Blog: How we're improving woodland access for our members
Policy Officer Martin Key, who works amongst other things on facility and land issues, talks about the progress the Alliance is making in improving access to our woodlands and forests for the benefit of recreational activities, from canoeing and angling to archery and horse riding.
Last year, in reaction to the Government’s proposed Public Bodies Bill which would have enabled a 100% disposal of the public forest estate, over 500,000 people signed an online petition to Save Our Forests! in one of the most dramatic outpouring of affection for trees since the 1980s.
The petition goaded the Government to make a U-turn and sparked a national debate on the value of woodland, with sport and recreation cited as one of the most important reasons why we must maintain and preserve national estate for everyone to use and enjoy.
There’s now another review taking place - carried out by a government-appointed, independent panel. Let’s hope this time the Government can settle on a cross-party, long-term strategy which reflects public opinion by ensuring public access to our woodlands is protected for future generations.
The review will look at both public and private owned forests and woodlands – so what’s the Alliance’s stance on which is best? We believe that it makes little difference, so long as there is long-term security of access and the land is managed in a sustainable way so that any actions taken today do not limit opportunities for future generations.
There are many examples of excellent private woodland owners who allow their land to be used for recreation - the National Trust is one, and there are many smaller plots as well, for example the sport of field archery is nearly totally dependent on the goodwill of private landowners.
But there are also of course, big advantages to having Public Forest Estate as well - mainly due to the fact that as the single largest provider of land access, issues can be coordinated at a national level. This is important for sport and recreation as it means that national governing bodies are able to sign national agreements to host events and fix prices.
Stage rallying could not take place in England if was not for the Motor Sport Association’s agreement with the Forestry Commission, and British Orienteering benefits from this consistent approach to hosting events. If the Estate was split up, governing bodies would need to negotiate with each individual landowner.
As a result of the new review and due to the fact that forest and woodland access lies high up on the public’s agenda, the Forestry Commission has recognised that it could do more to maintain and increase the diversity of sport and recreational activities that use woodlands.
This led them to propose a partnership project with the Alliance, and after months of preparation, we held our first working group meeting last week.
A wide array of our members including British Triathlon, the Scouts, the Angling Trust and the Ramblers were in attendance – all discussing ways the Alliance could make it easier for woodland managers to provide more opportunities for sport and recreation.
On the back of these initial discussions we’ll be carrying out two main projects: first, create a set of clear principles for woodland managers to help them promote new opportunities and secondly, provide guidance for private landowners in receipt of public grants to create sport and recreation opportunities.
The next step for us now is to start researching – which is where you guys come in. You now have the opportunity to get your sports development policy in front of woodland managers – so that we can help them, to help you. Contact Martin Key if you’d like to know more.
It’s one our New Year’s Resolutions to improve access for our members to the UK’s woodlands and forests, so make sure you hold us to it by keeping track of our progress throughout 2012.
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