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

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Wood for the trees

Fresh tracks are being laid and new openings cut in Thorpe woodlands, something I've never actually watched there before and something I've dreaded for the last 4 years as, for that time it had seemed this would be the precursor to housing.  But the giant machinery that can be heard in to the dusk, lights shining down and through the trees, felling, removing and stacking 50+ year old trees like carefully arranged matchsticks is doing something good.
Paying heed to the warning signs and staying well clear while tons of machinery is felling and moving tons of wood, I've followed the path cut through southern Racecourse plantation. many dozens of trees have gone, but gone only from one of the last remaining stands of conifer. 
And what was in places tightly packed rows of pine with little light or life reaching below is now open with well spaced mature conifer retained along with some broadleaved.
A crop of conifer has been removed but the woodland remains and there is no obvious loss to wildlife or biodiversity. 
Likewise around the rest of Racecourse where work has taken place, if anything, the variety of habitat will probaly remain and variety of landscape increase. 
Clearing and widening, main ride Racecourse wood.

Very little of the broadleaved woodland (making up the majority of the woodland habitat in Racecourse) has so far been affected by the work undertaken and almost none in Belmore. And some care seems to have been taken to retain selected trees to retain the woodland landscape and to avoid unnecessary damage.
Thorpe Woodlands can, and is paying for it's keep with the crop so carefully stacked and sorted in the picture below. At the same time the woodlands is still the great and diverse wildlife habitat that we fought to keep, and across the bulk of it's area it's the same beautiful site for recreation (the area in Racecourse pictured top is definitely more so). 

The sustainable and renewable crop that pays for the woodland and wildlife we can keep.

Continued litter picking in Racecourse wood

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Forestry returns to Thorpe Woodlands

Since the vote by Broadland District Council to save Thorpe Woodlands in their entirety, we've been awaiting the response of the landowners, and so far it seems very positive.
Although their development proposers, Socially Conscious Capital are still harbouring hopes of yet building on at least part of the County Wildlife Site in future decades, for the time being woodland management has it seems resumed.

Leaflets have been distributed to the public living around the woodlands, signs have appeared informing the public of the forestry work to be undertaken, and (in Belmore at least) the work has started.

The leaflets titled "Racecourse Plantations" (the name of SCC's housing plan for the woods) with carefully selected pictures of the few remaining stands of pine and some barrels which are clearly mean't to create a poor impression of the woods as some kind of hazardous waste site. Typically misleading as usual! These 50 gallon drums are used extensively and legitimately by the Skirmish site, whom the landowners happily rent a portion of the woodlands to.
50 gallon drums used legitimately by Skirmish site
The leaflet outlines the owner's intention to carry out forestry work within licence and one can only hope they stick to that.
Alongside this there's a supposedly reassuring statement that they haven't given up hope of a future date where building on Thorpe Woodlands County Wildlife Site will be acceptable.
Again the argument is made that: Only with the building of a housing estate in the woodlands, can SCC and their employers deliver a public woodland that is both "family friendly" and a "haven to wildlife" plus of course some good quality housing, which if I remember their plan correctly would be a housing estate centred in Racecourse, halving the most diverse and largest habitat of Thorpe Woodlands.
All these are as ever false claims of course, the Woodlands already provide adequate public access, a rich wildlife habitat and while doing all this they already make the landowner a yearly profit after the costs of managing the woodlands.

Interestingly the photos in the leaflet are of areas in Racecourse and the work has so far been limited to Belmore. That being said, the work, especially clearing of rhododendron is very welcome. If (as the photos in the leaflet suggest) the remaining stands of pine are thinned or felled as a part of a positive plan for woodland improvement, this would be very welcome too. If the barrels have been left, maybe by those who rent areas of the woodlands for outdoor activities, and are not still in use, we also welcome their removal.
Some members of the Friends have already undertaken tidying of litter within the woods and will continue to do so.

