Fineshade Wood campaigners bid to protect woodland forever

Fineshade Woods visitor centre

Fineshade Woods visitor centre

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Campaigners trying to protect the ancient Fineshade Wood have appealed for the area to be given protected status to fend off any future bid to build holiday lodges there.

The Friends of Fineshade have sent an open letter to Natural England ask them to consider urgently whether the beauty spot north of Corby is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

A husky racing event at Fineshade Woods. Photo courtesy of Glyn Dobbs ENGEMN00120130226115839

A husky racing event at Fineshade Woods. Photo courtesy of Glyn Dobbs ENGEMN00120130226115839

In 2013, private firm {http://aboutus.forestholidays.co.uk |Forest Holidays|} submitted an application to install 76 log cabins at Fineshade. Their application, supported by the Forestry Commission which manages Fineshade, was eventually thrown out by planners at East Northamptonshire Borough Council.

However, the Friends say they are expecting renewed interest after representatives from planning PR firm Curtin and Co, representing Forest Holidays, attended their parish council meeting earlier this month.

They say that if the woodland was named an SSSI, it would prevent any future applications from being successful.

One of the Friends Tricia Galpin, who lives in the hamlet of Fineshade, said: “We have put together an application for SSSI and submitted it to Natural England.

Campaigners celebrate after the lodges plan for Fineshade Woods was refused NNL-150224-122800001

Campaigners celebrate after the lodges plan for Fineshade Woods was refused NNL-150224-122800001

“It’s very wearing to trying to fight off these planning applications so we decided that the best way to stop any applications from being submitted in the future was to encourage Natural England to give the wood SSSI status.

“We have the backing of the RSPB, the Woodland Trust, conservation bodies and ecological campaigners.

“Natural England is under a huge amount of pressure itself because of funding cuts so we have provided them with all the original ecological surveys which were actually done by Forest Holidays on their first application.”

The open letter is signed by a host of experts including senior conservation planner for the RSPB Midlands Region Colin Wilkinson, Northants Wildlife Trust chief executive Brian Eversham, high-profile environmental campaigner Mark Avery, chief executive of the amphibian and reptile conservation trust Dr Tony Gent and chairman of hawk & owl trust East Midlands group Simon Dudhill.

The wood is home to birds that are rare to Northants including Willow Tits and Nightjars. It also has a wealth of lizards and snakes including adders and grass snakes. It is also the largest remaining area of the ancient Rockingham Forest and in recent years the Forestry Commission has made attempts to removed coniferous trees to allow ancient specimens to flourish.

Fineshade is managed by government organisation The Forestry Commission, which holds a 20 per cent stake in private company Forest Holidays. Forest Holidays operates log cabins in several Forestry Commission sites around the country for which is pays rent, which it says provides a revenue-stream of about £2m per year for the Forestry Commission.

A Natural England spokesman said that they could not comment specifically on the status of Fineshade, but provided information that confirmed that Natural England has an obligation to notify an area as a SSSI when it believes the wildlife or geology is of special interest.

A statement added: “A Site of Special Scientific Interest is one of the country’s very best wildlife or geological sites. SSSIs include some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats: wetlands teeming with wading birds, winding chalk rivers, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote upland peat bogs. There are over 4,100 SSSIs in England, covering around 8 per cent of the country’s land area.”

The guidelines for making an area of woodland an SSSI are complicated and are currently under review by Natural England. There are also means for other parties to object to an SSSI notice.

A Forest Holidays spokesman said that if is ‘early days’ and that the company would not be rushing into a decision on whether to submit a new application or not.

She added: “We are not going to rush into anything at all. We understand that there is a high level of feeling amongst some individuals, some of which is based on misconceptions and we want to be transparent, to answer questions and to provide accurate information.

“Since last year we have been reconsidering our proposals in light of the decision by the council. We chose not to rush to appeal that decision and we have listened to the feedback from councillors and local people.

“We absolutely acknowledge that some people feel our original consultation was not thorough. Therefore we invited Curtin and Co to support us. They are experts in working with local communities and are exploring how we could best engage with the Fineshade community to gain their input should we consider any new proposals.

“We will keep the media and local people well informed should we move forward.”