Call to relocate New Forest campsites to save future of commoning
CAMPSITES within the national park should be shut down and relocated if the ancient practice of commoning is to survive, a leading New Forest organisation has warned.
The future of nine Forest campsites run by Camping in the Forest (CITF) under a licence agreement with Forestry England, was raised at a recent meeting of the Verderers’ Court when Charlotte Lines, chair of the Commoners Defence Association, said the time had come to move them away from the open Forest.
Pointing to increasing reports of conflict between campers and commoners’ animals, Ms Lines warned they were now “threatening the continued practice of commoning in the New Forest”.
She said: “The New Forest Commoners Defence Association feels that to protect commoning for the future, the use of Forest campsites needs to be looked at with some urgency. Ideally we would like to see them restored back to the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) habitats.
However, CITF defended its operation, telling the A&T: “We are a responsible campsite operator and care passionately about the wildlife and the environment that our New Forest campsites are located within.”
Amid the lockdown in 2020 it decided not to open the sites it runs at Hollands Wood, Setthorns, Holmsley, Ocknell, Long Beech, Ashurst, Denny Wood, Roundhill and Matley Wood.
The company was widely criticised by local businesses and asked to reconsider by Forestry England amid fears of losing trade and campers staying illegally.
But Ms Lines said the closure had shown that there were plenty of alternative locations for campsites away from the open Forest, declaring: “We ask the verderers to use all their powers to bring about this change to protect commoning and the New Forest.
“Within the areas of the campsites there is a huge detrimental impact on the grazing and an increasing urbanisation of these campsites is changing the very fabric of the Forest.”
Ms Lines said that with current knowledge of the issues arising around campsites on the open forest, none of the statutory authorities would give permission for them to begin operating in now. She added: “The SAC plan recognised the consequences of the campsites in 2001 and recommended closure, yet nothing has been done.”
Responding, the verderers said they supported the idea of relocating the CITF-run campsites, but warned that this would have to be undertaken in conjunction with providing new camping opportunities to avoid an increase in wild camping.
Minutes of the Verderers’ Court discussion noted: “The increasing pressures on the Forest, both in the form of damage to the ecology and conflicts with the livestock, all indicate the time has come for a radical rethink of camping provisions in the New Forest.
“Unfortunately the general public has little appreciation of how easy it is to damage the ecosystem and many people have little or no understanding of the behaviour of large grazing
The verderers added that a way had to be found to satisfy the desire of visitors to camp in the Forest, while significantly reducing the potential for conflict with Forest livestock.
“People obviously want to enjoy the environment the Forest has to offer and it is perfect-ly understandable that some have a strong desire to camp here. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that mixing camping with livestock is no longer practical.”
A statement from Camping in the Forest said it informed campers about keeping a safe distance from livestock and as well as sponsoring the animal safety campaign on the New Forest bus was also a member of the Share Forest Business Group.
Offering to meet with both the CDA and verderers, it added; “Camping in the Forest has been running ten campsites in the New Forest for more than a decade and during that time our staff have built up considerable experience of managing the sites with safety and environmental considerations at the forefront.”
A spokesperson for Forestry England, which oversees the Crown lands where the campsites are located, said: “We are committed to protecting the New Forest and the huge benefits it offers to both nature and people. We would welcome further evidence from the CDA to support their concerns and are discussing the issues raised with the verderers.”
“Each campsite on the New Forest Crown lands is overseen by a management plan, approved by Natural England. These set out the environmental standards the operator is required to meet. The sites also directly educate and inform a significant number of visitors about how to help look after the Forest, including guidance on not feeding or petting Forest animals, and promoting the New Forest Code.
“The official campsites within the New Forest provide an important way of managing camping within a controlled environment, returning benefits to the local community and economy, and supporting Forestry England’s work to enhance the habitats of the Forest.”
“When these campsites did not open last year, we saw a steep rise in wild camping across the Forest, including on many highly sensitive areas for wildlife. This resulted in considerable damage caused by discarded litter and equipment, and fire risks from irresponsible BBQs. Any proposed changes to the location of these campsites would need to be carefully considered and planned.
“We welcome the opportunity to consider the current position, and work with others to find a sustainable solution for the long-term protection of the Forest.”