Finally, there are rumours afoot, spread we're told by a mysterious dark haired lady who wanders the paths of Belmore by day, telling dark tales of how the works underway are a preparation for housing development in the near future. This haunting and mysterious lady it seems exists, but as far as we know her visions are untrue and very unlikely for two reasons. The woodlands are now excluded from development and SCCs plans for building were always centred in Racecourse.

Again the Friends of Thorpe Woodlands welcome the positive work undertaken so far and we welcome the continuation of that in other areas of the woodland. SCC's greed driven negative propaganda we could do without.
Later view of the same area. The last stand of pine in Belmore cleared as of the 9th September. The oak standing amongst them still standing towards background along with other oak and varied saplings.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Broadland Council Votes To Save Thorpe Woods

After a long process of consultation, environmental study and planning, the Area Action Plan (AAP) for development to the north east of Norwich is complete.
On the 10th of July Broadland District Council voted to adopt the Growth Triangle AAP.  As part of the AAP, Thorpe Woods are now recognised as being central to sustainability.  This recognition is a reflection of the strongly expressed views of environmental bodies including Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the considered opinion of Broadland's own ecological consultant and the overwhelming public oposition to building on the woods recorded in Broadlands’ public consultation.

4 years ago, the woodlands' owners, hoping to replace the trees with a profitable housing estate, presented a very different story. With the expensive help of jet setting planning guru Andres Duany they described the woodlands as redundant conifer plantation, fit only to become 'Belmore Park', 800 or more homes to replace the trees. There was no mention of course that the same woodlands were already designated as a County Wildlife Site by NWT, containing important habitats and rare plant species.

This misinformation worked for some time, to the extent that even BDC described this wonderful habitat as being largely conifer plantation. It has taken 4 years of persistence and hard work by core campaigners to prove that the would-be developers' descriptions were false. 

When the expensive Andres Duanys’ golden touch turned to manure, the owners, the Mayhew and Meath Baker families (Meet The Mayhews) hired The Matirx Partnership, a UK based high-flying development consultancy,  but their relationship was short lived. Eventually, Gail Mayhew, grew tired of pretending the plan of building on a County Wildlife Site was a good idea. She resorted to entrusting the onerous task of securing planning permission for Norwich's most unpopular ever development concept to a friend from Kensington & Chelsea, a certain Rock Fielding-Mellen, 

Mr Mellen and his company 'Socially Conscious Capital', specialising in difficult and unpopular planning applications, offered the Mayhews a 'no win, no fee' deal. The aristocratic Mellen and his old Etonian chums squandered prodigious sums of pocket money hiring compliant consultants and again proposed saving and improving the woodlands by  building on them, all this featured ,with no sense of irony, on a lovely website. But all to no avail.  At last it seems that Thorpe Woods and the fabulous biodiversity they support, have the future that they deserve.

The AAP must now stand for a minimum of 6 weeks, during which period interested parties may comment only on the soundness of its decision making process. Hence, there is still a threat to the woods, but it would have to be an outright attack on the whole process of local democracy and development planning. It is uncertain whether Socially Conscious Capital will appeal against BDC's decision, especially as the woodlands now constitute key Green Infrastructure within a development plan that provides more than adequate housing. But given the democratically oblivious and environmentally blind approach of SCC's 'No win, no fee' way of working, we must watch and wait.

This huge step towards saving a beautiful woodland area and wildlife habitat, from greed driven and completely needless development is something Broadland and Norwich can be proud of.
And it's thanks to the public, environmental bodies, Thorpe's BDC councillors and all who added their voice to our campaign, that in this case common sense for once might prevail.   

