Nearly all dedicated off-road trails are located on Forestry Commission land
Nearly all dedicated off-road trails are located on Forestry Commission land

Forest Access Panel - green light for walkers, amber for everyone else

The Independent Forestry Panel was set up in 2011 to advise the Government on the ownership and management of English forests following the public outcry over plans to sell off the English Forestry Commission forests. That panel has now reported and the recommendations are helpful.

In its final report the panel recognises the high value of these woods for recreation, and recommends that they should continue to be publicly owned and managed for timber, recreation and conservation, and that this is best achieved if the Forestry Commission is managed as a trust on behalf of the nation.

The Government has welcomed the report, indicating that it is minded to retain forests in public ownership. A formal response expected in January 2013.

The quality of access to the public forest estate is unrivalled. Securing this access for the nation, for the long term, is a central part of our case for retaining a national public forest estate."

Report from the Independent Forestry Panel

The panel appears to be ambivalent, though, over cycling provision. While noting that “over 40% of English woodland access is provided by the Forestry Commission Woodlands”, it fails to acknowledge that this rises to around 98% of cycling provision. So while accepting that walking enjoys protection by statute, it advises against extending similar protection for cycling, endorsing and encouraging instead a “permissive approach” to “other recreations” based on “local circumstances”.

The report recognises that private woodlands have the potential to provide much needed recreation space near to towns, and recommends that owners should be encouraged to allow public access - but again fails to acknowledge that this will largely be of benefit to access on foot.

So for cycling, there's relief that loss of facility through sales is now less likely, but on the other hand, there is little to address the need to encourage new cycling provision.



Chris Peck