The panel, just announced will advise the government on how to handle its forests – a measure introduced after the ENORMOUS BACKLASH to the plans of selling off the forest. However, it doesn’t mean that our trails and woods are necessarily safe. The panel, announced this morning includes a great spread of society, from estate managers to the Ramblers, but markedly absent are any members with cycling at the top of their agenda. Even though the people on the committee aren’t officially representing the organisations they belong to, it still concerns us that there’s not anyone who we’d expect to particularly campaign for mountain bike access. This brings into focus the need to keep the pressure on to let the government, and the panel members, realise that mountain bikers are now a huge player in the use of the country’s forests.
To this end, this weekend, March 20th is ‘Celebrate our Forests Day’ – where all forest users are encouraged to head out and do what they love best by riding/walking in their local forests.
The coordinators of the celebration is the group from the Forest of Dean along with the Forest Campaigns Network www.handsoffourforest.org
The full membership of the panel is as follows:
Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool (Chair)
Shireen Chambers (Institute of Chartered Foresters Executive Director)
Mike Clarke (RSPB Chief Executive)
Tom Franklin (Ramblers Association Chief Executive)
Stuart Goodall (ConFor Chief Executive); Stephanie Hilborne (Wildlife Trusts Chief Executive)
Sue Holden (Woodland Trust Chief Executive); Alan Knight (Founder, Single Planet living ltd)
Dame Fiona Reynolds (National Trust Director General)
Sir Harry Studholme (Forestry Commissioner)
John Varley (Estates Director, Clinton Devon Estates)
William Worsley (Country Land and Business Association President).
Here’s the link to the full DEFRA announcement
Ian Warby, the senior off-road officer of the CTC had this to say today:
“Whilst it’s good to see that the panel has expert representation from across a range sectors, it’s disappointing that there isn’t better representation of recreational groups and cyclists in particular. With England’s Forest’s playing an increasingly important role in the health and wellbeing of the nation through the recreational opportunities they offer. It’s crucial that the views of those accessing England’s Forests by cycle have a voice and representation on this panel and that their views can also be made too and through this panel.
It presses home how important it is for cyclists to continue to make the case for continued access by cycle to England’s Forests. It also underlines that CTC needs your continued support to ensure the success of our campaigns around cycle access”.
The group ‘Save Lakeland’s Forests‘ has this lot to say about it:
Save Lakeland’s Forests has expressed disappointment at the Government’s appointments to a new panel that will look at the future of England’s public forests. The Government abandoned a consultation on transferring all forests out of public hands last month after the plans were widely criticised. Over half a million people signed a national petition against any sell offs and there were protests in places like the Lake District.
The Government promised to set up an independent panel to look at the future of England’s forests. However, Lake District campaigners say the panel announced today (17th March) should include people who represent the grassroots campaigns against the sell offs, as well as mountain bikers and horse riders, who were most threatened by the plans.
Lord Clark of Windermere, a former Chairman of the Forestry Commission, said: “We welcome the appointment of the Bishop of Liverpool as the chair of the panel. However, we are concerned that the panel does not include one single representative of those who campaigned against the Government’s plans to dispose of our public forests.
“Ministers should include at least one person from the local campaigns and a representative of mountain bikers and horse riders. We therefore hope the Government will make changes to the membership of the panel before it starts work.
“The panel is also stuffed full of people who represent organisations that could benefit from the Government disposing of public forests. That means they have a potential conflict of interest.”
Campaigners are also angry that the terms of reference for the panel include looking at options for the ‘future ownership and management’ of the public forest estate in England.
“The public made their views on our public forests clear last month. 84% people said in a poll that they wanted these forests to remain in public hands. If the Government is serious about improving public access and wildlife protection, as the Prime Minister has said in Parliament; the panel should look at how we increase not cut our public forests.
“If this panel was to propose disposing of any of our public forests there would quite rightly be a public outcry.”
Save Lakelands Forests and Friends of the Lake District are planning to jointly write to the chair of the panel to ask them to visit the Lake District.
Lord Clark said: “We’re very pleased that the Bishop of Liverpool has said that ‘one of the panel’s very first tasks will be to meet with the grassroots campaigners who recently showed how much they valued their local woodlands’.
“We’d like to set up a visit for the panel to see to see some of our public woodlands and meet some of the people who use them, as well as others with an interest in the future of public forests, including wildlife experts, walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.
“It’s vital this panel does get the opportunity to find out why so many people, including lots of the people they represent, were so passionate about keeping these forests in public hands for the benefit of future generations.”
Save Lakeland’s Forests and Friends of the Lake District are joining forest campaign groups across England to encourage as many people as possible to come out and enjoy two of Cumbria’s public woodlands (20th March), the eve of World Forestry Day. It is the smaller woodlands that are now under the most immediate threat from the Government’s plans. Save Lakeland’s Forests and Friends of the Lake District want people to join them in two of these woods: at Chapel House near Windermere and High Stand near Armathwaite at midday on Sunday.
Chapel House Forest near Staveley-in-Cartmel, is close to Newby Bridge in south Cumbria. It has spectacular views from numerous paths, with a variety of wildlife – birch, bogs, bats and birds. Parking is available at the Staveley-in-Cartmel Car Park (Grid ref: SD 381851/postcode: LA12 8NG ) just off the A590.
High Stand is 1.5 miles north-west of Armathwaite village in north Cumbria. There are lots of lovely, gentle walks and the wood is rich in wildlife including Red Squirrels, Owls and butterflies. There is a car park on the southern boundary of the wood (Grid reference NY495483).
For more information on Save Lakeland’s Forests visit www.savelakelandsforests.org.uk.