Not so Fine Shade (4)

DSCF2971_2Many people have contacted me over the role of NGOs in the Fineshade case.

It’s not universal, but there has been a lot of criticism of the Woodland Trust for being very keen on ancient woodland, and being very keen to be paid to plant completely new woodland, but being a bit ambivalent about spending time and money on saving centuries-old woodland. Speaking as one who is definitely middle-aged, and neither ancient nor young, I am a bit worried about this brand of ageism too.

Dormouse picParts of Fineshade Wood are certainly ancient woodland, and these are not being cut down to provide the space for 70 luxury holiday cabins. Instead, the cabins will be in the very very old woodland areas that aren’t ancient.  It seems to me unlikely that the Dormice, Adders, Purple Emperors and Nightjars that inhabit this woodland will shrug with equanimity at the plonking down of 70 (that is a very big number) of cabins in their woodland.  I’m no ecologist – oh hang on!, yes  I am an ecologist! – and I think that this is a massive and damaging development in a woodland that the Forestry Commission describes as ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’.

IMG_2861The other criticism that I have heard several times, is of the Beds, Cambs and Northants (Northants always gets bottom-billing) Wildlife Trust, for not making a public fuss over this Local Wildlife Site.  The local Wildlife Trust did put in a very strong objection to this development but they have hardly turned it into a cause celebre in the same way that the Derbyshire WT did, so effectively, over the Sanctuary Local Wildlife Site.

Instead, it has largely fallen to local people to mount the campaign that I hope will have successfully persuaded local councillors to vote against the development on Wednesday evening.

You still have time to object to the proposed development – and thank you to those who have. It isn’t completely simple (I warn you) because there is quite a lot of re-entering your details to be done, but here is the link.

Oliver Rackham RIP


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16 Replies to “Not so Fine Shade (4)”

  1. No specific comment to make re Fineshades Wood other than that I agree 100% with your analysis, however I am deeply saddened to learn that the great Oliver Rackham has passed away. Words cannot adequately convey just how much pleasure his writings have given to me over the years.

    His two finest works IMHO, 'Ancient Woodland: its history, vegetation and uses in England' & 'The History of the Countryside', should be compulsory reading for any student of ecology or indeed anyone involved in British conservation.

    I wonder how many of the councillors tasked with deciding the future of Fineshades Wood have even heard of him, let alone read his work? Probably not one I imagine.

    1. Mark & Ernest - thanks for sharing the very sad news re. Rackham. By strange co-incidence I was reading Woodlands at the weekend, not knowing it's author was no longer among us. By another co-incidence the two chapters I read covered the growth of commercial forestry and the role of the FC in the "locust years" after WW2 and it's subsequent reform (up to 2005 ish), which he seemed to regard as a permanent and positive change. Though perhaps not far reaching enough if Fineshades is anything to go by...

      As you say Ernest, impossible to put into words just how great Rackham's writing is and how great the loss. From the Corpus Christi tributes he sounds just as characterful in person as in print.

  2. Thanks very much for another blog Mark.

    While you have been raising the finger of criticism at two wildlife charities it surely has not escaped attention that the Forestry Commission has been keeping very quiet about the catastrophic loss of biodiversity to which they are agreeing.

    It will be the Head of Recreation and Access for the FC, David Williamson, who will actually be speaking on behalf of the application on Wednesday night and I don’t suppose ecological concerns are the top of his agenda. He will be keener to point out that the FC will gain rental income from the site. They will actually gain less than £10 per night per cabin, less than FH charge for a dog to stay overnight. But of course it’s a long lease – they’ll get that for 125 years.

    But there are lots of folks within the Commission for whom environmental calamity should be a concern. What does the FC Forest Planning & Environment Manager, for Forestry Commission England think about this? For example, would he be able to justify that this development would “contribute to conserving and enhancing the natural environment”? (A requirement of the National Planning Policy Framework).

  3. I seem to remember Oliver Rackham musing after the mergers of the various Trusts that the new Wildlife Trust should have been named (from memory of a numer of years ago) the Bedfordshire, Cambrisgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Isle of Ely, Northamptonshire and Soke of Peterborough Wildlife Trust. Doesn't really trip off the tongue.
    It is a very sad loss.

