(First published in the Forest Journal 13/10/16)
I’ve never been a conspiracy theorist, rather I prefer to think that most suspicious circumstances arise from coincidence, the random caprice of human nature, or just typical cock-up.
I have struggled however, to gain any understanding of how the New Forest wetland restorations continue to be pursued with such vigour in the face of the manifest evidence of their spectacular failure. Existing and thriving ecosystems, which also have the advantage of being beautiful to behold, are -at truly eye watering expense- being destroyed by large earth moving machines and hundreds of thousands of tons of clay. This clay is shipped in by the lorry load from nowhere near the New Forest (something that would never have been allowed in the past). All this, for such a marginal benefit, and that only if the schemes worked as the theorists predicted. The problem is that they don’t: there are already any number where the alien clay has simply been washed away as pollution, with mounting repair bills.
Why in the face of this evidence and expert ecological reviews which have panned the scheme, do the Forestry Commission persist?
The New Forest National Park authority is also a supporter of the restorations. As a consequence I do not believe that it is proper that it should be allowed to determine the planning application for the largest and most controversial scheme at Latchmoore. Rather worryingly, constituents have written to me to complain that the Park Authority has wrongly categorised objections to the proposal. Apparently, objections from ecologists and conservation organisations which clearly opposed the scheme, have been designated as ‘Neutral’: cock-up, or what?
I have written to the Secretary of State asking him to call in the planning application.
Why have Natural England allowed this destruction to proceed?
It is the organisation with a statutory duty to ensure that these sites of special scientific interest, some of which enjoy the highest levels of protected status, are preserved. I have written to ministers asking why Natural England gave the go ahead without first observing its own clearly stated rules by ordering an ‘appropriate assessment’ of the impact.
Then, a brown envelope gets dumped anonymously on my doorstep containing a printed email chain dating back to 2008 when the scheme was cooked up to secure EU funds and avoid the normal public expenditure rules which ought to have prevented them getting it. The Official Verderer even asks in an email for an indemnity from Natural England in case the ruse is exposed by an audit and the money has to be paid back.
Conspiracy theory or what?
I’ve handed the emails over to the National Audit Office.