Controversy Rages Over Afan Masts Tree Felling

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A plan by NRW (National Resource Wales – the custodians of Welsh forestry) to routinely fell trees in the area known as the Afan Masts has sparked a storm with local riders, who fear that 20 years of (unofficial, but tolerated) trails will be destroyed in the felling process.

The forest managers point to the number of sanctioned trails available in the area and maintain that this is just a routine fell (and many on the Singletrack forum agree) but the local riders, event organisers, shops and trailbuilders claim that NRW is being shortsighted in its cavalier attitude to potentially flattening the hand-built trails that they reckon bring more to the area – in terms of tourism and outdoor enjoyment than a short term fell of trees could ever do.

While NRW say that it welcomes the chance to work with local groups that use its forests, local riders say they’ve had little luck with getting answers from NRW, on topics like suggestions to take ownership of the trails, or in getting over their point that the value of the woods lies in tourism rather than biomass fuel.

A Change.org petition set up to protest at the felling has, at time of writing, gained nearly 3,000 votes of support in five days.

We had a word with the local NRW manager about the Afan Masts and we have this official response:

Huwel Manley, Operations Manager for Natural Resources Wales, said:

“The Afan Forest Park, which nestles on the slopes of the Afan Valley, is one of the narrowest and most beautiful valleys in Wales.

“We manage a fantastic network of trails and paths for people to explore on foot or by bicycle, and there are official waymarked mountain biking trails which we also manage.

“Unfortunately, the pine trees in upper parts of the Foel forest are dead or dying due to disease and need to be removed as they’re dangerous to people using the forest.

“The felling work is due to start in December and to do this safely we will have to close off the area. This is to protect people during dangerous felling operations.

“To enable this work to commence, we have started to undertake work to improve timber haulage tracks within the woodland itself.

“Unfortunately, the felling will impact on some unofficial mountain biking trails in this area, which we know are very popular, but this is unavoidable because we have to remove these trees and protect people in doing so.

“We will not intentionally damage or remove these trails during the work, but our priority is to carry out the work safely and we cannot guarantee that they won’t be impacted. 

“We plan to fully engage with the local community and businesses to explain why the work is necessary and we are happy to continue speaking to the local mountain biking group to look at the long-term management of these mountain bike trails.”

With logging due to start at the Afan Masts in the next week or so, we’ll soon see how delicate NRW is with its harvesting works. Here’s the Welsh Gravity Enduro view of things…

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Heads up, we are just about to lose one of the most valuable Mountain Bike assets in the Afan Valley, South Wales. "The Masts", also known as Foel “Foel Fynyddau” is to be felled before Christmas if we don’t ACT NOW (road widening works have already started.) The trails on this hill are over 20 years old and have been meticulously maintained by the locals for that time. The impact on local businesses in the Afan Forest Park and the tourism in the area will be hit so hard that some will undoubtedly have to close. This hill is also used by so many people, not just mtbers, walkers, runners and horse riders will all be affected. Natural Resources Wales are so out of touch with their own policies, procedures and responsibilities to the people of Wales that they have taken no account of the huge effect this operation will have on them for years to come. The timber from this site will go to a Bio Mass plant and probably fuel it for a week or so but the cost to local businesses, tourism and riders will last for decades to come if you don’t do something to help save the trails NOW! Please please please complain direct to NRW, if you’re from South Wales you know how important these trails are, if you visit Afan from other parts of the UK your part of that tourism impact so please help us: Ring on 0300 065 3000 and make a complaint over the phone or fill in the complaints form: https://cdn.naturalresources.wales/media/689338/natural-resources-wales-customer-complaint-form-june-2019.docx?mode=pad&rnd=132060272100000000 Then email it here: complaintsandcommendations@cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk There is also an e-petition here: https://www.change.org/p/natural-resources-wales-stop-tree-felling-on-the-masts Address required! Lets make a stand for this iconic South Wales riding site and all the other great unofficial trails too. #saveourtrails @natreswales

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What do you reckon? A fuss about nothing? A bad precedent? Another example of cash over countryside, or failing to understand your users? Just normal daily forestry business?


Chipps

Singletrack Editor

Chipps wasn’t around for the dawn of mountain biking in the UK, but he likes to claim that he arrived in time for second breakfast (about the time he shows up for work, then…) starting in the bike trade in 1990 and becoming a full time mountain bike journalist at the start of 1994. Over the subsequent quarter century, he has seen mountain bike culture flourish and diversify and bike technology go from rigid steel frames to fully suspended carbon fibre (and sometimes back to rigid steel as well.)

His riding style is best described as ‘medium, wheels on the ground, trail riding’ though he’s been spotted doing everything from endurance downhill racing to 24 hour cross country racing. He favours mid-travel trail bikes and claims to be wheel-size, gear, brake and tyre agnostic. In fact, his garage spans most bicycle flavours, taking in steel hardtails, carbon trail bikes, even a mountain bike tandem, along with road, touring and gravel/cyclocross bikes.

While he’s happy to chat about bikes all day, his real interest is in the people and places that bikes can introduce you to and he talks as fondly about the trails he’s ridden and riders he’s met as the bikes that took him there.

Comments (4)

    We all need to remember that the reason these forests are there are to provide timber and felling and restocking are part of that cycle.

    As well as the above, It sounds like there is a tree disease issue that needs dealing with that means felling is necessary. Depending on what disease it is could mean that the trees that the trails are under will die/ are dead and likely to drop a lot of dead wood on those using the trails. NRW will need to deal with this to both recover any value and limit liability to users as well as potentially reduce the spread of the disease.

    I’m sure there’s no intention to deliberately scupper the informal trails or remove anyone’s fun. Managing land for a variety of purposes/ users means that there are always unpopular short term decisions to be made which aim to meet longer term or wider objectives.

    There were people complaining about those forest being planted back in the day.

    Strikes me – again – that a lot of very entitled people ride mountain bikes…

    NRW could have, at any point, declared the trails unofficial and bulldozed them since they appeared. The fact that they have let them flourish and evolve says a lot about their ‘attitude’ towards mountain bikers. There are loads of random trails all over NRW land all over Wales and every now and again some get destroyed by felling. It just happens to be the turn of this area. As a semi-local I have ridden them a few times and ,yes they are very good and attract the type of riders that wouldn’t necessarily go to Afan but their time is up. We should look upon this as an opportunity: work with NRW and the felling company and see if some of the trails can be marked up and rebuilt afterwards together with being allowed to scope out lines for new trails that work with the new landscape. Nothing lasts forever but we can always plan for the future.

    A forestry agent in doing forestry work shocker….

    It is a shame, because they are awesome trails – but as several people have pointed out, they are merely tolerated, not legit trails and NRW have got a job to do in manging the forest. But it’s not the first time they’ve felled sections of that hill, and in the process taken out trails (I’m thinking specifically when they felled the south side of the hill above Cwmafan approx 7 or 8 years ago).

    Perhaps the trail groups should be looking at this as an opportunity to work towards a more legitimate entwork up there post felling. Sounds like the felling absolutely must happen for safety reasons – so if they succeed in stopping the felling, couldn’t NRW just shut the access to the forest because they don’t want to be sued when a tree falls on someone? I would say those groups need to take a longer term view and work towards it being better subsequently.

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