  4. I wonder if the FC and/or developer would have come up with this amazingly awful cabin-land idea if the wood had been called The Dismal Swamp? Sounds to me as though they are hooked on an advertising slogan.
    Someone should ask the Planning Committee where they are going to re-house the wildlife that will be displaced from this lovely looking wood.

  5. Mark You are implying in these blogs that large areas of wildlife rich deciduous woodland are to be destroyed for a vast development by Forest Holidays. You seem to have been involved in a scare mongering exercise to get people to react which they have done in the comments section !. Are you a NIMBY Mark ?
    The reality is that the chalet development will have a footprint of just over 2 hectares . Quoting from the management plan with regard to the development area "in recent years large areas of conifer woodland ,OVER 100 hectares, were felled." This same management plan describes stands of Corsican Pine of plantation origin and also says that there are stands of Norway Spruce and Douglas Fir. Any body who is interested should read this management plan which for me was a real eye opener. Your third photo down shows a stand of alien Douglas Fir trees!!
    Fine Shade Management Plan
    Any deciduous woodland in the planned cabin areas seems to be of stunted oak that remains after being deprived of light by conifers or very recently planted saplings of deciduous trees.
    Mark you say that the cabins will be in very, very old woodland areas that aren't ancient. Not a very scientific statement if I may say so and very, very untrue !!. They will be erected in areas recently clear felled
    You also imply that the Woodland Trust have a financial partnership with Forest Holidays. If you check out the Woodland Trust website you will find that they have listed 30 corporate sponsors including Sainsburys , W.H. Smiths and many more well known companies. This is how the Woodland Trust manages to raise money to finance the millions of trees it plants each year.
    The Woodland Trust have played a vital role in advising Forest Holidays as to which parts of the FineShade woodland to avoid because of it's high nature conservation interest ie ancient woodland. The WT should be congratulated for this. They explain their role well on their web site
    Woodland Trust...Forest Holidays

    I have seen developments of a similar nature in Scotland and they look excellent. If you check out the Forest Holidays website you can see photos of their cabins. Also this company have won several green awards.
    As to the Dormice the management plan suggests that the habitat will be improved for Dormice with the planting of more hazel and thinning out some of the conifer canopy to allow more light to woodland floor.

    I am neither for nor against this project but I do understand that the Forestry Commission have a remit to allow people to enjoy this area in many ways including spending time living within the forest. The FC also has to find some financial resources to fund their work.

    1. Dave - what an odd series of comments.

      I 'imply' that the woodland trust has a financial partnership with Forest Holidays? No, I don't think I implied it. I pointed it out, and the link to their website showing it.

      I'm stating that the site has wildlife importance and that this has not been taken into account or even properly assessed. How shocking that our forest guardian, the FC, has neglected its stewardship so badly (that's what I say!).

      Scare-mongering? Of course - me, RSPB, the Wildlife Trust, the local badger group, the local Dormouse folk, the local branch of Butterfly Conservation and uncle Tom Cobbley - we're all in the scare-mongering together (except of course for the Woodland Trust (and the FC)).

      NIMBY- well, it's not my back yard (40 mins away, as I wrote originally (you did read that?)) although 'no man is an island' and so every half-decent wood in the country is in my backyard, the way I look at it.

      Those Scottish Dormice?

      1. Then Mark why no mention from you that a major part of the development area is recently felled coniferous woodland ?

        There is also a 105 page ecological report which includes wildlife surveys !

        1. Dave - the surveys are wholly inadequate. This is one of the most shocking aspect of this proposal. The FC is allowing a developer to build 70 luxury cabins in a wildlife-rich woodland without even requiring it to carry out proper surveys - as has been pointed out by the wildlife conservation organisations objecting to this proposal.

          When you say 'a major part' you mean 'some', and when you say it is in a recently felled conifer plantation are you assuming that means that there is no wildlife impact? The Wildlife Trust and the RSPB must have got it all wrong then.

