Forest rights of way must be maintained, say the Ramblers

Forest rights of way must be maintained, say the Ramblers

The country’s biggest walking charity voiced its concern about the coalition Government’s sell-off of forests.

The Ramblers said they were seeking assurances that public access would be maintained on any Forestry Commission land which is sold.

The organisation said all Forestry Commission-owned land is open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, but areas leased by the commission are not. The Ramblers said it is vital this land is afforded the same status to guarantee the public the right to walk through the woodlands.

Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs secretary Caroline Spelman last week confirmed the Government’s plans to sell half the forestry in England. The issue is dealt with by the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, and any sell-off there would be a matter for those nations’ administrations, both of which have expressed concerns at the plans.

A Ramblers’ statement said: “While not all land accessed by the public must be publicly owned, it is vital that any sale of Forestry Commission land be carefully managed, with public access as a top priority.

“The change in ownership of forestry land need not be negative, particularly if it enables community groups to take a more active involvement in their local woodland, but it is imperative that everyone’s ability to continue to access and enjoy British woodland is at the forefront of any sale agreement.”

The Ramblers said local communities should be consulted before any sale and given the chance to buy the land and manage it. Public rights of way must be maintained and the CRoW Act used to ensure access where this is not already in place.

However, this is unlikely to satisfy the many cyclists and mountain bikers who use the existing tracks and trails through Forestry Commission land. The CRoW Act only gives access rights on foot. In Scotland, bike users have responsible access guaranteed under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act.

Ramblers’ chief executive Tom Franklin, Ramblers Chief Executive, said: “There is nothing more reviving than a walk through British woodland in the autumn. Who owns the land is not as important as how they are managed and the fact that public access to our forests is preserved.

“We are seeking assurances from government that guaranteed public access will be a prerequisite of any sale so that we can all continue to enjoy a woodland walk, and that the right to access British forests will be protected for future generations.”

Almost 50,000 people have so far signed a 38 Degrees online petition against the proposals to sell the publicly owned forests.

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