Not so Fine Shade


Fineshade Wood is not far from where I live, so I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t paid more attention to what is going on there.  It’s a place I know, and like, and visit now and again, but it’s c40 minute journey from where I live, so if I want to visit a wood there are closer options.  But what is happening there exemplifies much of the difficulty and complexity of protecting wildlife in the present day UK.

Fineshade is a really nice woodland, owned by the Forestry Commission (or us, in other words) and it’s pretty good for wildlife. It isn’t notified as an SSSI although arguably it could have been, and it isn’t quite a fully ancient woodland, but it’s certainly getting on a bit and, given time, it will be ancient.  The FC describe it as ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’.

And rich in nature it certainly is, with records of Dormice (I’ve never seen a Dormouse and I would like to), Badger, Adder, Nightjar (not on my Northants list), Slow Worm, Grass Snake, Great-crested Newt and Turtle Dove. Now those may all live in the woods down the road from you but they aren’t a common assemblage in east Northants. And, all the experts concur, the data are patchy and a decent survey would probably come up with more interesting stuff. By the way, there are invertebrates and plants in the wood too!

Now you might have guessed that this wood is under threat. A company called Forest Holidays want to remove large bits of this wood and replace them with 70 piles of wood called holiday cabins. Getting rid of large chunks of this forest will therefore give you the ‘ultimate forest experience’ – unless of course you are an Adder, Dormouse or Turtle Dove in which case you won’t get any forest experience (so I guess that is ‘ultimate’ in the sense of ‘last’ (last ever)).

The main thing standing in the way of this development in the heart of a semi-natural woodland in the heart of England are some local councillors (including my own councillor, Brian Northill, who will be getting a copy of this blog).

I hope the councillors reject this proposal – it’s an unwarranted destruction of my natural heritage.  Let’s hope they do at their meeting next week.


DSCF2985_2I see this case as being very similar to the Sanctuary case of this time last year which had a largely happy ending. It’s a local wildlife site which is cherished by local residents and which is irreplaceable.  As with the Sanctuary case, there is a good argument that this site ought to be notified as an SSSI and if it were it would receive far greater legal protection.  The wildlife NGOs ought, I think, and I’ve written this before, to be campaigning for far more sites to be notified as SSSI to prevent this type of issue arising.


Who is involved in this issue?:

The Forestry Commission (which I pay for through my taxes) – why did we bother telling government not to privatise some forests? Because, I believe, we thought that they would be safer in our, the public’s, the state’s, the FC’s hands. But FC are the landowners here and are, apparently, shareholders in Forest Holidays too. That’s all a bit rum, isn’t it?  Whether or not they (err, that’s we) have a stake in Forest Holidays, the FC should not be allowing this type of development in what they, themselves, describe as a ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’! For heaven’s sake!!  What do they think they are up to?

East Northants Council (I am a voter) – the planning authority, who pay the Wildlife Trusts to give them ecological advice on matters such as this.

Beds, Northants and Cambs Wildlife Trust (of which I am a member) – has lodged a very strong objection to this development. Good for them! I like that.  The Wildlife Trust will be in a difficult position if the councillors ignore the objection of their own, local, ecological advisors. Should they keep taking the money even if their advice is ignored? And I can’t find anything on the WT website on this issue. Certainly my local wildlife trust uses the site for events and walks to enjoy its wildlife, but doesn’t seem to be highlighting the issue very much.  I’m slightly surprised that I didn’t hear about this issue from my local wildlife trust.

RSPB (of which I am also a member) – has also lodged a very strong objection to this development. Good for them! I like that.

The Woodland Trust (which I have never been tempted to join) – has made weak comments on this application to destroy large areas of a ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’. That seems very odd to me, but then the Woodland Trust does have a financial relationship with Forest Holidays (although that cannot have influenced them at all, not at all).

CPRE (I sometimes toy with the idea of joining them) – object to the development.

Northants Bat Group – object.

North Northants Badger Group – object.

Northants Dormouse Group – object.

You can see the full list here, and if you do look at it you will see that the Woodland Trust really does stick out like a sore thumb – the NGO that you would expect to be fighting hardest for this woodland site, a site universally acknowledged to be wildlife-rich, is not sufficiently moved about this major development actually to object to it.