Thank you all!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Tawny owl young in Belmore wood

Video taken on a late evening, 4th June in Belmore wood. Followed the beautiful shrieks almost echoing as they seemingly replied to each other through the trees. Came across at least 3 young owls and filmed this one as it was on a lower limb and so a little closer to camera.
I've heard tawny owls and possibly other species of owl all across Thorpe Woodlands, photographing them before in west Racecourse.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Thorpe Woodlands decision June 10th

From dawn chorus to dragonflies and diversity, this short film is a final message to the councillors who have to decide on the future of these woodlands. 
On the 10th June Broadland District Council will be finalising their submission documents for the Area Action Plan (AAP) This document is going out for consultation shortly. The responses to the public consultation of early last year will also weigh in their decision.
 If Thorpe Woodlands are designated as 'Green Space' they will provide that and an environmentral investment for years to come. 
If you wish to make your views known to your councillor again or for the first time, please do so before that date.
Thank you to all those who have.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Dawn Chorus plus a deer Thorpe Woodlands 1st May

Recorded around dawn, again in the area recently proposed by Socially Conscious Capital for building development. We await news of the woodlands' inclusion or exclusion from the development area.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Trojan Horse from Socially Conscious Capital.

Rock Fielding Mellen and associates under the banner of 'Socially Conscious Capital' want to build a housing estate on Thorpe Woodlands County Wildlife Site, and one as big and as profitable as they can get away with. 
In order to get their foot in the door, they've now decided to say ( although this figure is worthless as they refuse to give any guarantee) that they will build 380 houses, taking only a quarter or 50 acres of woodland (which in reality halves the largest habitat.)  
To help ease acceptance for this, they propose an "imaginative idea", a fountain of creativity which amounts basically to creating, from the remainder of Thorpe Woodlands, a new and differently named woodlands. On the face of it this doesn't seem like much of an offer or particularly creative, and in reality it's much worse!

Thorpe Woodlands already provides a beautiful woodland area open to the public and a habitat for wildlife which is locally exceptional, so nothing would be gained. On top of this, because SCC want us to believe that nature is neither "child" or "family friendly" they say that this County Wildlife Site will need tidying and cleaning. This will involve cleared areas, "clean and safe rides", cycle tracks, picnic tables, car park, access roads, a visitor centre and even retail! 
I presume there is no place in this new woodland for rides full of varied grasses, plant life and insects and certainly no place for mud.

All this sanitising and construction will of course, along with the management of a "new" public woodlands, cost money. 
There is no pledge on housing numbers for a reason. Firstly SCC will I'm sure be keen to cram in far more housing, and secondly SCC propose that the profit and a levy from the houses built will pay for and maintain the new "family friendly" "Racecourse Plantations" for all. 

If this doesn't turn out to be the case and once SCC have planning permission, they will most likely apply to build more houses, the excuse being to make their completely unnecessary and destructive scheme viable.
SCC largely dismiss the great environmental and public value that these woodlands already have, Rock Fielding referring to most of the woods as "only for the most intrepid" and is clearly of the opinion that nature should be clean and tidy. All this, while at the same time dishonestly proclaiming that they have environmental concerns at heart.

Picnic tables and car parks on ponds where newts presently breed or rare woodland pasture where glow worms display is no more than additional destruction on top of the building plans that should never be allowed. This building on mature Woodland in order to cash in on the NE Norwich development area is simply greed, and it is pursued with an assured and well funded arrogance against all advice and with no concern for the local environment or population. This attitude was never made clearer than by Rock Fieldings' outburst at a similarly unpopular development presentation SCC were fronting on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Faced with almost complete opposition and criticism of his plans by local people his response was "The estate will not be dictated to by the village!" no wonder then, Rock and SCCs approach here.

The Forestry Option for these woodlands is the forward thinking, environmentally sustainable future for this area of key green infrastructure and the future that the people of Norwich deserve.
If the landowners reject this, then at the least this great woodland must survive and no socially blind company should be allowed to deceive us in to accepting it's destruction.

It will be a sad day if local natural environment and a sustainable future is wasted because it doesn't create enough easy money for rich landowners. 

Below is what SCC call a "woodland improvement" plan including housing development (I've shaded it grey, they deceivingly coloured it green) Retail development and clean and tidy paths.
I've added/ highlighted some key points and truths here.


"Socially Conscious Capital". Rock Fielding-Mellen and his pals must have thought they were onto a winner when they came up with that name.  But like most things that sound too good to be true, so is SCC.

