THE New Forest’s oldest conservation group has backed a tree-felling operation near Burley and criticised objections by villagers and a local MP as “simplistic and misguided”.
The Friends of the New Forest – formerly the New Forest Association, which was set up 150 years ago – have spoken out to support Forestry England chopping down up to 220 trees at Slap Bottom.
As reported in the A&T, the scheme is to protect valuable heath from the encroachment of woodland. But residents and parish councillors argue that climate change makes this the wrong time to be felling trees, and it will lose other types of habitat.
Now the Friends have backed the measures as a “well-considered and moderate proposal to restore habitats without harmful landscape impacts” and branded the opponents’ arguments as “simplistic and misguided”.
New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne was one of those who spoke out against the felling during the general election, saying it was “crazy”. Last week he persuaded environment secretary Theresa Villiers to “pause” the work while he had talks with Forestry England.
The dispute even led to the police being called last Wednesday after three protesters invaded the exclusion zone where the chainsaw team were working.
A statement by the Friends of the New Forest said: “This is not a large-scale felling but a necessary one to restore degraded habitat, which is internationally threatened and in itself makes a valuable contribution to carbon fixing.
“The scheme is already a compromise and has been modified to retain a landscape screen for the neighbours.”
It added: “The general view that trees are an important part of carbon capture is to be lauded, but in this case it is simplistic and misguided, based on not understanding the interaction of different types and ages of trees and other habitats to maximise opportunities for carbon fixing.
“The proposed works will both improve the habitat and prevent the drying out of wetland, so increasing the retention of stored carbon with an overall gain in terms of carbon capture.”
It noted Forestry England had the approval of environment regulator Natural England as part of necessary management of the New Forest and its internationally important and protected landscapes.
Speaking to the A&T, Sir Desmond defended his public intervention on the issue despite admitting he was “no expert”, having come under fire from political opponents who said he should listen to the professionals.
Sir Desmond blamed the row on a failure by Forestry England to consult properly but said Bruce Rothnie, the agency’s deputy surveyor for the New Forest, had now agreed to meet with the parish council.
“If you have all these people saying it’s good for climate change and the Forest then surely someone could have sold that to Burley Parish Council,” Sir Desmond said.
“It’s only by raising the flag on and making that sort of noise that we end up with them sitting down with Burley Parish Council. I think that’s unfortunate.”
A Forestry England spokesperson said it had met parish councillors and residents to reassure them that work at Slap Bottom would stick to the approved felling licence process.
She added: “In the new year, we will meet with Burley parish councillors again to explain how this work aims to enhance precious habitats for which the Forest is so important.”