Somerset Council has advertised its proposal to sell off a major part of the publicly owned, Quantocks AONB!
Huge thanks to the Friends of Quantock & others for bringing this issue into the public domain- our only chance to learn about this questionable sell off of AONB public land in the Quantock Hills. Somerset council have given until the 23rd of December to lodge any objections. Dismissing the concerns of the public, commenting that who owns the land is not important, as access will be assured. Where have we heard that before?
Surely they can’t argue with the fact that; if you own the land, you control the land.
Alan Hughes, Hon Treasurer of Friends of Quantock writes for SOW on the issues:
The Quantock Hills were one of the first areas to be designated as an AONB. Originally it had been proposed that they should be included in the Exmoor National Park but at the last minute it was decided that they were too remote from Exmoor and instead they became an AONB.
The combes on the north-east were once almost entirely covered with woodland and there are still over 1,000 hectares of ancient woodland comprising some 11% of the AONB. The sessile oak woodlands are designated as a European Special Area of Conservation as well as being within the SSSI.
In 1927, the Forestry Commission took a lease of what is known as Great Wood, an area of over 600 hectares above Over Stowey from the County Council which had acquired the property some years previously. The Forestry Commission set about replanting much of the area with conifers with a view to increasing timber production and these are still predominant today. Great Wood remains one of the Forestry Commission’s most important forests in the SW.
In 1949 there was a proposal to plant another large area at the northern end of the Quantocks with conifers. This led to a public outcry and the formation of Friends of Quantock, the independent amenity society for the Quantock Hills. The proposal was eventually dropped and much of that area is now designated as an SSSI.
The Quantocks are a mosaic of ownerships, much of it private and some belonging to the National Trust, but the largest landowner is the County Council which owns not only Great Wood but Over Stowey Custom Common, Thorncombe Hill and Cothelstone Hill, a total of over 900 hectares.
The County Council has now advertised its proposal to sell the major part of this, including Great Wood, leased to the Forestry Commission and Custom Common and Thorncombe Hill, both of which are within the SSSI.
Friends of Quantock are extremely concerned at this proposal and have entered a formal objection and in this they are supported by the CPRE and a large number of other organisations and individuals. It is felt that the proposal has serious risks for the AONB, particularly relating to the future management of the Quantock Common SSSI, which is at a critical stage, with a new management agreement that is vital for the future wellbeing of the common, being negotiated between the landowners, commoner and Natural England. Great Wood is well managed by the Forestry Commission but bearing in mind the threat earlier this year of the sell-off of Forestry Commission holdings, which could easily rear its head again, it is felt that it would far better if it remained in the ownership of the County Council. There are other issues too relating to access, erosion and vehicles that give cause for concern, both in Great Wood and on Quantock Common.
It is felt that public ownership that can take proper account of public and community interests is appropriate for this land, whereas private ownership will have a different focus and, despite safeguards that may be built in to the sale, may put the future wellbeing of the AONB at risk.
by Alan Hughes, Hon treasurer of Friends of Quantocks
URGENT ACTION REQUIRED
- Anyone may lodge an objection and these should be addressed to:
Ms Honor Clark, Deputy County Solicitor, Somerset County Council, County Hall, Taunton TA1 4DY (needs to reach her by the 23rd December).
- Honor Clark also has an email address you could send your objections to: HCClarke@somerset.gov.uk
- Join the ‘Sale of Quantock Land’ Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/291571307546060/