SCC's socially conscious credentials arise from anything but foundations of rock.  Mr Mellen (who prefers to be called Rock Fielding), in his day job as a member of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, has vigorously opposed the London Living Wage, which seeks to guarantee just what it says for the capital’s poorest workers.  Supporters of the Living Wage include Boris Johnson and most London-based MPs, yet Rock couldn't find it in his heart to go along with the concept of paying the poor a bit more.

Rock has recently demonstrated further the depth of his social consciousness by angrily telling the residents of a Scottish village to stop interfering with his family's plans.  The village of Longniddry is on an estate belonging to his family.  Not content with owning the village and surrounding countryside, they want to increase their fortune by building a large housing estate on meadowland.  The villagers understandably made their opposition clear in Rock's 'consultation'. However, despite receiving their clear response, Mellen was reported in the Edinburgh Evening News as saying: "The estate will not be dictated to by the village".

Innocent new arrivals at SCC's website would hardly guess that the main figure behind it had such haughty attitudes.  SCC's site oozes what they must believe to be charm. 
Their first (and only) project is called Racecourse Plantations - their new name for what began as 'Belmore Park' nearly 4 years ago.

Faced with the challenge of selling a thoroughly discredited concept to a savvy local population, SCC have followed in Gail Mayhew's footsteps and sought to divert attention from what they want to do onto what they think people will like.  And so, rather than admit that they want to build as many houses as they can get away with on the woods, in order to make as much money as possible,  they twist the truth inside out, like this:
"At Racecourse Plantations in Thorpe, we want to open up at least 150 acres of privately owned commercial forestry plantations as an accessible, family friendly woodland, recreational resource and haven for wildlife - for the benefit of the community and owned by the community"
What a lovely thing to want to do!  The only catch is: "To achieve this, we are proposing a development on the least sensitive areas of the site, which comprises no more than 25% of the area.  We can now announce that we are proposing a total of 380 quality homes in a woodland setting"

Why do they need to build around £130million worth of houses, you might ask. The reason; so that they can set aside enough money to create such wonderful facilities as visitor centres, shops, cafes, formal and informal play areas, car parks and access roads, and probably even talking fibreglass trees that tell children the names of the birds that used to live there. And none of this comes cheap. 

It is in SCC’s interests to make it seem that a lot of money would need spending to make the remainder of the woods fit for human presence, in order to justify building so many houses.  If they were to admit that all the woods need in order to remain a haven for wildlife and 'family friendly' is improvement to existing paths and perhaps some tree safety work here and there, they'd find it hard to justify building anything: it isn’t as if the owners couldn’t fund such works themselves, out of the profits from sustainable forestry.

This is perhaps the most exasperating aspect of the whole spiel.  SCC (like their predecessors) claim that in order to provide Norwich with continued enjoyment of the woodland they have enjoyed for generations, they need to raise money by building a few hundred houses.  You'd think these people were like the rest of us apart from having through fate found themselves landed with 200 acres of woodland they can't afford to keep.  Anyone who attended the owners' series of exhibitions in 2010 would certainly have thought this, because it is what they told us.  But the truth is very different.

Their family is one of the wealthiest in East Anglia. They own the 5000 acre Walsingham Estate, half a dozen villages and the famous Walsingham Abbey.  They also own, between them, other large woodlands in Norfolk, properties in London, Norwich and abroad.  If SCC's opening claim were true, ie: that they WANT to let the people of Norwich have a beautiful, wildlife-rich woodland with free access in perpetuity, they could simply make it happen.  They would hardly notice the difference on their annual balance sheets.  And they actually would have done something worthy of praise.

But these people want nothing other than to make yet more easy money, and if that means giving some of the woodland to the community in order to secure planning permission for building on part of it, they'll grudgingly do that.  SCC and their fancy PR consultants can twist words as much as they like but it won't alter reality.

