coed-y-brenin_200814-10

Are Welsh Trails Up For Sale By NRW?

by and 24

Local mountain bikers and councillors around Coed y Brenin are concerned that Natural Resource Wales (NRW) is planning on selling off the Coed y Brenin visitor centre and its miles of trails to the highest bidder in a veiled closed-door process that has ignored local community groups. Top of the favourites appears to be Forest Holidays, the company behind similar uproar at Glentress. We’ve taken a closer look at what seems to be happening behind the scenes at NRW.

Update 4th June:

We’ve heard back from NRW. Unfortunately, they have told us that the Recreation Strategy is now final, and things are moving forward to the implementation phase: ‘The adoption of the recreation strategy is the first step, and NRW colleagues will now be considering the strategy at a more local level and how we deliver the ambitions over future years to 2050.’

Dominic Driver, NRW’s Head of Land Stewardship said: 

“Our strategy for how we in NRW manage access to nature on the land in our care means we will focus our efforts where we are best placed to make a difference by providing safe and inclusive
access that inspires people to value nature.  We want others to work with us where they can do a still better job and further reduce the burden on public funds overall.” 

It appears the Recreation Strategy is a done deal, so out next best hope is to keep an eye on – and influence – how it gets implemented. We have asked how the public can engage with the implementation phase – we’ll keep you posted if we hear back.

Here at Singletrack, we are surprised and disappointed that a strategy with such potentially far reaching impacts on the public can be created with so little external consultation. It appears that NRW has relied heavily on consultation with Local Access Forums for its ‘external’ input – an illustration of the importance of these local forums, on which we know mountain bikers are often not represented. We’re continuing to make enquiries to see how extensive the consultation process was, in the hope that we may be able to identify routes for future engagement. We’ll let you know if we make any headway.

Original Story Below

Natural Resources Wales on Thursday 23rd May considered a new draft Recreation Strategy, which makes clear that it is seeking to offload much of the responsibility for creating recreation opportunities. Whether this is paving the way for privatisation, or empowering communities remains to be seen – but the early signs have some communities worried.

The paper accompanying the draft strategy explained to the NRW Board:

The Strategy will see a shift from putting our own resources into creating opportunities for recreation, to being about managing (and in some cases restricting) recreational activity, and supporting others to deliver on the land, to connect people with nature, and support the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) aims and our wellbeing objectives. This will also mean that there will be less of our direct resources going into recreation on the land in our care.

NRW Board Paper 24-05-B09

In straightened times when budgets are tight, everyone reliant on government funding is looking for ‘efficiencies’. In some instances, an increased emphasis on allowing others to deliver recreation could be a good thing – particularly if it leads to trail associations more easily being given permissions to manage land and trails. But on the flip side, we might well be concerned if private companies moved in and made everything pay to play. The Strategy makes it pretty clear that commercial considerations are a focus:

Together with the corporate plan a new commercial strategy has been published, and recently reviewed, which sets a vision to generate income through sustainable commercial activity, so that we can do more for Wales’s environmental, social, economic, and cultural well-being. More explicitly it strengthens our ability to proactively pursue more recreation activities being delivered by others on the land in our care.

NRW draft Recreation Strategy (page 3)

A crucial factor in the success of partnership working (whether commercial or otherwise) is communication… and if the experience of the community at Coed Y Brenin is anything to go by, we might well have grounds to be worried. Indeed, the report accompanying the draft strategy notes that the early consultation phase raised the issue of poor partnership working:

Partnership working: Emphasis on creating a coordinated and community-focused approach to share resources, access additional funding, engage with local communities, share information, and best practice. Current feeling that NRW is a difficult organisation to engage with and needed to be more outward looking and collaborative.

NRW Board Report

The first we heard of the NRW Recreation Strategy was back in September last year, when we brought to your attention a survey that was fairly universally received as being badly designed. Then, in January we heard that visitor centres were under review. This was the first time anyone had heard that closures were a possibility, and there was no public call for evidence or notification of consultation – NRW appeared to be doing the entire consultation and analysis internally. After a bit of asking some pointed questions, they revised the statement they’d initially given the press to include a commitment to attend a public meeting about the future of Coed Y Brenin.

Since then, interested residents have formed a community group called Caru Coed y Brenin. It’s a properly constituted Community Interest Company whose long-term aims are to gain stewardship of the centre, to secure the future success and longevity of Coed y Brenin, and to ultimately run the centre under the auspices of a community enterprise. 
 