But your eyes may well pass lightly over the name Tom Pursglove.  Tom Pursglove is the Tory candidate for the marginal constituency of Corby, where I very much hope that my excellent local Labour MP, Andy Sawford, is re-elected in May. However, Mr Pursglove does seem to have chosen the right side in this debate so good for him!  I gather Andy Sawford is visiting the site tomorrow morning and I may well see him there then.

Most of the local councillors are Tories, and they will be undermining the position of their local candidate, one of whose priorities is to preserve ‘the rural character of East Northamptonshire’ and who believes that ‘local people should decide where development is, and isn’t acceptable, and their view should be respected’ if they were to approve this very unpopular proposal (just count the objections).

In summary:

  • Fineshade Wood is very good for wildlife (and there are many more like it and they should be made SSSIs).
  • wildlife conservation organisations object to the development (except the Woodland Trust, and the Woodland Trust has a close relationship with the developer, by coincidence).
  • it is mostly Tory councillors who will decide the planning application and the Tory candidate for the marginal parliamentary seat opposes the plan and has put great emphasis on protecting this area’s rural environment.
  • the FC facilitated this proposed development in the first place – how safe are our forests in the currently constituted FC?
  • is this what you want to happen to ‘your’ forests?

With ‘friends’ like the FC and the Woodland Trust then no wonder woodland wildlife is having a rough time of it!

Of the 1,256 woodland species studied, 60% have decreased and 34% have decreased strongly.State of Nature report, 2013.






39 Replies to “Not so Fine Shade”

  1. A cracking place. I grew up in nearby Duddington and Fineshade was one of my regular bird ringing sites in the 1980s. We used to catch quite a few grasshopper warblers and my personal favourite nightingales. Are they still present or have they gone? One day we caught a flock of crossbills (my first ever) and later in the summer one of them was retrapped in what I think is now part of the Czech Republic. I was amazed at the time that they wandered so far following the cone crop.

  2. From the link above…..”Forest Holidays has joined forces with the Woodland Trust to help them achieve their target of doubling the native woodland cover in the UK by 2050. When you book a holiday with us, we invite you to donate an optional £2.50 (or more) to the Woodland Trust, which will fund the planting of a tree.”

    I am lost for words!

  3. Don’t worry! George Osborne has assured us that this kind of place can be ‘re-created’ somewhere else. Just like that!

  4. Hi Mark, we have one of these “log cabin” developments near us and they devastate the local woodland. and its wildlife. How could the Woodland Trust (WT) join up with an organisation that promotes these types of development?
    It is so important in this current environment, when money and business reign supreme, that wildlife organisations stand together and united in the face of this type of attack on our wildlife. For the Woodland trust not to oppose a development like this,along with the other conservation organisations including the CPRE, is shameful. (Fortunately, I am not a member of the WT).
    As far as the FC is concerned, well I am afraid I have never been very convinced of their credentials for supporting nature and wildlife and this tends to confirm it.

  5. A tad pedantic perhaps, but surely the ‘Ultimate Forest Experience’ is being in a ******* forest. Not in large boxes made of forest.

  6. The ‘problem’ with the Woodland Trust is that, in my experience, they are very much more intrested in creating new woodland then managing (for nature conservation) the woodlands they already own.

    1. An interesting response from the WT.

      If by working with Forest Holidays they have been able to prevent damage to the ‘ancient’ woodland areas then is that not to be applauded?

      Now where’s that Hawk and Owl Trust membership form!

  7. Thanks Kevan. So it turns out that Forest Holidays is at least partly owned by the Forestry Commission. Very cosy!

    This also produced wry amusement:

    “We entered into a relationship with Forest Holidays as we felt that we could have a positive role in influencing their activity through working with them. We chose this route in the first instance to try to directly influence their behaviour more effectively …” September 2014.

    This has been on the go for a while now it appears, but it seems to have been kept very quiet. Most people in Northants probably don’t have a clue that Fineshade is under threat. How can we get the word out?

    Why is it that it’s always so late in the day when things like this get found out about?

    We need a proper nation-wide and county-wide alert system for getting the word out to the widest possible spectrum of the public at the earliest stage possible in the planning process. Nowadays with the internet this should be very straightforward in terms of dissemination of the information. The only difficult bit is the keeping the eye on the planning system itself, but once a proposal is known about by one conservationist then there’s no reason the word can’t go round within days, surely?

