Ashdown forest faces difficult New year after losing funding

Ashdown forest faces difficult New year after losing funding

Ashdown Forest is the largest public open space in the South-East covering more than 2,400 acres of land across East Sussex. It was the inspiration for AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories set in Hundred Acre Forest.

Now it has lost up to £150,000 in support from East Sussex County Council, a move that could see parts of the forest closed to visitors and the introduction of new charges such as fees for the car parks.

The habitat is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [AONB] on the heathland of the High Weald Area and is home to a wide variety of species of animals and insects.

It’s managed by the Ashdown Forest Trust with elected members from East Sussex County Council (ESCC) as trustees.

Previously, the county council bailed out the forest by covering any deficit in its annual running costs which are nearly £1million including staff.

Due to the financial crisis brought about by the pandemic, ESCC has been forced to review its funding allocations.

Speaking to the Times about the loss of funding, the CEO of Ashdown Forest James Adler says that finding financial support is very challenging at the moment.

Mr Adler said that funding was one of the critical issues they are having to manage with East Sussex County Council having to withdraw support because of the pressures that Covid has put on the authority’s own budget.

“They have told us they have to divert the money elsewhere,” added Mr Adler. “Potentially we are losing between £100,000 to £150,000 a year of income.”

The trust is working on solutions to replace the funds in a way that best suits visitors who until now have enjoyed the forest free of charge.

Mr Adler explained: “We are looking at a range of different ways to fund the forest such as asking for donations from the public, while also trying to look for grants. We are also considering introducing car park charges. We might not be able to keep them all open without funds.

“For our wildlife, there are also some big issues. If we are not able to look after the land, especially for our rare bird species, then it is possible that the land could lose its protection [as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty].”

He warned the loss of protection “would definitely be bad for the forest’ and potentially for the surrounding villages which could be impacted by housing development.

Because of climate change, the land has seen positive and negative changes with new species flying over because of the warmer weather, such as the Willow Emerald damselfly.

However, the forest has witnessed extreme wet weather conditions that have caused flooding and damages to car parks and footpaths.

Mr Adler said: “We are still understanding the impacts of climate change on the forest and the Willow Emerald which is expanding its range as temperatures warm.

“Some reports suggest that beech trees will not be able to cope with changes to temperature and weather patterns over the next thirty years.

“It is also believed that heath fires will increase in frequency and intensity with warmer, dryer weather.

“This could release more climate gases, accelerating change even quicker whilst impacting on rare species. The peat bogs on the forest which lock up considerable carbon may also be damaged by fire.”

He continued: “If we manage the Forest well then it can help in dealing with climate gases and we are looking into how this may be quantified.”

The Trust has set out a 10-year plan which is broken into three categories for maintaining the forest.

The strategy will look into protecting the land itself… collaborating and engaging with local communities by building partnerships… plus welcoming and inspiring healthy and active lifestyles amongst individuals.

An East Sussex County Council spokesperson said: the authority ‘recognise’ the great work the Ashdown Forest Conservators do in managing and protecting the forest, and in raising a significant amount of money themselves to support their work.

But she added: “Reductions in Government grants, rising costs and increased demand for council services has meant we have had to consider how we fund and deliver our services to ensure we can meet our priorities, including protecting the most vulnerable residents.”

She said that while the council could no longer agree to an upfront grant each year it did cover the forest’s shortfall in the last financial year to the tune of £69,000.

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