Rhys Llywelyn, who is a local business owner and a member of the Caru Coed y Brenin group, states:
 
Coed y Brenin is special, its significance in the development of mountain biking is legendary. The local community has embraced the centre, trails and the visitors and to see the decline in the effective management of the facilities here is heart breaking. We are passionate about protecting and developing the facilities here for all the users and keeping the benefit local. 

With people as organised, willing and engaged as that, you might think NRW would be keen to hear from them? Especially if your entire future strategy (and financial sustainability) depended on partnership working? And you’d already identified that people think you’re failing to be collaborative?

The Caru Coed y Brenin group says they have been failing to get further engagement from NRW, so took the step of attending the NRW Board meeting online on Thursday 23rd May, where the Board would consider the draft Recreation Strategy. On the NRW website, members of the public are encouraged to attend their meetings online and to submit questions in advance of the meeting. The keen crew from Caru Coed y Brenin did just that, sat through the lengthy meeting, and then were told that no questions were being taken.

When it came to the ‘questions from the public’ section at the end of the meeting the Chair of the meeting announced that all interested/relevant parties were already in communication with the NRW and being kept up to date with everything. Therefore there was no need to take any questions from the public.

Caru Coed y Brenin group member

NRW states that the Strategy is primarily aimed at its staff:

Although this strategy has been developed and published by us, with the primary aim to help our staff manage and make decisions about outdoor recreation, it is relevant to all those involved in managing and delivering outdoor recreation activity that impacts upon the land in our care.

NRW draft Recreation Strategy (page 5)

Given that this strategy will affect how the public can access land in Wales for recreation, you might hope that it would be a little more public facing in its approach. It appears that beside the initial survey (of questionable design) and (somewhat forced) attendance at the Coed Y Brenin public meeting, there has been no public engagement with a strategy that is all about how the public will be able to access recreation in future.

Furthermore, the very people living and working in a community who would appear to be the ideal ‘partners’ for a future relationship in delivering recreation opportunities say they feel ‘stonewalled’. This is an experience that seems to be echoed by the Trail Collective North Wales, who have been waiting for a response to their carefully collated and submitted proposals for community trail management since September 2023. NRW has cited resource constraints in its ability to consider the proposals – another potential sign that ‘partnership’ working in future is going to need to come with a big cash injection to NRW before any community groups are going to get a look in.

Which doesn’t all bode terribly well for the future of recreation in Wales, now, does it? Perhaps more concerning still, the community at Coed Y Brenin reports that at the meeting, the NRW attendee suggested that ‘someone like Forest Holidays‘ might be good to deliver future services. This is the company that’s already got an accommodation presence in many of our forest locations, and has taken over a large part of Glentress in Scotland – resulting in a bunch of trail closures. Not necessarily a popular choice in the mountain biking community then, and very much a holiday accommodation provider and not a trail steward.

With NRW being the largest land manager in Wales, we’re all dependent on them for access. On the back of that, communities and businesses across Wales are dependent on NRW delivering access in order to keep delivering tourism and all the associated employment and jobs.

Surely, a strategy as important as that shouldn’t be determined in a black box of meeting rooms, without clear and constructive opportunities for the public and communities to get involved?

The draft strategy is set to become the final strategy in June – however, the announcement of the General Election may just buy us all a little time – and NRW time for a rethink. We asked them a week ago how interested parties can provide input into the draft strategy before it becomes finalised – as well as why no questions were taken at the Board meeting on 23rd May. We’ll keep you posted if we hear back.

In the absence of any other provided contact methods or formal consultation process, if you don’t like what you’re reading we suggest you email the secretariat of the NRW Board: nrwboardsecretariat@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk A nice full inbox of public objections might just ruffle a few feathers.

We’d suggest you say:

  • You want to see strategy revised to give community groups a strong preference over commercial providers
  • You don’t want to see any trail, land or facility closures/sell offs without public consultation
  • You object to the lack of public consultation over the strategy
  • You support Caru Coed y Brenin being given the chance to run facilities at Coed y Brenin

Those wishing to express support for Caru Coed y Brenin and its aims can also contact CaruCYB@gmail.com

Be prepared to raise your voice to protect your recreation opportunities – or put your hand in your pocket to pay the highest bidder in future?