    2. Dave,

      Good practice helps everyone. Good practice would include a decent ecological survey that, if there's really no adverse impact (or even a positive one) would demonstrate that that's the case. This would naturally include good info on the Dormice and how they use the site.

      A decent survey costs peanuts in the context of this sort of development, and would have saved quite a bit of argument. The WT and FC shouldn't need to be told this; they should be following Good Practice as ther routine way of working.

      I've seen this sort of development in other places; done well they're great for people and for wildlife. But done well includes good baseline info before work starts.

      And no,you can't assume that conifer clearfell automatically = no wildlife value.

      1. Bill - the great man (Rackham) says this himself - that many ancient or semi natural woodlands survived or even flourished despite being felled and even poisoned during the 'locust years'. It's a mixed picture - lime woods seem almost indestructible, other species are sometimes more successfully expirgated and I guess interaction with and damage to soils and mycorrhizal fungi etc. would play their part in the fate of a wood. In the case of a conifer plantation isn't it perfectly possible that the understory and ground fauna might survive attenuated, and in time would then flourish when the shade bearing conifers were removed?

    3. a) “The reality is that the chalet development will have a footprint of just over 2 hectares”.
      The reality is actually that the 2 hectares on which the chalets will stand are spread through a total area of 39 hectares and there will be a network of 2 miles of new vehicle tracks, footpaths, carparking spaces, childrens’ playgrounds, and a huge area of thick coppiced woodland which will be excavated to make way for the the sewage treatment plant. But you won’t have read that if you’ve only read the developer’s Management Plan.

      b) “Any deciduous woodland in the planned cabin areas seems to be of stunted oak…” etc. Perhaps you haven’t followed up the developers’ own reference to “Notes on the status of woodland at Fineshade Northamptonshire” by Neil Sanderson for Forest Holidays. This draws out in detailed scholarly fashion the history of the mosaic of wooded areas that make up this site. Conclusions include: “To the east, Peters Nook and the other spinneys east of it, are likely to be early 17th century plantations, and hence recent woodland…. Peters Nook differs from the spinneys to the east of it, only in that it appears to have been created by planting as an extension of an existing ancient woodland, rather than as an isolated woodland. 
      So, yes the cabins will be in very, very old woodland areas that aren’t, technically, ancient. The whole area is part of the FC’s Ancient Woodland Project, where mistakes made by previously planting conifer are being rectified. The area is naturally regenerating into wildlife-rich woodland.

      c) “I have seen developments of a similar nature in Scotland…” But have you seen THIS site? Have you taken note of anything said by the hundreds of objectors, many eminent ecologists, who actually know THIS site? The developer’s own paid ecological surveyors, when they undertook their partial, ad-hoc surveys expressed the view that “this site is amazing, it should be a nature reserve, why isn’t it a SSSI?”. Why indeed?

    4. Let's not kid ourselves that the impact of this development will be limited to the ground that these cabins will stand on. Have you considered the 2-3 miles of roadworks that will carve up the surrounding area? Have you considered the impact of near permanent human presence on the immediate surrounding area?

  6. Thank you for shining a torch on this proposal and what an eyeopener it is on the workings of those that are supposed to be looking after our woodlands on our behalf! The lack of any form of meaningful research on the current resident wildlife before ripping out any trees is appalling. The whole concept of these type of holidays are not for true nature lovers, just self indulgence. Good luck with the campaign.

  7. "... of the Beds, Cambs and Northants (Northants always gets bottom-billing) ..."

    A very interesting point, Mark.

    An analysis of the current Board of Trustees shows a highly disproportionate pull towards Cambridge University and the county of Cambridgeshire.

    I look forward to finding otherwise, but by my research and count, out of 22 Trustees, 13, including the Chair, Vice-Chair and Treasurer, either live in Cambridgeshire or have intimate connections with Cambridge University or Cambridgeshire, 1 lives "on the Cambs/Northants border", 3 are data unknown or live outside the area, leaving only a meagre 5 out of 22 representing the counties of Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. Of those 5, only 1 is from Bedfordshire, and curiously 3 out of the 4 from Northants are finance or land-owning interests.

    Is this incorrect?


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