Proposed fencing and extensive grazing
of Thursley/Elstead/Ockley/Royal/Bagmoor commons in Surrey
Sandra Smith writes to Jim.Smyllie, Natural England
Needless to say, the funded consultation has revealed that the public do not want these commons perimeter fenced and extensively grazed
Says Sandra Smith
I think it is now widely understood that the 2013 Natural England Handbook for Higher Level Stewardship will contain a much needed revision, which will allow the allocation of HLS (and presumably, where HLS is not applicable, Special Project) funding for conservation schemes including cutting or grazing, especially on common land. This was confirmed by letter from Dr. Helen Phillips to my MP, Jeremy Hunt, and I believe also to Richard Benyon and other MP's, who had expressed concern about the effect of the current mandate for fencing and extensive grazing. There is an imminent application by Surrey Wildlife Trust to perimeter fence and graze the above commons, and the condition assessment of March 2009 reveals why it has to be soon:
"The unit has entered a HLS agreement with special project funding for a public consultation on fencing and grazing. Agreement has been reached with Isabel Alonso that as this is on progress to be delivered the site can be said to be in recovering condition. However if permission to fence is not received within 3 years of the start of the agreement then the unit must revert to declining condition" Needless to say, the funded consultation has revealed that the public do not want these commons perimeter fenced and extensively grazed, in fact this was the least favoured option of thosesuggested. However this assessment forces SWT to push ahead with a plan to do so because the 2009 assessment and current handbook leaves them no option. My request to you, therefore, is to
a) make applicants for HLS funding on commons immediately aware of the forthcoming changes to the handbook
b) allow them to include its new provisions in their plans and applications for 2012
c) allow some flexibility in the reassessment of units, so that there is time for plans and applications to be modified to take the changes into account
I believe that these steps would greatly increase the chances of commons management plans being willingly accepted by our local community instead of being fought to Public Inquiry, with the attendant stress and expenditure of public funds which this inevitably entails.
I look forward to your response.
Says Bob Milton
It seems that there is much behind the scenes that call into question the position taken by NE officers in pushing their own agenda rather than a balanced approach to include the benefit of lawful users already on this and other s193 commons or where the land is held for public recreation [CA1899].
This was born out in the recent Chobham Common public inquiry into fencing fro grazing to 'acclimatise' riders and dog walkers and where the recent paper published by Professor Newton stating that there is no hard evidence for extensive grazing in 2009 was conveniently missed from the bundle of references in the SWT proofs of evidence.
The NE/SWT expert witnesses [Dr John Day and Isabel Alonso] gave detailed reasons why his conclusion should not be given weight but have had three years in which to rebut the published paper and have failed to do so. It cannot be acceptable to expect the Inspector to make any decision based on unpublished subjective arguments or for those quoting such evidence to act as auxiliary experts.
These HLS agreements are not made available to the public despite the money being UK and EU taxpayer's funds. This whole approach as shown by Mrs Smith seems like an attempt, as it was in the Hartlebury, case to use HLS and SSSI condition scoring as blackmail. In this and many other cases of HLS and Special Project funds being paid out of Pillar II CAP the money is being paid to contractors for Statutory Duty which to my mind is ultra vires.
Where the land is held for public recreation or military training there is a saving yet there seems to be an all out push to meet a PSA obligation or target by NE which is not necessary.