Author Profile Picture
Hannah Dobson

Managing Editor

I came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. I like all bikes, but especially unusual ones. More than bikes, I like what bikes do. I think that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. I try to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

More posts from Hannah

Viewing 24 posts - 1 through 24 (of 24 total)
  • Are Welsh Trails Up For Sale By NRW?
  • Kramer
    Free Member

    One Planet Adventure seem to have done a decent job of Llandegla.

    benpinnick
    Full Member

    The centre itself has been mooted for sale for some time. How it works with the trails too…

    Del
    Full Member

    Seems like a great way of getting a load of off piste stuff built and giving yourself a further management headache to me.

    chrismac
    Full Member

    One Planet Adventure seem to have done a decent job of Llandegla.

    Very true. The difference as I see is they understand what thier customers like to ride and invested in building more of it. CyB have ignored riders for the last decade in favour of family entertainment. Dyfd being just down the road won’t have helped

    vww
    Full Member

    This is the company that’s already got an accommodation presence in many of our forest locations, and has taken over a large part of Glentress in Scotland – resulting in a bunch of trail closures. Not necessarily a popular choice in the mountain biking community then, and very much a holiday accommodation provider and not a trail steward.

    A bit misleading IMO. Yes, some GT trails were closed and removed, but a considerable amount of new trails have been built too, with plans for a new skills/jump area still to come (albeit slower than planned). More distance in new trails than those removed. And “a large part” – not really on the context of the forest as a whole.

    Plus, Forest Holidays rent as far as I’m aware, not own/manage forests themselves. An accommodation provider isn’t going to want to get into sustainably managing forests.

    And if Forest Holidays want to attract people to visit their cabins, having a good trail network on sight seems like a good attraction. Otherwise it’s just a cabin in the woods. The trails for walking and biking are surely a large part of the attraction. If they can input funds to get trails maintained or built, that could be a good thing.

    Can’t speak for NRW but for FLS, they’re not primarily a trail steward either. They manage forests and land, and are dependent primarily on timber production for funding. Recreation is a very small part of it.

    Article just seems a little sensationalist personally.

    Sanny
    Free Member

    @vww

    You are  indeed correct. Forest Holidays have not taken over a large part of Glentress as the above suggests. FLS are the land owner and remain so.

    I would point anyone to read the Visitor Strategy document if they wish to understand where Glentress fits into the wider strategic aims of FLS.

    https://forestryandland.gov.scot/publications/735-visitor-strategy/download

    I sat on the Board of Forestry Commission Scotland for several years so probably have more insight into the organisation and its operation. Recreation is a key part of what FES do in order to help deliver improved health within Scotland. It was always and continues to be a key priority up here.

    The prospect of reduced recreational opportunities in Wales is a concerning prospect. We need to be increasing the opportunities for people to get fit and healthy, not reducing them. I now work in the NHS and public health challenges are the biggest ones we face. Inactivity, obesity, diabetes and poverty are creating a perfect storm. Demand is growing and we have limited resources to deal with it. Improving healthcare is not just about fixing people at the point of demand but taking positive steps to change behaviours.

    Cheers

    Sanny

    jhinwxm
    Free Member

    Very true. The difference as I see is they understand what thier customers like to ride and invested in building more of it. CyB have ignored riders for the last decade in favour of family entertainment. Dyfd being just down the road won’t have helped

    Couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Existing trails have been largely ruined and the new ones need a significant heatwave to become rideable and even then they’re not up to much. Coed y Brenin is a far far better trail centre and always has been.

    squirrelking
    Free Member

    And if Forest Holidays want to attract people to visit their cabins, having a good trail network on sight seems like a good attraction.

    Lmao, the only people going to those cabins for the trails will be bringing a lightly used McLaren ebike.

    ayjaydoubleyou
    Full Member

    Coed y Brenin is a far far better trail centre and always has been

    Certainly the best TC south of Gretna. Only critisims I could level at it are

    the length of time it took to repair/reopen the tawr du after the storm damage – likely funding and or manpower issue rather than deliberate negligence or apathy

    the blue, save for about 50m of it, is pathetic and only suited to beginners, kids and hybrids. Unlike degla, afan, swinley where the blue can be heaps of fun when taken at speed. when there’s two days of good riding on the reds/blacks if its all open, I wont hold this against them.

    onewheelgood
    Full Member

    the only people going to those cabins for the trails will be bringing a lightly used McLaren ebike

    No, the cabins are perfect for the dentist/Santa Cruz demographic

    ampthill
    Full Member

    Quote
    The difference as I see is they understand what thier customers like to ride and invested in building more of it. CyB have ignored riders for the last decade in favour of family entertainment

    Quote

    In the last week I’ve ridden at llandegla, nant y arian and cyb

    If family entrainment means easier trails then i wouldn’t call it ignoring riders, it’s just a different demographic. Arguably families benefit most from trail centres, more than the fit and the skilled. Though I’m keen for trails at all levels my self. I do think one planet have done a good job at llandegla. But I’d hate to see local interests ignored at CYB

    Quote

    Existing trails have been largely ruined and the new ones need a significant heatwave to become rideable and even then they’re not up to much.