Thorpe Woods will not benefit form having hundreds of houses built in them or from the remainder being sanitised. They are a superb ecological asset and will become even more important for their biodiversity as the march of 'progress' covers every field surrounding the city with bricks and tarmac.  Let's not be fooled by Selfish, Crafty Capitalists.

John Allaway 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Socially Conscious Capital’s Latest drafting of the truth.

SCC's New claims

In the last few days Socially Conscious Capital (SCC) have re-emerged with 
further claims. These they hope will convince all that making a quick buck 
by developing an unwanted and unnecessary housing estate over 
large areas of this much loved County Wildlife Site is the best future for Thorpe Woodlands.

Last November they tried to convince us that the best way of preserving and
protecting this wood was for them to be allowed to build over many acres of it
(see Rock's Roadshow hits town).  However, it is hard
to convince people that such a proposal can be anything other than nonsense when
your plans are opposed not only by the overwhelming majority of local people, as
demonstrated in the response to Broadland District Council's
consultation (in which over 99% of the record-breaking 2440 people who
responded opposed any development), but also by local councillors and conservation
bodies such as the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Campaign to protect Rural
England, Natural England and The Norwich Society.

Therefore SCC’s latest ploy is to claim that some of these bodies have now
seen the light and don’t oppose their plans.

SCC claim that Natural England “have not opposed our proposals” and have
told them their development plans are a “good start”. Happily this is far from the truth.
Natural England has made clear their position as set out in their most recent
formal statement:

"Natural England supports the identification of Thorpe 
Woodlands as an area of multi functional open space for wildlife and recreation. 
It should not be taken forward as a development allocation in the AAP."

On the 26th February we spoke to Natural England who have confirmed that they
continue to stand by the above statement and have written a “strongly worded
letter” to SCC in respect of the edited comments attributed to Natural England
on SCC’s website. We understand that SCC have now apologised to Natural England
and has retracted their statements.

SCC also claims that The Norwich Society is thawing; but once again the
truth is very different. The Norwich Society has made it clear that: "Thorpe Woodlands
are not suitable for residential development: this is the unanimous view of the
Environmental Committee".
The Chair of the Norwich Society was happy to confirm that they continue to support
the protection of the woods in their entirety and provided us with a copy of a letter
they had sent to the Chairman of Broadlands Planning committee which states:

"The Trustees of the Norwich Society join me to express their deep concern about 
plans to build new housing on the three pieces of woodland known collectively as 
Thorpe Woodlands. They are popular quiet, green areas 
close to dense population. It is essential that this green lung remains to 
refresh the citizens of surrounding Thorpe, Thorpe End and Dussindale. It should 
be an oasis in the proposed development Growth Triangle of north-east 
Norwich.Any roads should be carefully planned to skirt all three woods."

Last but not least...

SCC also claim that Norfolk County Council’s Green Infrastructure Co-ordinator Dr David White is sympathetic to the idea of building a housing estate on a County Wildlife Site. SCC state that Dr White thinks there may be  "a case could be made for permitting some development to facilitate the long-term recreational use of the remaining parts of the site". This quote is taken out ofthe context of a report issued by Dr White at the end of last year, in which he in factconcludes that:

Dr David Whites' actual conclusions

4.1 Having scrutinised the submitted documents and the other available
information, I conclude that large-scale housing development in the Thorpe
Woodlands would not be appropriate as the ecological impacts would be too great.
However without detail on proposed housing numbers/area, I remain to be
convinced that some small-scale housing would be appropriate either. This is
based on:

• the ecological value of the site (CWS standard) and importance of the site for
ecological connectivity;
• the fact that developing on a CWS would be contrary to local and national
policy and that there would be a real danger of undermining the CWS system that
has been so beneficial in protecting the most important wildlife sites in a
county context;
• the question as to if it would actually be physically possible to compensate
for the loss of ecological connectivity in any meaningful way (as opposed to
compensation for loss of, or adverse impacts on, within-site habitats); and
• the uncertainty of the benefits of using the approach of building some houses
to secure informal public access when other options with potentially fewer
adverse impacts seem to be available and could be explored in greater detail.
4.2 The benefit of having the site for public access in the Growth Triangle is
obvious, but at this stage and based on the documents submitted, I would
hesitate to conclude that building on part of the site is the best way of
addressing this.