  8. If you go down to the woods today …

    It’s all part of the disneyfication process. No doubt there will be free wifi.

    Are consultants who work for developers the new oldest profession?

  9. Some really important points raised here. As you will see from our previous statement ( we’ve been working on this one for quite a while and we’ve seen substantial progress in terms of moving this proposal away from the areas of ancient woodland. Is all woodland precious? Of course it is, but do we prioritise preserving ancient woodland? Absolutely, it’s irreplaceable and with so little left in the UK it’s vital we protect what remains, and that is a sadly a battle we’re far from winning.

    1. Woodland Trust – thank you for your comment.

      You’re in a bit of a mess aren’t you? You want all ancient woodland protected – fair enough.
      You want the area of woodland to increase – fair enough.
      You want people to pay you to plant more woodland – by definition, not ancient – fair enough.
      But you won’t try to protect wildlife-rich almost-ancient woodland – that’s very odd. Not even when local opinion and other wildlife conservation organisations object to the woodland loss.

      Does the Woodland Trust think that the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and many others were wrong to object? Have they got their facts wrong? Or does the Woodland Trust not care too much about woodland wildlife? You are in a strange position, made all the more uncomfortable by your financial interest link to the developer.

    2. Very old secondary woodland is actually the rarest kind in England (?possibly the UK?). It dates from a time in the 17/18th C when woodland was at its lowest historical extent, and very few new woodlands were being created either deliberately or through secession.

      I don’t know if Fineshade falls into this category but if it does there’s yet another reason why it should be protected.

      I hope WT knows that it will take 00s of years, if ever, for their “new” woodlands to become as ecologically rich or aesthetically pleasing as Fineshade already is. Seems to me their priorities have been misdirected – or perhaps falsely justified – for pedantic reasons at best.

    3. If the Woodland Trust are truly working closely with Forest Holidays and have been doing so ‘for quite a while’, how did WT end up in the embarrasing position where their first application clearly wasn’t to their liking? Are WT happy with the environmental studies FH have completed?

      It seems a poorly evidenced proposal with a shabby compromise from the WT that was probably the best they could do at the time. Having got into the debate with FH, I guess their hands are now tied regarding making stronger objections. Perhaps a few things to learn about managing commercial relationships?

  10. The apparent disregard of the Forestry Commission for wildlife in this case should come as no surprise. Over the past hundred years, can anyone name a single organisation responsible for more damage to British wildlife? The NFU maybe, but not quite as directly.

    There are plenty of fine conservation-minded people working for the FC, but the organisation as a whole seems still dominated by the plant-em and saw-em brigade. Finding that there is no economic rationale for much of their supposedly ‘commercial’ forestry, they are having to look elsewhere for income or face having to – horror – stop planting their conifers on wildlife-rich sites like southern heathland.

    The obvious solution is to make FC primarily a wildlife conservation organisation, with commercial forestry as a sideline, where it does not conflict. There were suggestions at one time that it be merged with Natural England to make a ‘Forests & Wildlife’ service. This may be in the pipeline already. If so, we need to make sure that the new organisation does value wildlife conservation over a fast buck or gung-ho forestry.

    1. Could not agree more. The FC and their tax ‘avoiding’ private sector counterparts have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of fragile upland soil by ploughing and then planting sitka spruce monocultures. The soil dries out and the silt runs off into the rivers.

  11. What a lot of petty attacks on the Woodland Trust and totally unjustified. In their Winter 2015 newsletter the Woodland Trust states “We are fighting for 485 woods under threat in the UK” They have been responsible for planting millions of trees each year throughout the UK and have more than a thousand woodlands which people are free to visit. What do you people want from a conservation organisation ??

    1. Dave – well, I wouldn’t mind if they objected to 70 holiday chalets being plonked down in a wildlife-rich forest, for a start.

  12. Well said Mark in your comment. The Woodland Trust seem totally concerned with generating the maximum number of trees as possible without any regard to the important wildlife that established woodlands like Fine Shade Wood already harbour. Their approach seems to be if it means chopping down established trees for the sake of planting more new ones, which will have little or no wildlife value for a long time ahead, that is the way to go.
    I am afraid, in my eyes, the credibility of the Woodland Trust is now totally shreded.

