Why has it all gone ‘quiet on the forest front’?

Woods

A House of Lords debate on 12 February highlighted the Government’s slow progress on its commitment to increase opportunities to enjoy England’s woods and the risk to the future of our forests if the body responsible for looking after them doesn’t have public access at its heart.

It’s been over a year since the Government promised, following widespread outcry, that it wouldn’t sell off public forests in England after all and that it would aspire to greater access to woodland, but walkers won’t have noticed much change on the ground.

The planned new management body for our woods also still lacks responsibility for improving access to some of the nation’s favourite places to walk and enjoy the outdoors, despite recommendations made in 2012 by the Independent Panel on Forestry on which we played a pivotal role.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who lives in the Forest of Dean, said it was the Government’s “long silence” which had been the catalyst for questioning its plans for the expansion and management of public forests in England via the House of Lords debate.

“Everyone was delighted by the Government’s very positive response to the independent panel’s report and by the commitment to retaining the public forest estate in public ownership and to extending it, but what now?” asked Baroness Royall. “There is a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity.”

Baroness Royall also highlighted the importance that the new Public Forest Estate management body “promote, expand and enhance public access to woodlands”, calling it a “core duty”. “It is imperative that the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure that our public forests are truly secure” she affirmed.

Following the Baroness’ comments, during which she reminded the House that the Forestry Commission “is the largest provider of countryside recreation opportunities in England”, Lord Eden of Winton echoed her view that woodlands “have a real impact on the physical and mental health and well-being of the nation.”

“As these plans for the public forest estate come to fruition, increasing numbers of people, young and old alike, will experience the values and many benefits that can come from a walk along a path through the woods” confirmed Lord Eden.

We’re determined to make these aspirations a reality and are continuing to fight for our forests through our Branch Out campaign. To read the full House of Lords debate visit the Parliament website.

MrChris


I've been tweeting (@MrChris1980) the Forestry Commission, Natural England and Ordnance Survey about access woodland near me. The newest OS maps (1:25k & 1:50k) show a lot of previously restricted woodland near me coloured gloriously as access land. Brilliant I thought. Except the CRoW maps on Natural England's site (which Forestry Commission say is definitive) do not show it as such.

Que much passing about between the organisations - best guess from the replies so far is OS have mapped it wrong, and large areas around me in Nottinghamshire (Morning Springs nr Eastwood, Thieves Wood, Harlow Wood, Annesley Plantation and more) are now incorrectly mapped as access. Nearest on the 'definitive' map is Blidworth Bottoms.

Justin


Chris

I would start by checking if the woods are Forestry Commission woods.
If they are then they should be access land as all Forestry Commission owned woods been dedicated under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, however Natural England maps may well not show them all as I think Forestry Commission provided information to Ordnance Survey directly. Also some of them will have been dedicated after Natural England signed off the conclusive maps.
If it’s not a Forestry Commission wood then it’s a mistake as to date nearly no private or third sector woodland owner has dedicated woods as access land.

So in short, if it’s a Forestry Commission wood then enjoy your walk, if it’s not enjoy your walk but only if you are on a right of way...

Justin Cooke Ramblers Senior Policy Officer

MrChris


Thanks Justin - The plot thickens! OS have been in touch by email. They are looking into this as Forestry Commission are pretty clear it isn't access...

Just


Chris

Just noticed your tweet from FC “those areas are all leasehold and therefore not open access”

Yes some of their leased woods they could not dedicate as access land so it looks like they gave OS the wrongs ones and as such are a mistake!

John W


I thought the response from the F C re an access query in a Staffordshire wood which has F C signage shows that it is "theirs" not ours.
"Thank you for your enquiry regarding access to Bagots Wood. You are quite correct in saying that we are involved with this woodland, but we lease it on a very long lease of 999 years, rather than owning it.

Part of the lease states that public access is not permitted, so unfortunately access cannot be granted"
Will we be any better off in 999 years?

MrChris


Ordnance Survey have confirmed the woods near me have been mapped incorrectly - they are not access land, due to the lease issue. Upon a further email they have confirmed this issue isn't limited to the woods near me I spotted, but across a writer area. No idea how wide spotted - could be all leased woodland managed by Forestry Commission? The affected areas have been added to OS's change queue, for updating the electronic versions. But some printed maps have been affected too, so people could be using these to access their woodlands incorrectly?