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The New Forest has been home to some fascinating species and countless wildlife for around 1,000 years. It’s my new home though so I’ve been living and breathing the New Forest since I arrived just over a year ago. Before joining the dedicated Forestry Commission team that looks after the Crown lands here, I was based in our Farnham office, Surrey. This was at a time when the Forestry Commission was in the middle of the debate on the future of our woods, with action groups across the country galvanised strongly against the sale of forests.
Since then, I have moved to the New Forest to provide cover for Mike Seddon, the local Forestry Commission Deputy Surveyor, whilst he supports the work of the Independent Forestry Panel in London, set up to advise the Government on forestry policy in England. I recently had the pleasure of welcoming Mike back, along with members of the Panel, to have a day out in the New Forest to learn about its historic landscape, how we work with local groups and organisations to sustain the management of the forest in the future and how we set a shared long-term vision for the area.
As Deputy Surveyor, a large part of my job involves working with partners who are passionate about the forest and safeguarding its special qualities, so the recent Panel visit was particularly significant. The Panel was interested in seeing the various landscapes and habitats and learn about our engagement with the local community on important forestry issues. We met with a range of stakeholders where the Panel were able to see the working forest first-hand. We also talked about the roles of the Verderers and Consultative Panel before moving on to forest access, our invaluable volunteers and the recreation and tourism teams who ensure that the New Forest is enjoyed by local people and visitors alike.
It is so difficult to cover all the work that goes into managing the forest and what it means to so many people in such a short visit, but the Panel heard from and questioned a wide range of representatives including commoners, the timber industry and conservation teams. For me, listening to the views of some of our volunteers was extremely uplifting, with people from a variety of backgrounds freely giving up their time to help us with the visit and sharing their love and knowledge of the New Forest.
Overall it was an enjoyable day with our stakeholders leaving the Panel with a clear message that, whilst we may often have different views, we all share a common passion to sustain this special place.
Reflecting on the day and having listened to a range of views and interests, managing the forest is a huge balancing act between the environment, people and economics. The New Forest is a working, living landscape that has been shaped by a long history and I, like many others, will look forward to the Panel’s report when it is published later this year.
For more information about the New Forest, please visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.
Kevin Penfold, Acting Deputy Surveyor