[Back to Notes for 1999]
The present policy of the Verderers is a compromise because the Court is split down the middle This compromise was, if I remember correctly, supported by all Verderers because it represented the only way the Court could have a policy at all. It is to the effect that the Verderers are opposed to any new statutory body with powers over the Forest (as defined by the Acts), but that the New Forest Committee is welcome to do as it pleases (or rather as Parliament determines) within the fringe areas which surround the Forest. The New Forest Association and Hampshire Field Club share this view of the matter. The Pony Breeders and Commoners Defence want no new body at all. The important thing is that the entire Forest community is opposed to any interference with the present administration of the Forest by the establishment of a new statutory management or co-ordinating agency. That, together with the views of the Forest's two MPs who have considerable reservations about park proposals, is a formidable opposition which the councils, through the New Forest Committee, have not yet succeeded in breaking.
My estimate of probable voting intentions within the Court is that there are four elected and one appointed Verderers opposed to the New Forest Committee's ambitions and (now) four appointed and one elected Verderers in favour. It is thus, in theory, open to the new Official Verderer to defeat opposition to the national park by using his casting vote. I say in theory, because I am not sure that he would do so. To start with, that would fly in the face of convention which dictates that the chairman's casting vote supports the status quo. The status quo is in opposition to the park. Secondly, the bitterness that such an action would promote within the Forest would go very deep and would go far towards wrecking the Verderers, irrespective of what the park legislation itself would do to them. Maldwin Drummond knows very well (he was an elected Verderer for years) the depth of feeling against the tailor-made national park expressed in two general meetings of the Commoners Defence Association. Whatever his personal views of the matter, I imagine he would think long and carefully before forcing the Verderers to oppose these clearly expressed views of the Commoners. I always find it remarkable that the New Forest Committee never ceases to proclaim how crucial is the commoners' community to the future of the Forest, while completely disregarding its wishes on management.
If it were not for this one dark shadow hanging over the future of the Court, the appointment of the new Official Verderer would probably have received an unequivocal welcome. He is the first "Forest trained" chairman to have been appointed for a great many years. His recent predecessors have had to learn on the job.
Shortly after leaving school, I remember attending a meeting in the Crown at Lyndhurst in which the then youngest-ever Verderer, Maldwin Drummond, addressed an extremely hostile audience of local traders on the subject of the 1963 New Forest Bill, then before Parliament. It was a masterly exposition which quite obliterated the opposition from that source. Thereafter he served with distinction for many years until seduced by the delights of the Heritage Area Committee, the New Forest Consultative Panel and finally the New Forest Committee's ambitions for the tailor-made national park. Now as impartial chairman of the Court he has to face the greatest challenge to his diplomatic skills.
If the Forest authorities have been slow to take up the challenge, there are signs that others are beginning to see the opportunities provided by the internet. I understand that the New Forest Commoners Defence Association is working on a web site and so are the Hampshire Field Club's New Forest Section and the New Forest Research and Publications Trust. All of them, however, have been beaten to the post by Southampton University's Geodata Institute. Last month it opened to the public much of its New Forest web site (formerly restricted to the University). The public area includes a general background to all aspects of the Forest, based on material by the late Colin Tubbs, some guide book information from the Forestry Commission and a Forest news section which contains a complete set of "New Forest Notes" going back over several years and which will be updated monthly. People who live in the wild northern wastes of the New Forest, beyond civilisation and the circulation area of the Lymington Times, sometimes ask me for copies of individual items from the Notes. They will now have access to them direct, even in these remote regions ! For those interested in seeing the Institute's new site, its address is http://www.geodata.soton.ac.uk/newforest/public
The process of restoration is to be a slow one with much of the timber retained until it is at or near economic maturity, but as the plantations are almost exclusively conifer and have been in existence since the 1960s, many people alive today will see the end of the Verderers Inclosures. Without this accelerated clearance the plantations would have survived until 2108 when the lease expires and a total of two or three rotations of timber would have been taken.
The commoners and conservationists will be glad to see the end of the Verderers Inclosures. The former resisted, unsuccessfully, the original grant of land, but it is only in recent years that the full extent of the ecological consequences of the planting have been recognised. There are, however, small parts of the plantations which serve important functions quite apart from timber production or potential conservation. Parts of Fawley and the adjacent Dibden Inclosure are among these. Back in 1939 a planning officers' committee produced a landmark report on the New Forest and recommended the planting of woods to screen out the unsightly development of the Waterside which was then commencing. This argument was taken up by the Forestry Commission in support of its drive to secure new inclosures in the Forest.
From the planning point of view the Inclosures served their purpose well and also provided another form of screening which was not envisaged in 1939: they shielded the Forest from the deafening noise of the A 326 which was built in the early 1960s. If it is now the Commission's intention to eliminate or seriously weaken these screens (auditory and visual) it will be a serious matter. The same problem arises at Markway where the area around Duckhole Bog is a quiet and, in New Forest terms, a relatively unfrequented area. The almost total clearance of Markway, except for a thin line of beeches, would open up this peaceful backwater to the deafening noise of the A 35, which in twenty years time is likely to be as bad as the A 31 is today - whatever pious hopes may exist for the downgrading of this road. Landscape architects seem to have little appreciation of the importance of sound screening.
No-one (not least the gentleman who made the presentment) is asking for wholesale retention of conifer woodland on the Open Forest, but the total elimination of these crucial screens would be little short of vandalism. The plans for all these sites have yet to come before the Verderers for approval.
Previous | Next|
1998 | 2000