Photographs of Thorpe woodlands, their varied habitats, plantlife and wildlife all taken by friends and supporters. most taken between 2010 and 2013

Saturday, 19 February 2011

People Power works!

As everyone must know by now, the government has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn on their plans to sell-off the Forestry Commission's woodlands. Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, publicly apologised on Radio 5 for 'getting it wrong'. It is very unusual for anyone in government to admit to having been wrong about anything, but the scale of public outcry about their privatisation scheme was so overwhelming that they were faced with little choice but to make the best of a bad job. "We have listened to what the public have told us and acted accordingly", said Ms Spelman.

The overwhelming pressure to scrap their plans arose largely through the efforts of 38 Degrees, a fairly new campaigning group which has developed a huge internet following. 38 Degrees started an online petition that grew to over half a million signatures, as well as encouraging tens of thousands of people to write to, email or phone their MPs. They also raised enough money to pay for adverts in national newspapers and a YouGov opinion poll that showed that 87% of the public were strongly opposed to the sell-off. All of this grew from the inspiration of a handful of well informed and highly organised campaigners. Many other groups were of course involved - these are credited on the 38 Degrees website
(  ) but it was 38 Degrees' brilliant initiative that really did the trick.

38 Degrees recognised the public's heartfelt appreciation for woodlands and knew that, given an easy way to register their disgust at the proposed sell-off, large numbers would seize the opportunity. But even they were taken aback by the scale of the response, and under such pressure the government could only try to spin their climbdown into appearing to illustrate their willingness to heed public opinion.

Thorpe's woodlands provide an example of the threats that our public forests would have faced if they had been sold. Racecourse, Belmore and Brown's woods are recognised as important biodiversity sites for Norfolk and are treasured by thousands of local people - yet these facts mean nothing to their owners, who would happily tarmac and concrete over the lot if they could.

The success of the 38 Degrees campaign shows all who are striving to protect woods and other habitats that people power can work. However, it needs to be harnessed with great efficiency and in very large volume in order to be as successful as was the case here. This campaign's success has sent a powerful message, not only to the government but to all local authorities, that people love woodlands and care passionately about them.

Our woods in Thorpe remain under threat. The fact that the campaign to save them is so enthusiastically supported by the local councillors is very good, but we must recognise that there may be other members of Broadland District Council, and possibly some officers, who don't yet share their enthusiasm. If the owners (Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust) submit a planning application, the fate of the woods will ultimately hang on a vote of less than 20 planning committee members. If planning permission is given, there is no right of appeal other than a judicial review in the High Court. We must therefore do all we can to create a 38 Degrees-style avalanche of opposition when the time comes.

Opportunities for the public to make their voice heard will arise over the course of this year, when BDC start consulting on the various development planning policies they must produce, following the GNDP Joint Core Strategy inspector's report (expected very soon). Friends of Thorpe Woodlands will be ready to inform everyone when the time comes, but in order to do the best job possible we need your help. If you can spare some time delivering leaflets, door-knocking, forming an email tree, or if you have any ideas or suggestions, please contact us (see Lorna Beckett's email address at top right of screen - its probably easier to write it down or copy & paste than try clicking on it!).

38 Degrees takes its curious-sounding name from the angle of incline needed to start an avalanche. They certainly started one against the forests sell-off. The government could call itself 180 Degrees as this is how far out of alignment with public opinion they were on this issue. They should be making moves to compulsorily purchase private woods whose owners don't respect them, not trying to sell those the public already own!

A few days left to protect ancient woods!

At present, ancient woods are afforded fairly strong protection against damaging development. Among numerous government guidelines that must be followed by local authorities when considering planning applications and producing development policies, Planning Policy Statement 9 requires ancient woods to be given special consideration.

However, the government is in the process of changing its planning guidelines by amalgamating them all into one all-encompassing framework. Conservation organisations are worried that this will result in the existing protection for ancient woods being severely diluted.

The government is running a public consultation on this, and it is important that as many people as possible make their views known. The consultation ends on 28th February - it is therefore important that all who care respond immediately!

Fortunately, the Woodland Trust has made responding easy. Go to the Woodland Trust's website at
then click on 'What is the problem?' for more information, then click on 'Take action' to go to a very user-friendly online response form.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Councillors say NO to proposals to build on Thorpe Woods

Following on from our last update Council Support for Thorpe Woodlands our local Broadland District Councillors have just issued their latest intouch newsletter.

The front page sets out their opposition to the proposals put forward by Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust and their determination to protect Belmore, Browns and Racecourse plantations against any development plans.

They firmly state that “we do not want this beautiful area built on and will do what we can to stop any plans which may come forward” and that they “are pleased that the original plans for hundreds of houses were not submitted last year”

We will be meeting again with the council at the end of next month and will report back on how we are working together to provide long-term protection for these much loved and ecologically important woods.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Council Support for Thorpe Woodlands

The Friends recently held another highly constructive and positive meeting with councillors from Broadland District Council.

Councillors Ian Mackie, Nigel Shaw and John Fisher pictured on the march through the woods last August held by the Friends and their supporters ,( See post: Get Off Our Land), met with members of the Friends to discuss the progress that had been made so far with the campaign, and how in 2011 we could broaden the campaign and start to take steps to put in place long term measures to protect Thorpe woods, measures that not only recognise the importance of these woods to the people of Thorpe St Andrew, but also to Norwich and Norfolk.

The councillors confirmed that the Trustees had made no further attempts to contact them or arrange any meetings, this matched up with our own experience as the Trustees have continued to ignore any attempts we and local residents have made to contact them.

However, the Trustees and their plans have not gone away. We discussed with the councillors the proposals that the Trustees had submitted to the recent series of Planning Inspectorate meetings which were held to consider the Greater Norwich Development Partnerships (which is made up of Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council and Broadland District Council) Joint Core Strategy which sets out the development proposals for the east of Norwich.

Gail Mayhew (see MEET THE MAYHEWS) was present at these meetings as were the Trustees agents Savills. They submitted documents supporting their development proposals, and in response to the inspectors request for a plan B if the Northern Distributor Road did not proceed as planned they put forward proposals for a link road that would connect the proposed 800 homes of the Belmore Park Development homes to the Salhouse Road.

Last year the campaign made a very good start, the Friends have a growing and active membership, a friendly press, good publicity, and a good working relationship with the council.

This year our main aim is to put in place some form of concrete long term protection for the woods. Although any potential development may be some time away we are still determined to put in place protection as soon as possible, especially as an application by the Trustees for planning permission could be made at any time and considerably in advance of any actual development.

We discussed the possibility of excluding the woods from the development triangle; and providing them with clear protection under the Action Plan that would have to be drawn up by Broadland District Council prior to the allocation of development sites as part of the Joint Core Strategy mentioned above.

It was agreed that the councillors would actively look into how long-term protection could be provided and the Friends would provide them with evidence to support this, for example letters from bodies such as the Norfolk Wildlife Trust identifying why the woods should be afforded such protection.

We were also happy to agree to the councillors’ request to refer to us in their newsletters and to create links to our blog in their websites etc.

The Friends and Councillors will meet again at the end of March to discuss progress and the current position of the campaign.