Report of the Head Ranger.
The Head Ranger was heard regarding the draft Ashtead Common Management Plan 2021-2031 and the following points were made:
· During August and September 2020, an online public consultation had been undertaken on the draft Ashtead Common Management Plan 2021-2031 which had 446 responses. The consultation process identified that the majority of respondents had visited the Common more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that there had been an increase in a number of activities including walking, dog walking and cycling. In response to a question from a Member, the Head Ranger confirmed that 34% of those that had listed ‘Other’ as their reason for visiting had stated that they were volunteering, but that this represented only a small percentage of overall visitors.
· With regard to the draft Ashtead Common Management Plan 2021-2031 the following points were made:
· Nearly 100% of respondents had agreed the long-term vision statement which was proposed for agreement as follows:
“Ashtead Common: a place for countryside recreation and wildlife conservation where community involvement remains integral to maintaining an open space of national significance, a place that resists urban pressures and strives to protect an historic landscape and its features in a setting proactively managed to retain and enhance biodiversity.”
· Over 90% of respondents had supported proposals to support biodiversity, wood pasture and ancient trees, as well as to create more firebreaks and increase the amount of bracken managed. Over 80% of respondents had supported proposals on grazing which aimed to increase the area being grazed, although this would be on a rotational basis and not every area would be visited each year with mowing also used to maintain pasture. A number of respondents had commented on the potential for “virtual” fences and a separate consultation would be undertaken should it be proposed to introduce any such system.
· Over 80% of respondents had supported the approach to paths and rides, which included a proposal to not surface any further paths but address troublesome spots using natural landscaping techniques. 13% of respondents had not supported these proposals; however, respondent comments suggested that there had been confusion around whether this included maintenance of existing paths and rides. Some visitors had requested a circular surfaced route around the Common. A Member observed that the consultation response was a strong endorsement of the proposals for paths and rides.
· Over 75% of respondents had confirmed that they felt the balance was right on Woodfield, which was used for recreation and nature conservation objectives. The site had become floristically diverse through a conservation mowing regime and was a site of skylark nesting. A Member noted that the Scout Association had previously expressed interest in holding events on the site and that any such future use would need to be managed.
· Over 90% of respondents had said that key messages about Ashtead Common were appropriate. Plans to maintain a high degree of community involvement such as through volunteer participation had also been supported by nearly 90% of respondents and a number of respondents had queried how they could volunteer. In response to a question from a Member, the Head Ranger confirmed that the proposals for volunteering did not set out any immediate changes but recognised that the way that volunteering was delivered could change during the ten-year life of the Management Plan, such as in response to changing levels of resources or to target increased diversity of volunteers or involvement of family groups. A Member suggested that volunteers be approached for ideas to create new volunteering opportunities with existing resources. Another Member noted that the COVID-19 pandemic offered a unique opportunity to attract new volunteers due to changing working patterns.
· Over 90% of respondents had said that they would like to see the Reed Bed project progressed. This project proposed to use natural reed bed filtration to reduce the level of pollution in Rye Brook and Two Bridges and offered opportunities for partnership working and community involvement but would require up to £300k of external funding. The Head Ranger advised that the inclusion of the project in the Management Plan was the first step to making this project a priority of the City of London Corporation. A Member suggested that learning be drawn from similar schemes that had received funding and another Member underlined the need for a back-up plan to address pollution if it was not possible to progress the scheme.
· Nearly 90% of respondents had expressed their support for the Roman Villa Project, which would provide evidence of community support for any future funding application.
· 74% of respondents had confirmed their support for the introduction of a charging schedule for commercial activities that make use of Ashtead Common. 19.62% of respondents had expressed an objection to these plans; however, a number of respondents may have been unaware of existing commercial use of the site, such as for fitness classes and professional dog walking.
· In considering additional comments received, a number of respondents had raised issues around behaviour on site, including concerns around dog walkers and cyclists.
· Oak Processionary Moth continued to be managed across Ashtead Common. Numbers had not increased during 2020 which suggested that there might be some natural control in place and a new approach targeting the highest risk nests in the highest risk zones appeared to have been effective. A Member suggested that more informative signposting around the natural history of the site could be useful for visitors. Another Member stressed the importance of flagging risks around Lyme Disease to visitors to allow them to take reasonable precautions.
In response to a question from a Member, the Superintendent confirmed that the consultation process for the draft Ashtead Common Management Plan 2021-2031 would be open until January 2021 and Members were invited to provide their feedback. Members of the Consultative Group could request paper copies of the draft Ashtead Common Management Plan 2021-2031.
A Member underlined the need to engage young people with the consultation process for the draft Ashtead Common Management Plan 2021-2031, and the Head Ranger would raise this with the Youth Representative to the Consultative Group. Another Member suggested that local schools be approached to contribute.
RESOLVED, that the update be noted and that the amended long-term vision statement be supported.