Forest access - updates on the Independent Panel on Forestry
The report from the Independent Panel on Forestry, set up by the Government after it abandoned plans to sell off much of England’s forests in 2011 (see 'campaign background' below), reflects the overwhelming support for continuing public ownership and backs up the importance of access for different users. It says:
“We believe that at least the current level and quality of access to the public forest estate should be maintained, for the long term, and for the benefit and health of the nation. There is a challenge to make this more financially sustainable. We want to approach this topic with an open mind, recognising that access already comes at a cost, and that greater or enhanced access will inevitably cost more.”
In its analysis of key topics raised during consultation, the report says:
“Access is frequently referred to in relation to a particular recreational activity such as horse riding or orienteering. The majority of responses call for current levels of access to be protected and for increased levels of access in future. That the ability to enter woodland should be free and not limited by income is also a popular view.
“Many responses call for unrestricted access with a number proposing amendments to section 16 of the Countryside and rights of Way Act 2000 (CroW). Section 16 of the Act provides freeholders and long leaseholders with the opportunity to voluntarily dedicate their land for public access. The need for greater clarification on certain aspects of access law is also requested.”
CTC’s off-road access advisor Colin Palmer said, “The report is very positive about the value of publicly owned forests and the leisure and recreational opportunities they provide. However, CTC, the Ramblers and other Forest Access User Group partners will now need to press for stronger recommendations in the Panel’s final report on access to privately owned woods, as these make up about 80% of England’s woodland. Scotland’s access arrangements work perfectly well, and there is plenty of scope for England to follow suit.”
In February 2011, CTC welcomed the announcement from the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman MP, that she would delete the clauses in the Public Bodies Bill that would have enabled the sale of one half of all Forestry Commission land in England. As a result, the Government abandoned plans to facilitate the sale of this estate and instead set up a panel to advise on biodiversity and forest access.
CTC had already been working behind the scenes to secure an acceptable outcome for cyclists, whatever the results of the Government’s consultation. In the run up to the announcement, for example, Colin Palmer, CTC’s off-road advisor, had met MPs, Peers and other potential allies.
Naturally, once the members of the Panel had been appointed, CTC was dismayed at the omission of anyone to represent cyclists' interests - the only member directly concerned with advancing user access was Tom Franklin, Chief Executive of The Ramblers. To help remedy this, CTC joined the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA-UK), the British Mountaineering Council, the British Horse Society, British Orienteering, Open Spaces Society, the Kennel Club, and the Sport and Recreation Alliance to form the Forest Access User Group.
Once the Independent Forestry Panel was in operation, CTC submitted a detailed response to its consultation, highlighting the importance of the English public forest estate for cycling, and the need to encourage appropriate sectors of the non-public forest estate to open their gates to cyclists.
Continued efforts were also made to reinforce the importance of our forest trails to cyclists through a presentation at a Panel meeting.
The Forest Access User Group subsequently handed in a statement to James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Panel's chair.
- CTC is seriously concerned that any sale of publicly owned forest would result in an unacceptable loss of cycling facility - at odds with government policy to encourage physical activity and access to the countryside.
- CTC believes that cycle access is best protected by remaining in the public estate.
- CTC wants to see robust measures to protect both formal and informal cycle access in perpetuity and believes that the most effective way would be through dedication of forest roads and waymarked trails. We believe that the best way do this is through s16 Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000, before any sales are made.