Natural England Open Access dedication on all National Nature Reserves under the CRoW Act.

Below is a slightly modified paragraph which featured in the recent Synopsis of Forum Activity which was made available at the recent Annual Meeting:

Natural England Open Access dedication on all National Nature Reserves under the CRoW Act.

Whilst at first glance this seems a reasonable action,  a somewhat strange approach appears to have been adopted, given that de facto Open Access already exists on parts of Thorne Moors SSSI.  Whilst Local Access Forum’s have been approached for input, there appears to have been no other public consultation undertaken.  The Forum Executive received a notification of intent letter in September 2012 and have been trying since then to understand the processes senior officers and the Board Members of Natural England have been following to ensure that there is legislative compliance as Thorne & Hafield Moors are Natura 2000 sites and protected by the European Habitats Directive.

Examination of the correspondence and a failure to undertake an Appropriate Assessment as required by the Habitats Directive at the onset of the proposed project resulted in the Executive deciding to take a more detailed look at the proposals.

Once sites are dedicated Open Access then it is irrevocable and must be maintained even if ownership of land changes.   The approach appears to consider that the legislative requirement under the Habitats Directive to undertake an Appropriate Assessment can be avoided in so far as the process devised for Dedication can be conditioned.  The Executive are awaiting replies around provision of sufficient resources being made available in perpetuity to ensure the deliverability of conditions to safeguard special interest features of the Natura 2000.  This assurance is still outstanding.

Correspondence indicates that dedication is by default unless exceptional circumstances exist to exclude an area or site.   NE are seeking to provide ‘Higher Rights’ and have consulted with Local Access Forum inviting their views on what they would like and how they would envisage such access.   This consultation was ahead of any contact with neighbouring landowners, other stakeholders as well as the public.   Higher Rights could see access by 4x4s, horses, motor bikes, etc.   There is concern that landowners with access agreements with NE for management purposes could see use by the public.

Watch this space for updates, decisions are expected shortly.

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