Saturday, October 4

New Forest NPA Plans - A Forest Uprising

A walk with a decidedly different slant for this morning's wander amongst the wood and heathland of the New Forest.

As promised earlier in the week my route was planned to coincide with the Forest Uprising Group (FUG) Protest Rally. Primarily to cover the meeting as one of the few Outdoor Bloggers down here in the deep south of the UK. But also as one personally affected by some of the concerns being aired. And then there is a curiosity to observe a new and suddenly flourishing grass roots campaign. An interest resulting from my experiences earlier this year with the Legalise Wild Camping Campaign. Lessons possibly, for that campaign in the future .

So how did this one score?

Well, as protest movements go I can report that its fit, healthy, and full of fight.

The scene had been carefully prepared with prior notification of the event on local radio, TV & press. The morning's weekly area newspaper,
The New Milton Advertiser announced the rally on its front page. Alongside an article on the New Forest National Park (NFNP) vice-chairman, attacking his own authority's management plans. Inside the paper 50% of the letters page was given over to the topic. All supportive.

So come the day - a wet and windy Saturday morning. The demo set to start at a time when supporters would normally be involved with their own affairs, especially true of local stables, and the equestrian vote. The chosen location set some distance from the nearest town, and its source of easier attendance. But local feeling was running high. Enough to attract 600-700 people onto Wilverley Plain, many walking or riding from distant locations.

Later reports in the local press, a source more practised at assessing such things, estimated the
attendance at 750 people. (edit-late revised to 2,000 according to FUG who were collecting signatures of those present) Those gathered listened to passionate speeches from both of the local MPs and then other, less authoritative figures. The 'little' people feeling threatened by the NFNP suggestions.

Media coverage was widespread, with slots on both the BBC & ITV local evening news. On-line press interest as well, very quickly published, with a promise of further print coverage on Monday. And news of BBC Radio Solent phone-in on Monday morning.

A quick recap. The last official English National Park to be set up was Northumberland back in 1956. The
New Forest NP came into being in March 2005, some 50 years later, and despite much opposition. So what valuable lessons have been learnt after so many years of the various and diverse National Park Authorities co-existencing with their populace?

Apparently not at lot where this Authority is concerned so it seems.

Today the mood of the meeting was militant. Very militant. Middle England roused. With each speaker's demand to abolish the NFPA, a cheer went up.

In an incredibly short time FUG has pulled together many disparate New Forest interests. This combined group now reacting strongly against a confused and lengthy consultative document issued from the NFNP. And FUG's voice is going to get louder over the coming weeks with public meetings, media coverage, and their involvement with other interested parties (Let's leave aside the potential of legal action for the present)

The challenge will remain for FUG to consolidate the sometime conflicting interests amongst their coalition parties. And no doubt some of today's attendees may possibly have their own personal agenda, always a risk when building a campaign with the speed and passion here.

But already FUG have shown that they understand the need for credibility, involvement, flexibility and a solid organisation. And most of all, that Important Voice. A way to get The Message Heard. A Lot.

Here's hoping the group's aims can remain clear & focused.

Meanwhile what of the New Forest National Park Authority?

Their limited public appearances show them already on the back foot at a critical place in their short life. A time during which they must gain acceptance as a credible organisation. Or suffer some alternative reaction, thereby tarnish the principle of all National Parks, by inference.

The next FUG meeting, organised by NFDOG, will be on
Sunday 12th Oct at Brockenhurst Village Hall. There is to be attendance from a representative of the NFNPA, with, I'd bet, a hostile welcome waiting in readiness.

But also an opportunity for the NFNPA to clearly communicate their ideas and plans. And also to show their human side. The ability to listen; To learn; To perhaps even compromise;

And maybe, just maybe, start to salvage something from the P.R. disaster. A trend, which if continued, may threaten their continued existence as a credible authority involved in the future of the New Forest.

Speech! Speech!

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Thanks, John excellent report. Just shows the power of blogging. I would never have known this except for your post. I find it disturbing that "public servants" act in an increasingly dictatorial way, without regards to the freedom and interests of the general public. Why do they hate us so much?
Keep watching - I expect far more to come on this for some considerable time
Very good resume John, the people of the Forest thank you for helping to widen awareness of our plight.

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