New Forest given £2m extension for wildlife protection scheme
AN award worth £2m has been given to the New Forest in a one-year extension to a formerly EU-funded environmental subsidy scheme which has spent £22m on landscapes and commoning.
Launched in 2010 to help protect internationally important wildlife and habitats in the New Forest, the Verderers Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme is the largest agri-environment project in England.
Over the last 11 years it has funded stream and heathland restoration, boosted education and training, and provided financial support for commoners.
The fund, worth around £2m a year, is managed by the verderers in partnership with the national park authority and Forestry England.
National park authority chair Prof. Gavin Parker said: “The government’s post-Brexit policy for support farming and landscape management is based on the principle of rewarding farmers and land managers with public money for ‘public goods’.
“The HLS partnership has been significant in delivering public goods for the past 11 years by conserving and enhancing the New Forest’s landscape, biodiversity and historical features.
“It is helping to support the unique system of New Forest commoning with all the environmental, economic and social benefits that brings.”
The one-year funding extension was welcomed as Britain moves out of the EU and leaves its agricultural programme.
Official Verderer Lord Manners said: “The scheme works to increase the New Forest’s resilience in the face of habitat loss and the impacts of climate change.
“It has been a rare opportunity to conserve fragile habitats and support commoners, and the rollover is welcome news as Britain has now left the EU and is working on a new domestic agricultural programme which is scheduled to come into effect in 2024.”
Since its launch, the scheme has funded the natural restoration of 20 miles of artificially-straightened watercourses and paid for crucial funding to support commoners in the traditional system of turning ponies and cattle onto the New Forest.
It has also funded a stallion scheme to improve the breed quality of New Forest ponies and reduce the number of foals born each year.
As part of the scheme a laser scanning survey of the whole national park was undertaken revealing 3,000 archaeology sites to be recorded and preserved.
It has also enabled more than 16,500 children to gain a greater understanding of the New Forest through school visits.
Further work has reduced invasive rhododendron and other non-native species across approximately half of the Forest, and restored rare heath and grassland through tree felling and bracken harvesting.
Forestry England’s Deputy Surveyor of the New Forest, Bruce Rothnie, said: “This funding will help us to continue to restore and enhance habitats, including the Forest’s vital wetland habitats, and their key role in storing carbon.
“Holding carbon in soil is a natural way of preventing release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“Our work here is to enhance the New Forest soils to store more carbon and build a resilient landscape for both people and wildlife.”
Find out more at www.hlsnewforest.org.uk