Followers of this blog, and the locals that regularly walk through Old Down Wood will be more than aware of the work there that has been undertaken this winter. This has subsequently been compounded by the winter storms that have seen trees that escaped the foresters saws blown down as a result of the opening up of the area.
I have reported the blocked footpaths to the Hampshire council right of way department, and they directed me to the East Hants DC, who in turn pointed me to the Forestry Commission, where finally I began to get somewhere. I spoke with a Forestry Officer who advised me there had been many complaints and that they have been monitoring the situation
As was indicated by the signs that were posted back in October the work being carried out has been to improve the state of the wood, to remove non native tree species, and to work to control possible disease. The felling licence granted was conditional, meaning that there are conditions regarding how the land is left once the felling is complete, and there is a commitment to replant trees to compliment the wood.
One main concern is disease to the Larch trees, caused by the fungus Phytophthora ramorum which has caused the destruction of many trees in Devon and Cornwall, and more recently in the Forest of Dean. One of the ways in which the disease spreads is through species being in close proximity in "unnatural" plantations. By thinning out the trees in Old Down, and planting different species diversity is increased which helps to ward off the possible movement of the disease. I was also assured that the Forestry Commission recognise the wood is of historic natural value, and that they have an ongoing commitment to ensure a scheme of re-planting and maintenance, and the forestry officer stressed that while it looks bad at the moment in three years the benefits will be there for all to enjoy.
I pointed out that unfortunately the clearing of trees had opened up the area, and allowed the winds in, and with the storms over Christmas many more trees had been felled. Timing is the issue here, this work can only be carried out during this time of year, and once the areas are thinned out the trees would normally increase their roots, but they didn't get the chance this time, and have suffered as a result.
That is the why the work was conducted, and why so many trees have fallen recently, but the "how" has obviously been an issue too, and there is some explanation for that. The commercial returns on logging is very small, and unfortunately cannot sustain the use of individuals with chain saws cutting down the trees, the economies of scale call for heavy machinery, and this has definitely been the problem. There is no commitment though for the land owner or agent to clear up the mess, but they do have a commitment to ensure the footpaths are clear and safe. This took me back to Hampshire County Council, who also told me that there had been a lot of complaints, but as the land is privately owned they have no jurisdiction to make the land owner ensure the paths are clear. It is for the individual to contact the land owner, but they would not tell me who that was.
Once again I was sent to a government web site, the Land Registry, where for a small fee I was able to find out the name of the owner and get some history on the ownership over the last 50 years. Originally owned by Winchester College, it was sold on in the 1960's but retaining the right to allow a right of way on the designated footpaths. In the early part of the new century it was sold again,to the current owner.
I have the contact information, and I will be writing to the owner to ask for their assurance that t the footpaths will be returned to the condition they were in before the work began. If you are local, and use and enjoy the wood like I do and would want to do the same then may I ask that you contact me through the comments box below, I will then pass the name and address on to you.
Detective work complete, I will be back to the wild life as soon as possible