  13. if woodland such as Fineshade can’t be afforded permanent protection from develpment intrusion then what does that say about how we value rich ecosystems and biodiversity? BTW – a good place to see Purple Emperors in early July Mark.

  14. Population – as it expands we need houses, factories & offices, roads , yes and places to go on holiday.
    This sort of thing keeps happening, and will happen more until we realise we are a small overpopulated island!

  15. Seems to be common practice by FC. We have a lovely piece of woodland near us that is very popular as a walking and family spot, which is similarly under log cabin threat. Hardly in safe hands unfortunately and I wonder just what FC plan to use the revenue on to compensate tax payers for trashing a public asset.

  16. This is a wonderful woodland which I have visited many times. To destroy it for holiday homes would be environmental vandalism on a massive scale. I have already lodged my objection with East Northants Council but, if you are a councilor reading this, please throw this proposal out. I am also a member of the Woodland Trust but, if they can’t make a better job of protecting woodland than this, then I shall not be rejoining.

  17. The Woodland Trust has done an absolutely wonderful job in recent years…. in persuading lots of celebrities to support it. I wonder what those celebs think of this proposal. Will any of them be prompted to think again about supporting the Trust in future? The Trust has some excellent conservation staff who have argued valiantly about protecting irreplaceable ancient woodland elsewhere and it is sad to see those who manage WT pulling the carpet out from under them – and not only willing to harm the Trust’s standing but defending what they must now see is a false position.

    As for changes to the proposals at Fineshade, this included re-routing the access wayto the development site…. over a much greater distance so that much more rather fine habitat would be lost. Hardly something to brag about.

    The original modified proposal was withdrawn by the developers at the last moment and a slightly new proposal put together. Of course, because it was a ‘new’ proposal, all the very sound objections had to be submitted again.

    This boils down to a proposal that has little merit and certainly no over-riding reasons for putting aside biodiversity conservation objections. Northants has one of the smallest areas of SSSI land and one of the least natural landscapes of any county. As the information pulled together by so many local people has shown, and as highlighted by the WIldlife Trust and others, Fineshade is one of the outstanding wildlife sites for the county (that isn’t an ex-gravel pit).

    There are far better locations for forest lodges. Some might even include those new woodland areas that the Woodland Trust encourages us all to fund. That would also help put more money into site management. As for the Forestry Commission – please learn from your errors and do better. Public body? Biodiversity Duty? Ring any bells? At least – in the absence of inhouse expertise – the local authority did seek conservaton advice. Let’s hope the planning committee take proper account of it so that there won’t be Sanctuary-style egg on faces and we can avoid wasting further public funds on an ill-advised decision being called in.

    And perhaps the Environmental Audit Committee ought to be scrutinising this seeming back-door disposal of the Forest Estate – especially my bit.

    Anyway, I now have a large number of ‘Remember Fineshade’ tee-shirts available for purchase. Ideal for wearing to Woodland Trust meetings, Valentine’s Day gifts, Mother’s Day presents etc. All in an exceedingly fine shade… of greed.

    Zounds! I forgot to link this in with HSBC-Tax Evasion and the grassy knoll. Ah well, next time perhaps.

    Taking a broader perspective – it doesn’t seem that the National Planning Policy Framework has helped guide planning to be better – especially where biodiversity conservation is concerned.

  18. Mark – have you ever visited or stayed in one of these sites?. They have existed in one form or another for over 25 years in various locations across the UK. I have stayed in several so can speak from experience. Overall, they are relatively lowly intrusive once constructed. Construction is run in as environmentally friendly way as practicable and once operating the very knowledgeble staff run wildlife activities tailored at children e.g. badger watching which can be an excellent doorway into wildlife for our ever more sheltered and wildlife ignorant population. They are not Centre Parcs style intrusive!. We cannot stop all such schemes and have to keep a balance between the environment and maintaining a living countyside with jobs and futures for the people in it. I also live 30 minutes away from Fineshade Wood and drove past it yesterday. I have visit it several times to see the Red Kites, especially the winter roosts. It is a shame the RSPB pulled out and left the woods the mountain bikers (not an enviromentally friendly pastime) and dog walkers (of which I am also one). It is a beautiful spot but I’m not sure it is a “must have” on the conservation scale. Bedford Purlueis 20 minutes away is something we must fight to preserve!.
    As you will have gathered from my previous posts I am passionate about wildlife (especially birds) and the environment but believe it is important to maintain a balance and to accept some parts of the countryside evolve for economic purposes. There are some awful wind/solar farm schemes and housing developments under the appalling “presumption for development” developers charter than this. These we must fight.

