“A Haunted Landscape”
There is nothing ‘new’ about the New Forest – it was created as a royal forest by William I in about 1079 for the royal hunt, mainly of deer. It was created at the expense of more than 20 small hamlets and isolated farmsteads; hence it was 'new' in his time as a single compact area.
It was first recorded as "Nova Foresta" in the Domesday Book in 1086, where a section devoted to it is interpolated between lands of the king's thegns and the town of Southampton; it is the only forest that the book describes in detail.
Two of William's sons died in the Forest: Prince Richard in 1081 and King William II (William Rufus) in 1100. Local folklore asserted that this was punishment for the crimes committed by William when he created his New Forest. A 17th-century writer provides exquisite detail:
"In this County [Hantshire] is New-Forest, formerly called Ytene, being about 30 miles in compass; in which said tract William the Conqueror (for the making of the said Forest a harbour for Wild-beasts for his Game) caused 36 Parish Churches, with all the Houses thereto belonging, to be pulled down, and the poor Inhabitants left succourless of house or home. But this wicked act did not long go unpunished, for his Sons felt the smart thereof; Richard being blasted with a pestilent Air; Rufus shot through with an Arrow; and Henry his Grand-child, by Robert his eldest son, as he pursued his Game, was hanged among the boughs, and so dyed. This Forest at present affordeth great variety of Game, where his Majesty oft-times withdraws himself for his divertisement”.
Bringing you gently back to the future, whilst you may still have romantic images of a pure and breathtaking landscape coupled with a sense of nostalgia or longing for the simple things in life, we must also bring back the images of ‘the poor inhabitants left succourless of house or home’.
Now your mind is back in the year 2013 and all is well. But is it really? One would be horrified to see the same thing happen to the New Forest inhabitants today, don’t you think? Laws are in place to protect people from such actions. In particular the advice of the European Landscape Convention (ELC) is there to protect our landscapes. Specifically:
Article 5(c) to establish procedures for the participation of the general public and
Article 6D Landscape quality objectives to be defined for landscapes identified and assessed after public consultation and in accordance with Article 5(c) above.
More importantly, The Countryside Agency published their guidance “Topic Paper 3: Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) – how stakeholders can help. An explanation of the nature of stakeholder involvement, methods of engagement, and pointers to good practice”. Natural England has also produced guidelines: “European Landscape Convention – A Framework for Implementation October 2007”.
Sadly (or chillingly?) for the inhabitants of today’s New Forest, the spirit of William the Conqueror appears to have haunted the offices of the National Park Authority (NPA) in Lymington Town Hall and then enchanted the decision-makers into publishing draft Landscape Plans and LCAs without having regard for the inhabitants, as was the practice in medieval times. In fact, the NPA only publicly consulted with 0.15% of the 35,000 population and totally ignored guidance from ELC, The Countryside Agency and Natural England.
The right to ‘reign’ over the inhabitants of the New Forest should be left in the past and any modern day ‘conqueror’ should come to the table and break bread with the people. Our landscape is our legacy for future generations and therefore our views matter. The NPA should embrace the ethos of the ELC and guidance from Natural England; which is key to successful planning and protection of our landscapes.
I consider the process by which the NPA reached its conclusions and, ultimately this ‘public consultation’ to be significantly and fundamentally flawed and the project must now be withdrawn – not ‘revised’. See Timeline of Events and judge for yourself.
One Voice, New Forest
European Landscape Convention – A Framework for Implementation October 2007
Countryside Agency: Landscape Character Assessment Topic Paper 3
Clarification from Director of Park Services, New Forest National Park Authority
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