Position statement - planned development of a Forest Holidays site at Mortimer Forest

Wednesday 16th May 2018

Having considered the plans suggested by Forest Holidays for a holiday site in Mortimer Forest, Herefordshire and Shropshire Wildlife Trusts cannot support this proposal. We have a number of concerns about the impact the development could have on wildlife. We will formally raise these concerns if and when Forest Holidays submit a planning application.

Background

The Forestry Commission, and their commercial partner Forest Holidays (https://www.forestholidays.co.uk/) propose creating a woodland holiday park within Mortimer Forest on the Herefordshire/ Shropshire border. The proposals include 68 timber cabins, reception building, cycle hire building, maintenance yard and associated infrastructure.

Forest Holidays have developed ten similar ‘Forest Retreats’ including Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, Black Wood Forest in Hampshire and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. They promote the environmental, social and economic benefits which their developments bring to local communities and state that: “We build and manage our sites to sit in harmony with their natural surroundings and we go to great lengths to continually improve our eco-friendliness and reduce our carbon footprint.”

However, there has been local opposition to the Mortimer proposal on the grounds that it will negatively affect the peace and tranquillity of the forest, damage wildlife habitats, disturb wildlife and that only a small amount of the profits from the enterprise will go to the Forestry Commission, which is a non-ministerial government department. The Save Mortimer Forest campaign group says: “We… believe it’s a bad deal for wildlife, local people and for the Forestry Commission. Effectively, this reduces the area of public forest which the public can actually enjoy – and all for a derisory return for the Forestry Commission.”

How it involves Herefordshire and Shropshire Wildlife Trusts

Along with other environmental Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), we have recently held discussions with Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission to find out more about the proposals. We've also met local stakeholders - including local campaigning groups who oppose the proposal.

Neither Herefordshire nor Shropshire Wildlife Trusts has any commercial relationship with Forest Holidays or the Forestry Commission regarding this proposal.

As with all development proposals with a potential for significant impact on wildlife, we have looked into the plans in order to respond appropriately. Though Wildlife Trusts have no jurisdiction in such matters, we can oppose planning proposals in our capacity as a nature conservation organisation where we believe this is necessary and where we believe our actions can effect change.

Our thoughts on the proposals

Based on the information we currently have, we do not support the proposal, and will be formally raising our concerns over the impact it could have on the wildlife of Mortimer Forest if and when Forest Holidays submit a planning application.

As Wildlife Trusts our response to any proposed development is centred the impact on native wildlife and habitats. We also recognise that developments such as this have an impact on the aesthetic of the landscape and on quiet enjoyment of the forest.

The site 

The siting of the proposed cabins is within a Douglas fir plantation which has been planted on what was previously arable farmland. Douglas fir is a non-native tree and has been densely planted. This is poor quality wildlife habitat which will only attract a limited number of species. The site has no official designations; for example, it is not a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or equivalent. 

The wildlife 

However, the periphery of the footprint and approach road to the cabins through the forest has margins with high quality habitat supporting several protected species, including wood white butterflies, great crested newts, adders and dormice. The area is also home to bats and goshawks.

The wider impact

The impact of the development will also be felt more widely:

  • An increased number of people and dogs in the forest twenty-four hours a day will disturb wildlife beyond the immediate site of the cabins.
  • The additional infrastructure, vehicles on site, installation and maintenance of services including water and electricity will cause greater impact in other areas beyond the actual development site. These must be fully taken into consideration.

What we would like to see

Were a planning proposal to be submitted for this site by Forest Holidays, we would expect to see far more extensive and significant mitigation proposals. We believe that Mortimer Forest could be improved for wildlife, principally by replacing non-native conifers with native, broad-leaved woodland trees and managing the woodland to create a more open, varied habitat. This would support a far wider range of native wildlife, allow natural processes to establish and be ecologically sustainable. Imminent production of the Mortimer Forest Design Plan provides an opportunity for the Forestry Commission to address this.

Current proposals by Forest Holidays state only that the site will continue to be managed in accordance with the Habitat Enhancement and Management Plan and that “an ecological enhancement area” of just 4.9 hectares will be created to the north east of the development. Given the potential impact of the development we do not feel this is sufficient.

Wild Marches

Whether or not a planning application is submitted, we would like to see the Forestry Commission undertake extensive woodland habitat improvements in Mortimer Forest.

Over the past 3 years we have been developing the Wild Marches initiative. We hope this will see the creation of a far wider, wildlife-rich landscape spanning the borders of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Wales. Mortimer Forest could and should be a vital part of this initiative providing a place where wildlife can thrive that can be freely enjoyed making the Marches a wonderful place to live, work and visit.


Herefordshire Wildlife Trust & Shropshire Wildlife Trust
16 May 2018
 

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