So despite SCC's best efforts, the truth is, that in addition to the 2440 local people who opposed any development...

Norfolk Wildlife Trust states that: "In our view Racecourse Plantation and
Belmore and Browns Plantations should be retained in their entirety as key
biodiversity assets and part of the critical natural capital, within the growth
triangle and no part of this woodland should be zoned for development".

The RSPB’s view is "Thorpe Woodlands should be retained as open space and
as a key area in the Growth Triangle’s green infrastructure provision. We are
surprised that housing development is even being considered for this site".

CPRE Norfolk "supports the Friends of Thorpe Woodlands and their campaign to
protect Racecourse Plantation, and adjacent woodland from development".

Dr David White Norfolk County council concludes that "large-scale housing
development in the Thorpe Woodlands would not be appropriate as the ecological
impacts would be too great. However without detail on proposed housing
numbers/area, I remain to be convinced that some small-scale housing would be
appropriate either".

The Norwich Society is "of the opinion that Thorpe Woodlands are not suitable
for residential development".

So it appears that SCC are simply twisting words to
suit their preferred meaning. Rather than Natural England and other bodies seeing the
benefits of building over a much loved woodland County Wildlife Site they are in
fact as opposed to it as ever and like the local people who love it realise the
importance of preserving it for future generations.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

January birdsong in Racecourse wood

Video and audio recorded in Racecourse wood on a beautiful day earlier this January. There seems to be a lot more species here than I was told by an ecologist working for the landowners. Employed only to assess the woodlands suitability for development, not to discover the many species previously listed and observed in NWT surveys and photographed by local photographers, The representative of Applied Ecology when questioned about well known resident species missing from his report told me, there was no more birdlife here than you would find in your back garden.
Judge for yourself.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Ancient Woodlands up for development in Government's new 'Biodiversity Offsetting' plan

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has suggested that Ancient Woodland can become acceptable building land if new saplings are planted to offset the trees lost. Owen is just the latest member of this out of touch Government to attempt to free up planning law and allow the theft of our woodlands for unsustainable development.
Surely only a keen nature denier working solely in the interests of unscrupulous developers and landowners could ever suggest such a moronic notion. 
Firstly to suggest that planting new saplings can replace entire woodland habitats with roots stretching back hundreds or even thousands of years is either ignorant or wilfully misleading.
Secondly, if there is a space to plant hundreds of new trees to offset the loss of an incredibly valuable, scarce and diminishing environment, then why on Earth not build on that site instead. Are we not meant to see the criminal stupidity of Owen Paterson's proposal?

Even in the Government's own Consultation that ended last November it was acknowledged that
ancient woodland would be "impossible to recreate on a meaningful timetable".
Showing his apparent ignorance, Mr Paterson claimed while destroying mature trees was a "tragic loss", replacing each with 100 new ones would "deliver a better environment over the long term".
Concrete over our most valuable habitats and wildlife today for a better Environment tomorrow. This is apparently what we are supposed to believe.

The Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons said recently the plans outlined by the government must be strengthened if they were to "properly protect Britain's wildlife".

The MPs said an assessment proposed by the government appeared to be "little more than a 20-minute box-ticking exercise that is simply not adequate to assess a site's year-round biodiversity".

The Woodland Trust has campaigned against the inclusion of ancient woodlands in any offsetting scheme and it rejects the suggestion that the future of these habitats should rest on the proposed economic benefit of a given development.

The future of Thorpe Woodlands still hangs in the balance while we await Broadland District Council's decision on the Growth Area Action Plan early this year. 
It appears that this new year as before, those with influence and keen on grabbing a quick quid at the expense of our environment are an ill wind still blowing very strongly.
Keep watching the blog for further news.

Link to Guardian article

Link to Article in The Express