    Quote

    Is This llandegla? I road the red during a storm in January. They didn’t seem unrideable. Quite impressed that one planet had guys out that morning with chain saws keeping things open

    timber
    Full Member

    Forest Holidays have already taken over at Garwnant between Brecon and Merthyr, some of the chaos was still to settle on my last visit (could do with some signs to say they’ve changed the one way system).
    To soon to say how this affects the site.

    Premium lodges next to dogging car parks by the reservoir and where the visitor centre has a wooden roof because apparently other roofing methods kept getting stolen.

    Ambrose
    Full Member

    Garwnant and the Porth Yr Ogof buildings have roofed much of Merthyr and Aberdare over the years. Allegedly.

    Ambrose
    Full Member

    As far as I know, please let me know if I am wrong, The Public ‘own’ the FC/ NRA etc forestry trail centres and all the associated infrastructure. I may be wrong.

    I am pretty certain that whoever it is that owns/ runs/ looks after the land with the trees on it has an obligation to provide public access and facilities to enhance their leisure. Please educate me about this because if it is true then surely any new owners must have to continue this.

    bikesandboots
    Full Member

    Can everyone please just stop making things worse for a little while? Thank you.

    Actually don’t bother attempting to make anything better either, because every time someone tries to, they succeed in making it better for someone but invariably worse for everything I care about.

    dreednya
    Full Member

    NRW manage the Welsh Government Woodland Estate and Ambrose is right in a sense in that the public have a right to roam where ever they want (on foot). But I’m not sure about the public ownership bit of the land or any of the infrastructure.  I should know as I work for NRW but not in the commercial forestry side of things

    nickc
    Full Member

    And if Forest Holidays want to attract people to visit their cabins, having a good trail network on sight seems like a good attraction

    Forest Holidays is an English company registered in Derbyshire though. it’s not going to support local businesses like restaurants and pubs and B&Bs that may otherwise have an interest in an attraction like Glentress, it’s just a low rent Centre Parcs, it couldn’t care less about the niche activity next door, and i’d even suggest that if the niche activity upsets its residents quiet enjoyment of the forest…

    readikus
    Full Member

    With people as organised, willing and engaged…

    Googles their name, and finds nothing. A direct search in fb finds their page that is a few days old, 8 followers and no details posted. “organised” and “engaged” doing a lot of heavy lifting there.

    finephilly
    Free Member

    One Planet and Llandegla are owned by a private company. CyB is publicly-owned. Really, NRW should be looking to employ a management team for ‘leisure-in-forests’ and expand what’s on offer – then we can all reap the benefits. Allowing an entirely private company to take over would be such a waste of all the effort that’s gone in over the years.

    thegeneralist
    Free Member

    Things that made me laugh:

    Certainly the best TC south of Gretna.

    there’s two days of good riding on the reds/blacks

    I’ve been riding at CyB for many years and it was groundbreaking then. I’ve had soooo many excellent days riding there and great memories.  But the various visits over the last few years have made me realise just how not very good it actually is. The MBR is good and the Beast is a good quick blast whilst the kids are at the playground but beyond that it really isn’t all that.

    Occasional trips to Whinlatter and Hamsters make me realise just how good well built bit of trail can be.

    onewheelgood
    Full Member

    the Beast is a good quick blast

    Epic humblebrag

    neilupnorth
    Full Member

    Even less for free nowadays. UK forestry is actually owned by our state but they do what they like when they like, it won’t belong till our recreational activities pretty much happen in a privately managed ‘resort’ just like they do in USA and Canada. Just sayin );

    chakaping
    Free Member

    Top of the favourites appears to be Forest Holidays, the company behind similar uproar at Glentress.

    Sorry if I missed it in the committee report, but where’s the source for this please?

    Or is it unattributed hearsay?

    That article uses so many words to not actually tell us very much.

    stwhannah
    Full Member

    @chakaping We were told by Coed Y Brenin locals the Forest Holidays was mentioned at their local meeting.

    Update to the article posted now following response from NRW.

Viewing 24 posts - 1 through 24 (of 24 total)

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