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Nine organisations, representing a broad range of people who care about and enjoy the great outdoors, have today (10 May) issued a statement to the chair of the Independent Panel on Forestry, Bishop of Liverpool James Jones, expressing their concerns and hopes for the future of public access to all our forests and woodland.
The group is calling on the Independent Panel to ensure that ‘access is at the heart’ of its discussions concerning the future of our forests. After presenting the statement to the chair, the group expects to meet all members of the panel to express firsthand the value of our woods and forests for public enjoyment.
The organisations which make up the Forest Access User Group represent over eight million people who use woodlands regularly and have a broad recreational, conservation and management interest in our forests and woodlands. The group includes The British Horse Society, British Mountaineering Council, Open Spaces Society, the Ramblers, Sport and Recreation Alliance, CTC, IMBA, British Orienteering and The Kennel Club.
Justin Cooke, Ramblers Senior Policy Officer, said: ‘We call on the panel to find ways to protect, maintain and increase access to all our nation’s woodlands and ensure that access is at the heart of its work. We look forward to engaging with them to ensure that public access to our forests is protected now and always.’
Sign up to support the Forest Access User Group’s statement that:
This cherished national asset needs to be protected for public access in all forms, be it on foot, bike, horseback, horse-drawn carriage or with a dog, helping to strengthen the public’s understanding of the natural environment. Woods and forests must also continue to bring clear physical and mental benefits to the public by remaining fully accessible.
‘Horse riders have access to only 22% of public rights of way and horse-drawn vehicle drivers to only 5% so the permissive access they enjoy in our forests is of immense importance, and would be best protected by the dedication of rights for equestrians under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.’
Mark Weston Director of Access, Safety and Welfare, The British Horse Society
‘Woods and forests uniquely provide and absorb a huge range of recreational pursuits in beautiful surroundings. It is vital that the panel puts public access and enjoyment at the forefront of its work.’
Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary of the Open Spaces Society
‘The well-maintained 10,000km of forest road and waymarked trails in Forestry Commission woodlands provide England’s largest network of routes for families to enjoy away from the perils of road traffic. Public ownership is the only reliable way of securing this benefit now – and for generations to come.’
Roger Geffen. Campaigns & Policy Director. CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation
‘With 48% of woodland access users accompanied by their dog, the sale proposals could have had a devastating impact upon the nation’s dogs and their owners. The Kennel Club urges the independent panel as well as the government to carefully consider how provisions for permissive access users under any new sale will be safeguarded and guaranteed.’
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Communications Director
‘Dedicated informal challenge trails, freeride parks and downhill rides for mountainbikers are enjoyed by both young and the not so young. With few exceptions, these only exist on Forestry Commission land, providing great outdoor recreation which would be put at risk by any future sales.’
Colin Palmer. Access Coordinator. IMBA-UK
‘Our woodlands and forests have long been a focus for open air recreation, including walking and rock climbing – there are many important climbing crags situated within the forested estate. It is essential that the breadth of recreational opportunities our forests and woodlands provide is fully understood as future policy is developed.’
Dr Catherine Flitcroft, BMC Access & Conservation Policy Officer
‘The Forestry Commission allows millions of people to use forests as both a venue and a playground enabling hundreds of sporting activities. The Commission also benefits – in 2010 the Motor Sports Association brought in £1million from events. The full range of sporting activities unique to forests needs to be protected for all.’
Tim Lamb, Chief Executive, Sport and Recreation Alliance
‘Forests are the spiritual home of the sport of orienteering and we call upon the members of the panel to recognise the benefits in terms of health and education, and the contribution made to the rural economy through the staging orienteering events in woodlands and forests, whether publically or privately owned.’
Mike Hamilton Chief Executive British Orienteering
Forest Access User Group’s joint statement to the Bishop of Liverpool James Jones:
The Forest Access User Group believes that protecting and enhancing public access to our woodland and forests must be at the heart of the Panel’s work. Following the huge public outcry which resulted in the consultation on the future management of the Public Forest Estate being “put on hold”, and the temporary suspension of Forestry Commission land-sales, we believe that the Panel now has the opportunity fully to realise the multi-purpose function of our woodland and forest estates.
As the Secretary of State made clear to the House of Commons when announcing the establishment of the Independent Panel:
It is important that the panel looks at all forms of access, including access for walkers, riders and cyclists,” and “We want to expand access to our forests and woodlands because it is in everyone’s interests that we do so (House of Commons, 17 February, column 1169).
The Public Forest Estate makes up only 18% of England’s woodland and forests but accounts for 44% of our accessible woodlands. With the public making over 40 million visits a year to the Forestry Commission Estate, the Commission is the single, largest provider of countryside recreation opportunities and provides some of the best examples of welcoming, well-managed public access in England, which any private landowner would be hard pressed to match.
This cherished national asset therefore needs to be protected for public access in all forms, be it on foot, bike, horseback, horse-drawn carriage or with a dog, helping to strengthen the public’s understanding of the natural environment. Woods and forests must also continue to bring clear physical and mental benefits to the public by remaining fully accessible.
The Forest Access User Group looks forward to giving further evidence to the Independent Panel on the value of our woodland and forests for public access and urges the Panel to take the opportunity fully to develop appropriate forestry and woodland policy in England which delivers benefits to both public access and wildlife.
 House of Commons 17 Feb 2011 : Column 1169
David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): “Will the Secretary of State confirm that access will be at the heart of the terms of reference that will be crafted for the new independent panel?”
Mrs Spelman: “I can give my hon. Friend that assurance.”