Access to woods
Our position on access to woods in England
Woodlands benefit people, nature and the climate
Everyone should be able to enjoy walking in woodlands close to home and further afield. There is a huge amount of evidence showing the value of woodlands for recreation and wellbeing. The mental health benefits alone of woodland visits are estimated to be £185 million per year in the UK.
The government is aiming to create many more woodlands across the UK to help tackle climate change and reach carbon net zero by 2050. So it seems certain that we will see more woodland in our towns, cities and countryside in future. We support woodland planting, where the right tree is being planted in the right place, because woodlands are good for people, nature and the climate.
What we have achieved so far
The Ramblers have campaigned for better access to woodlands since our formation in 1935. We fought for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (the CRoW Act) to create more places where we can explore freely on foot. This Act was used to dedicate almost all Forestry Commission woodlands so we can now enjoy the freedom to roam in them. This shows that woods can be managed for people, nature and timber.
When the government tried to sell off these publicly owned woods in 2010, we joined the fight to save them. These woodlands are now managed by Forestry England and offer many great walks.
What we want to see in the future
We think the government should be doing more to make sure that people can access their local woodlands. At the moment, the government grants include payments for new public access as an ‘optional extra’. We think access should be a normal part of new woodlands because of the huge benefits to society.
Protecting our existing access to woodland
There are many privately owned woodlands with no public access, and these are often people’s local woods. Sometimes local people have walked in them for generations, but without a legal right. With new owners, or a change of heart, access can be taken away. We want access to publicly and privately-owned woodlands to be the norm and secured for future generations to enjoy.
In some places, planting new woodlands could even take away the freedom to roam we already enjoy. Because woodland isn’t one of the land uses included in the CRoW Act, the public’s access right would be lost where new woods are planted when the open access maps are updated.
We’re asking the government to guarantee continued public access when new woods are planted on CRoW access land. This could be by dedicating them for open access and making paths available so that people can still enjoy them. The paths could be the same tracks that are often made for woodland maintenance and removing timber. Where it is not possible to dedicate the woodland, we’re asking for alternative open access land to be provided nearby so that the public isn’t losing out where government money is being spent.
Gaining access to new woodlands
We think public access should be included in new woodlands wherever possible, especially where public money is used to plan, plant and maintain new woods.
We’ve seen problems where woodlands have been planted and rights of way have become blocked and overgrown. We think that woodlands receiving government money should be audited to make sure that public paths are kept open.
Adding woodland to the CRoW Act
Adding woodland into the CRoW Act would give people secure access to their local woods and help protect our freedom to roam.
As a charity, you can support our work to protect and improve our access rights and green spaces by donating or becoming a member. Together we’ll increase access to green spaces, open up more places to walk and boost Britain’s wellbeing one step at a time.
Helping you understand your rights, where you’re allowed to walk, and how to find new places to explore.
Explore our library of walking routes across England, Scotland and Wales. There are long, short, easy and challenging options. Enter a location or postcode to find nearby walking routes.