The Superintendent of Epping Forest, Paul Thompson was welcomed by Councillors to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of Epping Forest District Council on 4 September. The meeting began with a presentation by Mr Thompson on forest management. Judy Adams, Chairman of the Friends of Epping Forest also attended the presentation. A question and answer session followed.
Epping Forest is owned and has been managed by the Corporation of London on behalf of the people of London and Essex for 134 years. It covers large parts of the district as well as areas of several London Boroughs.
12 miles long from Forest Gate to Bell Common, the Forest covers more than nine square miles. Outside core forest land, the Corporation also manages thousands of acres of buffer land, much of which is agricultural. Epping Forest is London’s largest open space. It is ancient and in earlier times covered most of Essex. It inspired and today forms a key part of the Green Belt.
4.3 million visitors or around 12,000 people a day visit the Forest. The next election of the Forest Verderers is next year 2013.
As part of managing the Forest, the Conservators are charged with providing recreation and enjoyment to the public, an un-built and unspoilt forest, preserving its natural aspect and beauty. Pollarding is a major responsibility as is the maintenance of open land, heath and ancient and historic features such as Amesbury Banks and the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge. The Corporation is a guarantor of commoners’ rights.
There are many special sites of scientific interest protecting animals and plants in the Forest. There are nine reservoirs.
Dog walking is one of the most popular activities in the Forest. Horse riding is also important with a huge network of bridleways. Mountain biking is becoming increasingly popular. The Corporation also provides many football pitches, cricket pitches and several golf courses. Many people run in the forest with several Olympic hopefuls training there recently.
Education is a major element of the Corporation role including outreach and the facilities at High Beach.
Lottery support is assisting with forest management including preservation work of ‘keystone’ trees. Many of these are at risk or coming to the end of their lives but provide particularly important wildlife habitats.
Public involvement in the production of the Management Plan is hoped to give greater confidence in Corporation policies. The Plan will take up to two years to complete. It will include extensive online consultation using similar survey techniques to those used by Lee Valley Regional Park.
High-tech electronic collars are being introduced for cattle grazing within the forest as part of the environmental management. Small electric shocks, half the power of an electric fence are delivered as the cows reach otherwise invisible boundaries. Cows learn the boundaries very fast.
Further environmental management is taking place through car parking and speed restrictions.
The Friends of Epping Forest is a charity which has supported the Forest for the last 43 years. It aims to protect the Forest by raising public awareness and appreciation. It is a friend of the Conservators. It runs many guided walks, scrutinises planning applications, welcomes the Council’s proposals for dog control and supports the various fetes and festivals in and around the Forest.
Councillor David Wixley, one of the Friends of Epping Forest, asked Paul Thompson for reassurances over the future of the visitor centre at High Beach. Mr Thompson replied that it could not remain open with Corporation resources alone following the opening of ‘The View’ in Chingford. However, he was confident of finding partners able to work with the Corporation for the long term continuation of the Visitor Centre at High Beach.
Responding to another question by Councillor Alan Lion, Mr Thompson confirmed the Corporation was taking account of the current Council Local Plan consultation and would participate to ensure the protection of the Forest.
Many Forest visitors come by car. Councillor Leon Girling asked if new speeding restrictions had been assessed. Mr Thompson said it was very early days but a review would take place next year. However, evidence so far seemed to suggest speeds had dropped and he outlined plans to introduce new Shuttlebus services as the Corporation seeks to rationalise car parks.
Councillor David Wixley also raised concerns about the impact of cattle grazing in managing wood pasture. Mr Thompson explained the relationship between grazing and some of the most important trees. He felt the re-introduction of grazing to some areas would benefit habitat, restoring open vistas to something more similar to Victorian times than the more recent denser forest.
Management of the Forest population of deer was raised by Councillor John Knapman. Mr Thompson said the current population was too high, causing problems in the Forest, on neighbouring agricultural land and on local roads and needed to be reduced.
Councillor Penny Smith asked if the rules and regulations of forest use would be revised to make the notices clearer for the public. Mr Thompson confirmed new signs are planned for gateways and car parks.
Councillor Jennie Hart asked about diseases affecting Horse Chestnuts and other trees. Mr Thompson said there were a significant number of issues surrounding tree health including conditions affecting Plane trees. He speculated on a number of animals from squirrels to deer stripping bark from Silver Birch trees.
Councillor Richard Morgan, Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee thanked Paul Thompson and Judy Adams for an excellent presentation.