Urgent request to help Humberston Fitties

In 2014 I made one of the most popular posts here: “Humberston Fitties: magical but under threat“, describing one of Britain’s few remaining plotland sites on the north east coast of Lincolnshire. It was under threat from the continuing uncertainty surrounding the council’s intentions, and the possibility it might be sold to the adjacent commercial caravan park. Since then, things have just got worse and some of the chalet owners have put out a request for help.

The chalet owners have formed the Humberston Fitties Community Interest Company and have offered £1.5 million to the council, who are determined to sell the long lease for the whole site. The adjacent caravan site (Thorpe Park) had first refusal but declined to buy it. Problem solved? No, the council don’t want to sell the long lease to the chalet owners. (Who are voters and council tax payers and people who spend money in the local economy remember.) Instead they are in secret negotiations with an undisclosed company, believed to be another commercial caravan site company.

This seems unbelievably bloody minded and high handed by the council.

I had this email from the C.I.C. yesterday and wrote this blog in response:

NELC put the leasehold up for sale in Oct 2016, inviting expressions of interest. Our Community Interest Company submitted an offer to buy at the asking price of £1.5 million. NELC have very regrettably rejected our offer, in favour of their ‘preferred bidder’, who is believed to be a commercial static caravan site company.

Given the bizarre secretive way in which our landlord NELC are going about things, we as a community really do fear the worse. As such, and given that we feel that we may well be about to loose this much loved piece of Utopia that happens to be a Designated Heritage Asset, we are trying to increase awareness of what is going on across the length and breadth of this land, by whatever means (and media) possible.

We have formed an online petition that I hope you will sign. See link :- https://www.change.org/p/north-east-lincolnshire-council-petition-opposing-north-east-lincolnshire-council-s-proposed-disposal-of-the-fitties

Feel free to circulate this message and spread the word generally, to your friends, family, associates and colleagues!

So, please consider signing the petition and telling your friends. If you have media connections and might be able to help, please get in contact with the C.I.C. via their website.

(The site also has a really interesting page about the Fitties history too.)

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Observer story about hutting in Scotland

Another positive story, from last week’s Observer:

Now a ‘hutting’ revival is predicted after the Scottish government signalled that later this month it will change legislation to exempt huts from building regulations, allowing people to put up these most simple of second homes in the countryside wherever they can rent or buy a plot of suitable land, subject to planning permission.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/15/how-scotland-back-in-love-with-hutting

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Guardian story about woodplots

Story in the Guardian today about people buying woodplots and doing interesting things with them:

If you go down to the woods today … you might find a school, a photographer’s studio, or a carpenter’s workshop. Britain’s forests are getting a new lease of life

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/21/place-country-new-woodlanders

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The Glamping Show

We went to this year’s Glamping Show today at Stoneleigh Park near Warwick. Glamping has expanded over the years to include camping pods, newly-built shepherd’s huts, and tiny houses as well as the luxurious tents, yurts etc. I’ve included a gallery of some of the photos I took which gives you a flavour of the event, and points where glamping now overlaps with hutting.

The show is explicitly aimed at landowners wanting to diversify into glamping, and had stands from everyone from wood-burning hot tub makers to online visitor booking software. In the main hall were (mostly) smaller stands and three seminar spaces. Outside were a wide selection of the kinds of tents and cabins on offer.

Hutting tends to be about having the hut or cabin or shed or whatever for much longer than glamping, where you might just hire it for a week. Most hutting is about owning the structure and maybe even the land it sits on. However, there’s now a lot of similarity in the buildings, even if the glamping huts are quite neat and commercial. They’re a lot more soulful than caravans though.

So it was really interesting to see a fun talk by Max McMurdo about upcycling and glamping, and the idea that you might furnish or even construct glamping huts or tents with reclaimed materials to get away from a manufactured feel. He also made some good comments about the experience of glamping which resonated with the experience of hutting: such as the way daylight becomes so important when man-made light is not just available at the flick of a switch; and how satisfying the most ancient human technologies such as lighting a fire can be, especially when you’re living free of wifi and “being connected”. During the questions at the end Planning Law reared its head (as it always does sooner or later), and there was also lots of good advice (like looking for materials to reclaim in skips!) Max has also got a new book out about upcycling.

dsc_0021Back in the outdoor area,  I was really pleased to have a chance to look around the tiny house from Tiny House UK. This is the first time I’ve seen one in person and I hope we see more of them in Britain. Since the ones on wheels or liftable by a crane count as a caravan in planning law,  they have the potential to make all those situations where you’re allowed a caravan to be a lot more attractive. One of these is forestry, where you’re allowed to live on site in a caravan when doing forestry work as long as it’s “less than a season”.

If you’re at all interested in doing glamping as a business then I’d recommend looking at the magazines Open Air Business and Glamping Business for the adverts and articles. There are a lot of options, including DIY approaches all the way up to companies who do all the work and share profits with you in return for use of your land.

 

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Tiny houses, legally

I came across the video “Living Tiny Legally, Part 1” due to a post in the Tiny House Community UK Facebook group. It’s a really interesting insight into how people have been persuading some local authorities in the US to allow Tiny Houses. You do need to mentally translate “zoning” into “planning permission” and “construction codes” into “building regulations” for the UK system of course.

