“IT’S just wanton damage.”
This was the angry reaction after a vehicle was driven over a large area of grazing at Longslade Bottom in the New Forest.
The damage to the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Brockenhurst is believed to have been caused last Wednesday, and people are being urged to come forward if they can help identify those responsible.
Speaking to the A&T, a saddened Tony Hockley, chairman of the Commoners’ Defence Association (CDA) said the devastation to the land was posing a threat to the upcoming spring grazing season.
“It was very upsetting to see,” he said. “It’s just wanton damage to a very special site. It’s completely pointless.
“It’s an extremely rare and threatened habitat, that grazing lawn – that’s why it’s an SSSI.
“We’ve lost 80% of lowland heath in Europe during the last 200 years, and the New forest has generally the best remaining example of lowland heath in north-west Europe.
“This land has been grazed for hundreds of years and the soil is undisturbed.”
The patch of land is one of a very few areas of lowland dry acid grassland, which can be found in pastoral landscapes in the warm, dry southern lowlands on acid, often sandy, soils.
Up to 25 plant species per square metre can grow on some of the best examples of such land, including small rosette-forming species such as cat’s-ear and mouse-ear hawkweed.
The damage at Longslade Bottom has been reported to Forestry England, and Dr Hockley hoped the authority would take measures to ensure future access to the site by vehicles is blocked off. This could involve digging more ditching around it or installing dragon’s teeth.
There is currently a locked gate for use by agisters and commoners attending to livestock, as well as for emergency use.
He explained this work could be carried out through the verderers’ higher level stewardship scheme. This follows news the European programme will continue in the UK with government funding for at least another year after Brexit.
“We clearly have a job to do in helping people understand how precious the New Forest is,” Mr Hockley continued.
“This type of damage does happen, with cars and scramble bikes on the open Forest, but thankfully not very much.
“If people see something like this, please report it because this is not just criminal damage – it’s damage to a very special site of nature, which is an offence in itself.”
A post about the Longslade Bottom incident on the CDA’s Facebook page highlighted that intentional or reckless damage to an SSSI is a criminal offence under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
Facebook users took to the comments section to vent their anger at damage caused.
One wrote: “Disappointing to see that. But just reminds us, as if we need reminding, that for all of us that love the Forest just for itself there are still a huge number of selfish morons with no respect for it.”
Dr Hockley added: “I suspect that if we can limit this to a one-off then the plants on the grazed SSSI habitat at Longslade Bottom will recover without remedial work, as this would involve additional vehicular access.”
Anyone with information about the incident should contact Hampshire police on 101, or contact Forestry England by calling 02380 283 141 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.