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…
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?