    1. But even if your thinking were to be correct, and some of this commercial development is to be approved, it must have a sense of proportion in relation to the size of the area it’s impacting. Fineshade Wood is too small to absorb a development of this size without risking destruction of the existing habitat.

      So, NO, move on FT and FH and take your proposal elsewhere to somewhere that can sustain it.

      1. Size of Fineshade is possibly marginal for this development, I grant you. It is however well on the way to commercialisation. The FC/RSPB activities around the Red Kite re-introduction were realtively low key. But following the RSPB’s departure the mountain biking activities etc are on a growing commercial scale. This is a battle I would nite fight, though a vicyory is still possible. I see more important fights coming in the area.

  19. For those wishing to raise their concerns regarding this planning application it’s not too late.

    Please consider contacting one or more of the councillors, who make up the Development Control Committee, and will most likely be voting on this application next week, Wed 18th Feb. Their contact details are publically available and can be downloaded from here:
    ENC Development Control Committee Members

  20. It makes great sense to prevent the ancient woodland areas from being fragmented, and allow wildlife-rich almost-ancient (16th /17th century) woodland, to link it all up, just as it does now.

    Habitat continuity reads like the ‘network effect’ to me; the more places and routes and choices that wildlife has, in getting about, the more viable it is.

    The Woodland Trust should see these woods functioning as whole and assert themselves.

  21. This case is a real shocker but typical of what is planned across the UK. Woodland Trust & NE are to blame – both are a disgrace. Council Officer pushing it through with Forestry know-nowts bending system. Only hope is clear headed Council planning committee who are against the proposal but now being threatened with cost of Appeal if they refuse it. Gvt planning unit failed to require EIA but does not mean Application has been handled correctly. Clear example of gvt destroying nature against its policy. The proposal will put dozens of children and dogs in one of the most important adder populations in Eastern England which is gross negligence and Eco-vandalism. Entire area should be SSSI.

  22. Like Mark Ayres I also believe that Fineshade is too tiny to absorb 70+ Forest Holiday Lodges and allied infrastructure. The issue of investment driven lodge developments within public forests needs proper examination now. Setting a minimum Hectare requirement before such large scale developments can be applied for might protect small woods like Fineshade. I have mailed Mark diagrams that compare the effect of 70 lodges at Fineshade with existing larger forests like Dean and the differences are striking. Perhaps there is a way to share the graphic here.

    1. Pam – the FC was set up to provide a strategic reserve of timber for our coalmines, primarily. We don’t have any of them (and they switched to steel pit props along time ago).

      I suspect that if FC didn’t manage our best woods for wildlife they would all be filled up with luxury holiday chalets …Oh, hang on!…

  23. Mark, Yes pit props were needed for our coalmines and good job we had the resources in place to do this,but It was set up in 1919 to expand Britain’s forests and woodland after depletion during the First World War. To do this the commission bought large amounts of former agricultural land, eventually becoming the largest land owner in Britain. So we have the number of hectares of woodland today because of this. By the way I’m not in favour of holiday cabins being built in our ancient woodland. But we must remember the FC policies are from the current government in place. And totally disagree with your last comment , if the FC didn’t manage these woodlands they would be privately owned and closed to the public or left to go wild which in time would be detrimental to all wildlife. I hope the FC remains how it is but it looks like its going to be dismantled and that is bad news for everyone who uses the woods.

  24. I went to Fineshade woods for the first time yesterday and I’ve got to say it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Firstly I had no trouble parking in the car park as it was virtually empty and didn’t even have to queue for a cup of tea in the cafe.
    On my 2 hr walk I only encountered one dog walker.
    During my walk I never seemed to come across a large area of what I would call Ancient woodland ie. number of large old/veteran trees of any species. But I did come across several acres of young birch,willow scrub and some young pine plantations.
    Also a semi circle of what looked liked possible forestry houses ,I wonder how many Fc staff currently live in them?
    So I was a bit disappointed really as I was expecting a walk through a more mature and ancient looking woodland.
    So I moved onto where I have walked before in a beautiful Ancient woodland called Bedford Purlieus,just of the A47 towards Peterborough.

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