheme and make a fresh bid for the £1.5 million to make it happen.
Short term, let’s improve existing cycle links. Stop messing about and resurface the Ashurst to Lyndhurst link. Complete and celebrate the new Marchwood to Totton link. The NPA should really start getting serious with provision of more routes into and across the New Forest. Have a safe cycle route linking Cadnam, Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst.
More connectivity will better protect the more sensitive areas of the National park. Most cyclists are responsible people and understand that it isn’t wise for them to go charging off on mountain bikes across open heathland. Target effort on those that offend, such as dog walkers who don’t clear up after them, or cyclists that disturb ground nesting birds – not grouping them all as unwelcome nuisances.
We really should be looking to provide park and ride facilities on the edges of the National park, linked up to the excellent New Forest bus services. Time to, to restore the Waterside railway line to a passenger service with the ability to hop on a bus, electric car or bicycle when you arrive at new platforms in Hounsdown, Marchwood and Hythe.
To better protect the most sensitive sites, let’s actively try and provide some country parks. Visitors love facilities where you can park up, explore, enjoy family activities, perhaps have a meal and a drink. It would be so much better if visitors could enjoy a quality experience in the New Forest area, perhaps even a coastal site such as Dibden bay, without spending frustrating hours clogging up the New Forest roads with traffic.
Much more needs to be done to address the crtical issue of housing. Put simply, the unique environment of the New Forest depends on the practice of commoning. If supply and demand means all the houses are going to cost £500,000, what chance is there for young people who wish to live in the New Forest and undertake commoning ? Already, we have half the properties in villages which are second homes, only occupied some weekends by wealthy people who would never consider owning ponies or cattle, attending to them and allowing them to graze on the open forest.
I’m not alone in expecting the NPA to be a bit more radical. In a peer review undertaken by another National Park Authority, New Forest members were advised to be a lot more bolder. I think that the public, too, expect the NPA to demonstrate strong leadership. If the first five years represented a difficult beginning, the second five years “consolidation”, maybe the next ten years could be the time for the NPA to really start tackling the things that really matter…