The Voice Of The People Of The Forest of Dean
Letter to Paul Symonds
Dear Mr. Symonds,
With reference to the Forest of Dean District Council's decision to serve notice on the Forestry commission to clear the settlements of sheep, may I ask you the following questions on behalf of Dean Forest voice.
1. By what authority do you seek to have the sheep removed from the settlements considering that most lie either totally or partially within the statutory Forest of Dean over which rights of pasture exist?
2. Was this decision taken by members of the full council? If not why not?
3. Was the decision taken in discussion with the sheep Liaison committee? If not, why not?
4. Can you give an estimate of the cost to the Ratepayers of any legal proceedings, and have any provisions been made for this?
5. If you have obtained a legal opinion on this issue, may we, under the Freedom of Information Act, request to see it?
6. Can you tell us the number and nature of the complaints that you claim to have received from the public?
Dean Forest voice is concerned at the apparent lack of understanding of the rights of pasture shown by officers of the Council. The experience and opinions of long-standing members, and others, clearly account for nothing. Instead you have proceeded along a path of conflict.
I look forward to your response.
Keith Morgan (Dean Forest voice 29.01.06)
Reply from Paul Symonds
Dear Mr. Morgan,
I refer to your email received on 30th January. The responses to the queries you raised are as follows
1. It is not accepted that there are rights in common for grazing sheep in the statutory forest. Our action is for statutory nuisance as defined in Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Further, the Town Police Clauses Act 1834 and the Highways Act 1980 and other common law provisions apply to sheep roaming through built up areas.
2. Where a statutory nuisance is identified the council is under a duty to act. Enforcement decisions are delegated to officers, therefore, this was not considered by the Council. However, the four political group leaders or deputies were consulted prior to service of Notice. All Members were subsequently informed of our actions.
3. This action was not specifically discussed at the Sheep Liaison Committee, although the committee was informed on more than one occasion that we were seeking legal opinion on the most appropriate remedy to the problem of sheep nuisance. Once our course of action became clear in December 2005, we were advised to act swiftly to ensure the council was not exposed to judicial review for failure to abate the nuisance. A liaison committee was not planned until February 2006, which would have been an unreasonable delay, especially as the notes of the committee had been considered in reaching our conclusion on the need for positive action. Had a meeting been planned before Christmas, I am sure we would have shared our intentions, but this would not have changed our course of action.
4. I cannot give an estimate of final costs which will depend on the action taken by the Forestry Commission. However, these will be significantly less than the costs the Council has already incurred in dealing with sheep complaints and associated issues. An application for these costs will be made as part of our action and any shortfall will be met from the unforeseen items reserve within our budget.
5. We have obtained legal opinion on this issue. I cannot supply a copy as it forms ' part of the current legal proceedings and is, therefore, not a public document because it is exempt from publication by virtue of Sections 30, 31 and 42 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The public interest would not be served by the publication of Counsel's opinion and advice.
6. We have received 892 complaints from January 2002 to December 2005. The natures of the complaints are various. Ranging from concerns that sheep may cause an accident to a very distressed person ringing in after hitting and severely injuring a sheep. Other complaints relate to nuisance, fouling, damage to gardens and refuse bags being torn open and contents scattered.
With regard to your ultimate paragraph, you will no doubt be aware that since 1994 the council, with other agencies, has been an active member of the Liaison Group and has provided support to efforts to remove the sheep nuisance from the forest communities. The tradition of sheep grazing has now changed considerably from that enjoyed prior to the 1950s, and all Members wish to see the nuisance caused by free-roaming sheep to be abated, but without precluding the traditional sheep grazing of the forest, which is also the overwhelming opinion of the members of the communities effected.