Slap Bottom Tree Felling

Slap Bottom Wood - Burley Village Magazine Report March 2020 

Slap Bottom Tree Felling Project - BPC position statement February 2020

Report February

Our article about Forestry England’s controversial ‘Felling Application’ in the January 2020 Village Magazine ended by questioning whether there was any more that could be done to stop the cutting down of over 200 conifer trees following the grant of the requisite Licence.  Well - despite the strident protestations of the neighbours & BPC - tree felling commenced on 4th December 2019.  But that definitely wasn’t the end of this story!

This is Burley, and when Burley folk get the feeling that there is something proposed that just doesn’t look right for the village, they have a determined way of questioning the proposers on the justification for their plans – as history shows.  So you might have expected FE to have realised there would be more of that to come after we’d seen the National Audit Office’s July 2017 review of the NF HLS’s Wetland Restoration Programme (as referred to last month) that had also commented: “the Forestry Commission (as FE was then known) need to improve communications on planned schemes, their impact and remediation of sites with the community”. 

You should have seen further news coverage and correspondence on the subject in the local press – even Facebook features. There was also a host of very interesting & helpful observations in Verderer Anthony Pasmore’s latest edition of his ‘New Forest Notes’ headed ‘Changing demands on Forest management’ in the New Milton Advertiser of 3rd January (with particularly helpful mention of ‘Slap Bottom tree felling’) 

You may then ask isn’t it reasonable for any of us to press to find out: -

 a) What is the real purpose & likely effectiveness of clearing out numerous coniferous trees from within the designated Site of Special Scientific Interest at Slap Bottom?

b) Where can authoritative independently researched science be found that justifies such work? and 

c) Why the established legal authorisation procedure (involving Natural England) can not be seen to have been followed within this part of our National Park’s ‘Special Area of Conservation’?

Most notably, after discussions with the immediate neighbours & BPC, our local MP, Sir Desmond Swayne, has strongly intervened to help publicise villagers concerns and bring his parliamentary influence to bear.  So Sir Desmond was able to persuade the DEFRA Secretary of State to order a “Pausing” of the work on 21st December, pending a meeting between the FE Deputy Surveyor on the 23rd. and himself, which was then followed (at his request) by a long, full & frank meeting of BPC Cllrs. Daubeney & Clarke with the DS & staff at Queen’s House, Lyndhurst on 9th January.  It cannot yet be said appropriate answers have been forthcoming in convincing terms but relevant documentation has been requested & promised.  Moreover, the DS has agreed to attend a further meeting on site before the end of the month, which will be attended by neighbours and BPC Cllrs.  Furthermore, felling remains ‘paused’ meanwhile.

Of course, it can’t be ignored that there are those who feel very differently about coniferous trees in the New Forest; indeed, some who are said to wish for all such trees to be removed.  The very worthy Friends of the New Forest/NFA have even published a strong article in support of the Slap Bottom felling, describing Scots Pine as “An Invasive Exotic Tree” and saying that this is a “a well-considered and moderate proposal to restore habitats without harmful landscape impacts”.  That may well be a reasonable perception of many.  However, BPC has learnt over the past few years that what may have become ecologically acceptable in general terms can prove to be less than sound in practical terms on specific closer scientific examination.  In the case of Slap SP felling, the HLS policy encouraging “Wet Lawn” restoration has yet to be demonstrated (yet alone widely understood) to be effective in the longer term (in such a location) simply by felling trees. 

Meanwhile, Forestry England have agreed to reduce this felling area twice already – and the DS has indicated a further reduction remains possible…               BPC/Robert Clarke     

Report January

VILLAGERS FIGHT TO STOP TREE FELLING” Did you read that in the local press (New Milton Advertiser, 6th December 2019)?  Were you involved in the protests at that time against the Felling Licence Application by the Forestry Commission - now known as ‘Forestry England’(FE) – to remove between 232 & 500 trees from Burley with minimal notice?  And/or were you just wondering what was all that about?

The Parish Council keenly joined in the strong objections from neighbouring villagers but the apparent reasons for this work under the NF Higher Level Stewardship Scheme demand some further explanation:

The woodland area known as ‘Slap Bottom’ lies immediately north of Burbush Car Park at the south-west end of Pound Lane. Whilst a screen of mature broadleaf trees is to be maintained for the benefit of the adjacent houses, the felling will mainly involve the loss of Scots Pine conifers through the intended decimation of this locally popular & attractively wooded natural recreation area, which has been unobjectionably growing for the past 70 years or more.  So, despite their very important carbon sequestration function and positive contribution to the landscape, we are told that the purposes of the tree-felling “would be to restore a significant area of ‘Wet Lawn’”. On site, this can be seen to be relatively dry ground, gently rising above the stream & mire that serves Whitten Pond (which lies south of the old railway track).  50% timber clearance of part of this area is said to be necessary for the maintenance & improvement of the condition of this unit of the NF SSSI (i.e. Site of Special Scientific Interest, as most of the New Forest is designated) and help diversify the wetland habitats. 

Although it seems that this project has been in hand as part of the HLS Whitten Wetland Restoration project since at least 2017, formal notice of the intended tree-felling was only given on 1st October 2019 with 3 weeks allowed for objections.  Naturally, with all the current recognition of the necessity for large scale tree-planting to counter-act the effects of global climate change, it seemed grossly inadequate for neighbours’ objections to be rejected without provision of a meaningfully scientific explanation and understandable justification for such a proposal.  FE talk of ‘Consultation with villagers & Parish Council’ on the subject - but that only really meant recounting what they had decided with their HLS partners some considerable time ago.

Always involved in such ecological habitat matters is, of course, Natural England (‘NE’, the DEFRA dept. responsible for getting FE to undertake all & any works they consider to be necessary to restore SSSI units to ‘Favourable Condition’).  But what has particularly concerned the Parish Council is NE’s unexplained omission to previously record the Slap Bottom woodland as being in ‘Unfavourable Condition'; nor at any prior stage to have recorded (in one of their regular ‘SSSI Condition Assessment’ reports) the state of the extant woodland and indicate any need for such consequent work as now apparently required without delay.

It may help your perspective of this situation if you bear in mind that the current NF Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (A partnership agreement between Forestry England, The Verderers, NF National Park Authority, and Natural England with attendant EUsourced grant funding) expires at the end of March 2020.  That Scheme only applies to areas of ‘Open Forest’ such as this where it is probably better known for its ‘Wetland Restoration’ programme that included large scale projects like Harvestslade and Latchmore Brook (the latter rejected at Planning Application stage and, moreover, the competency of this whole WR programme execution brought into severe question by a National Audit Office Report of July 2017 [See BVM edition of April 2018]    However, it is also worth bearing in mind that -quite separately - FE are at an advanced stage of gaining government approval to their updated ‘Forest Design Plan’ for all those areas defined as statutory ‘Inclosures’.  We have made previous reference to this framework for inclosure-by-inclosure ongoing NF management.  Most significantly for Burley is the plan to fell over 240 hectares (600+ acres) of coniferous NF woodland over the next 10 years for the purpose of restoring that land to open heathland.  A significant part of this lies within inclosures close to Burley, notably Burley Walk, Dames Slough & Bolderwood.  Areas can be found (particularly in Dames Slough Inclosure and Dur Hill) of where large-scale conifer felling has already been undertaken.  What is not apparent is 
how exactly – and when – will such land exhibit the characteristics normally expected of heathland.

But more about that in due course.  Meanwhile, FE & NE between them have granted the Slap Bottom Felling Licence. Is it unlikely, therefore, that more can be done about it at this stage?  Discussions continue…            Robert Clarke