The Ramblers wants everyone to be able to enjoy walking in woodlands, both close to where they live and further afield.
We have been working for greater access to woodland since our formation. After an unpopular attempt by government to sell off publicly owned woodland in 2010, we backed the Independent Panel on Forestry’s ambition for a future where everyone has access to a wood or wooded area close to where they live. We want access to both publicly and privately-owned woodlands to be the norm.
With the current government target to increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025, and tree planting likely to be a core part of the government’s commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, it seems certain that there will be much greater woodland cover in our landscapes in years to come. We support woodland planting, where the right tree is being planted in the right place, but we want appropriate public access to be included wherever possible, especially where public money is used to subsidise the planning, planting and maintenance of new woods. Woodlands receiving these grants should also be audited regularly to ensure that their public rights of way are kept open.
Current government forestry subsidies have only an optional additional payment for including public access. This is despite a wealth of evidence, including from the Natural Capital Committee, of the high value of woodlands for recreation and wellbeing. We think the government should be doing more to ensure that people’s local woodlands are accessible.
In areas where the land has open access rights (freedom to roam), there must be a long-term commitment to continued public access. Woodland is not currently one of the land uses included in Part 1 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (the CRoW Act), meaning that if new woods are planted and the maps are updated, the public’s access right would be lost. Where woodlands are planted on open access land, and receive public subsidies, we think the land should be dedicated for open access in perpetuity, with a network of paths available so that people can explore and enjoy the woodlands. These paths could be the same tracks that are routinely included in woodland plantations for maintenance and timber extraction. Where it is not possible to dedicate the woodland, alternative open access land should be dedicated nearby.
The Forestry Commission in England has dedicated almost all of the woodlands it owns as open access land, demonstrating that public access and forestry can be managed well together. To find out which Forestry Commission woods you can walk in check out their website.
The Woodland Trust also allows people access to their woods.