At 19:30 in the video there’s a slightly awkward moment where one of the city managers finds a diplomatic way of saying they wanted to avoid creating trailer parks that would reduce surrounding house prices. This has always been one of the key worries of local authorities in the UK when faced with plotlands or hutting development: how do they know this isn’t going to turn into some form of shanty town? Quirky colonies populated by artists and software engineers are mostly welcome. Traveller sites usually aren’t.

This is the first part of a three part project, but there are already lots more videos on their Tiny House Expedition YouTube channel.

 

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Dodd Wood and Whinlatter Forest

After a morning spent at Allan Bank by Grasmere, I spent an afternoon at the Forestry Commission’s Dodd Wood and Whinlatter Forest Park sites either side of Bassenthwaite Lake. Again I was mainly looking for red squirrels, but didn’t have as much success as at Allan Bank.

Dodd Wood is a smaller site and is notable for having osprey viewing platforms manned by volunteers in the summer. It’s possible to see down to the osprey nest and watch the adults swooping down to pluck fish from the lake. Red squirrel feeders are also visible from the viewing station, but I didn’t see any signs of feed when I visited.

dodd-squirrel However I did get some blurry pictures of squirrels scampering around. Like at Allan Bank, they seemed to be spending as much time on the ground as up trees. Even when aware of me and heading off, they didn’t take the opportunity to climb the nearest tree and then move around in the canopy.

One of the proposed reasons why red squirrels are helped by the presence of pine martens, is that grey squirrels spend more time on the ground than reds and so get preferentially eaten by pine martens, letting the reds recolonise the area. Perhaps the scent of pine martens prompts reds to keep off the ground more? Nuts tend to fall to the ground so if it is safe to come down from the trees then it might be worth having both behaviour patterns in their repertoire.

whinlatter-seathow2whinlatter-seathow1Whinlatter Forest Park is much larger and billed as England’s only true Mountain Forest. The staff in the visitors’ centre were up front about the low chance of seeing reds as the site was quite busy. I headed off on the Seat How Summit Trail, and didn’t see any other walkers all afternoon – just a few mountain bikers. This trail gets up to 520m where the trees give out to heather and includes Seat How, a rocky outcrop with astonishing views across the forest and over to the mountains and Derwentwater. It feels like an island in a sea of trees. These two photos give you a hint of all that.

As a working forest some areas were entirely closed off for felling. You can see evidence of clear felling in the left hand picture above. Some of the other forest roads had warning signs – particularly about the danger of climbing stacks of logs. Quite a sobering thought.

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Despite the lack of red squirrels, I did manage to see deer.

whinlatter-deer1 whinlatter-deer2

And toadstools. And sycamore beside a roadway at about 300m.

whinlatter-toadstools whinlatter-sycamore

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Red squirrels at Allan Bank

  1. Allan Bank above Grasmere in the Lake District is an unusual National Trust house: unfurnished and deliberately informal in a way that puts some NT properties to shame. You won’t find volunteers telling you off for getting a smartphone out to look something up (“No phones here young man!”) or even worse a camera (viral marketing by happy visitors passes them by…) No, at Allan Bank you can pull up a chair, get one of the board games out, try the paints, help yourself to coffee. When you arrive they really do tell you to make yourself at home. Which is nice, because it’s in area with active red squirrel conservation and the animals are easy to see at the feeders on the lawn and in the surrounding woods.

allanbank-room3William Wordsworth lived in the house in 1808-10, and while he condemned its exterior, he loved its views over Grasmere and up to the surrounding hills and mountains. You can see Grasmere in this picture, along with some of those paints I mentioned. There’s plenty of paper too.

The house was severely damaged by fire in 2011 but restored and opened to the public by the National Trust for the first time a year later. The walls are bare plaster and there’s donated furniture, an informal cafe, a self service shop upstairs (pay at the till on the ground floor if you want to buy anything), a small mountaineering library, a room full of toys and dressing up outfits for children, and lots of places to enjoy the views.

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That last picture shows the view out on to the lawn where bird and squirrel feeders are set up. At the opening time of 10am it was very quiet and squirrels were helping themselves. (It was also no surprise that a selection of binoculars were provided by the house.) I took several batches of photos but this sequence starts with a view of one of the feeders taken from the far side, well behind the bushes and trees.

allanbank-squirrel1 allanbank-squirrel2 allanbank-squirrel3 allanbank-squirrel4 allanbank-squirrel5

The reds are there because of the hard work of the volunteers of the Grasmere Red Squirrel Group in controlling grey squirrel numbers. And yes, that does mean trapping and killing them. Greys suppress red squirrel numbers by competition, but they also carry the Squirrel Pox virus which almost eliminated the red population in 2002. Another outbreak started in 2015 and the public’s help is needed again. Longer term I think pine martens will be a big part of suppressing the North American grey squirrel in favour of the native red, but we have to keep the current population of reds going until that time comes.

I also spotted squirrels on the steep walk up through the woodland that surrounds the house, which has same excellent views too. This panorama from a stone viewing platform at the top of the walk, shows the view into the next valley and an almost canopy-level view of the trees.

allanbank-stoneseat

The house also has a kitchen garden, which was given a Beatrix Potter flavour as Mr MacGregor’s garden this year. Work is ongoing to restore it, and there’s a newly built gardener’s bothy with a verandah where you are invited to sit and enjoy the view.

allanbank-bothy allanbank-garden

Allan Bank really is a gem of a house, as well as great place to see red squirrels. Just don’t tell everyone else, ok?

Posted in Red squirrels, Rewilding, Woodlands | 3 Comments