Top eventing centre fights to stay open [H&H VIP]

  • One of the south-east’s premier horse trials venues has managed to avert closure by the Government’s environmental advisers.

    But Tweseldown must still comply with Natural England (NE)’s ambitions to promote wildlife habitats on the heathland venue.

    Bryn Powell, who manages the Hampshire site, and British Eventing (BE) chief executive Mike Etherington-Smith met NE for crisis talks last week.

    They advised that NE’s latest demands — which include a maximum of 20 jumps — were unviable.

    NE has now suspended a termination notice that had been effective from 1 February. Just weeks before the start of the eventing season, Tweseldown has been told it may operate while further impact assessments are undertaken.

    Tweseldown’s equestrian usage dates back to 1854, but in 2005 it became part of the Thames Basin Special Protection Area (SPA). The site then fell under the European Union’s wild birds directive and the supervision of Natural England.

    Since then, Mr Powell has struggled to align their land management requirements with his established BE and unaffiliated calendar, Pony Club camps and schooling.

    “To say it has been frustrating is an understatement,” he told H&H. “Experts agree with me that Tweseldown shouldn’t have been designated SPA in the first place.”

    NE would prefer long grass to remain unmown around jumps to provide nesting sites, despite the safety risk to riders and horses. Mr Powell once faced a £25,000 fine for clearing scrub incorrectly — despite using NE’s recommended contractor.

    “NE worry about ‘intensification’ of use, but it is nothing compared with Tweseldown’s history,” he added. “The viewing hill was built specifically in 1886 for Queen Victoria’s review of 15,000 troops.”

    Tweseldown is the only known SPA with a pre-existing commercial use in the nesting season.

    A spokesman for NE said Tweseldown was justifiably incorporated in the SPA because of the high density of Dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlarks identified on site.

    “There is no mechanism within the EU Birds Directive to remove the SPA status,” she said.

    Mike Etherington-Smith added that the meeting with NE had been positive.

    “We can draw a line under what has happened before and move forward,” he said.

     This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (30 January, 2014)