OPEN THE WOODS
Great to speak at a rally with Marion Shoard who has campaigned so impressively for public access to the countryside, here is here statement.....from today
OPEN UP ALL WOODLAND, SAYS AUTHOR
All woodland in England, both public and private, should be opened for public access, Marion Shoard, the author of A Right to Roam, said today (Saturday, 14th May).
‘A right of access to all woodland already exists in Scotland’, said Ms Shoard. ‘In England, mountains, moor, heath, down and commons are already open to all. It’s time woods were opened too’.
Ms Shoard urged the panel recently set up to advise the government on forestry policy in England to make access to all woodland one of its recommendations. The panel was created as part of the U-turn on selling publicly-owned forests that followed mass protests earlier this year.
Ms Shoard was speaking at a rally at Houghton Forest near Arundel in West Sussex organised by the Worthing Keep Our Forests Public campaign.
She continued, ‘The outcry over the sell-off plan brought home the importance that many people attach to the opportunity to walk in the woods. It was the threat to public access which most concerned most people, but at present the vast bulk of England’s woodland is actually out of bounds.
‘Few people realise just how much woodland in England is closed to the public. One survey found people were shut out of as much as 95 per cent of the woodland in one county. Here in West Sussex, as elsewhere, the chance of a walk in the woods often depends on the attitude of the landowner. Here as elsewhere, walkers will be often greeted by notices outside woodland saying ‘Private land: keep out’.
‘More than 60 per cent of the total woodland area of England (public and private) is out of bounds to walkers, according to calculations made in 2009 by the Woods for People project’.
Ms Shoard said that restrictions on access to England’s woodland are a legacy of the past. By the 18th century, the overwhelming majority of English woodlands had been appropriated by individuals or families for their exclusive exploitation, she explained. Free movement of ordinary people was prevented by threats of prosecution for trespass, barriers and gamekeepers. The public paths which are the most important means of providing free movement through the countryside tend to skirt rather than cross woods, because they follow the routes on which landowners tolerated journeying in the past.
Ms Shoard said: ‘The decision by the Forestry Commission in 2003 to grant a legal right of access on foot over all woods to which it holds freehold rights, representing about 13 per cent of England’s total woodland area, represented an extremely significant milestone.
‘What is more, the way in which access on Commission land has been managed alongside commercial timber production shows how effectively access could be combined with timber production in private woods. Indeed, in the latter, any conflict would be likely to be even less problematic, since commercial timber production is more intensive on Commission land than in private woods.
‘The Commission’s woods also provide a shining example of how public access can be combined with wildlife conservation. In fact, the Commission does not confine itself to welcoming walkers: cyclists and riders are able to use paths and tracks in its woods too, special provision has been made for access for disabled people, while additional recreational activities such as orienteering are permitted by prior arrangement. Yet in 2010, 99 per cent of sites of special scientific interest managed by the Forestry Commission were in good condition – a larger proportion than any other public, private or charitable organization achieved’.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 provided for a right for the public to walk freely over land consisting predominantly of mountain, moor, heath, down and common land. Woodland was not included, even though public access to woodland is guaranteed in many other countries including Scotland.
Ms Shoard said: ‘Because of the kind of land it affects, the CROW right to roam tends to affect mainly upland areas in England. Many parts of the Midlands and the South East, such as West Sussex, have been provided with little open access land. If woodland were added to the list of statutorily accessible land types, opportunities for free enjoyment of the countryside would be spread more evenly through the country.
‘The Scottish Parliament went much further than Westminster by enacting a right of access to almost all kinds of rural land. This means that woodland is open in Scotland along with moors, rivers, lakes, parkland, grazing land and much else besides. This new system has not given rise to widespread or even serious conflicts between land uses and access, and provides yet more proof that access to woods in England would be unlikely to cause much disruption of day-to-day management’.
Notes for editors
The rally at which Miss Shoard is speaking will assemble on Saturday, May 14th at 12 noon at Whiteways car park on the A284 north of Arundel, West Sussex.
Also speaking at the rally will be Tony Whitbread (director, Sussex Wildlife Trust), Derek Wall (former principal speaker of the Green Party) and Dave Bangs (author: A Freedom to Roam Guide to the Brighton Downs).
Marion Shoard is a writer and environment activist. Her book A Right to Roam won the book of the year award of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild in 2000, and she received a lifetime achievement award from the Guild in 2009. Further information about her activities is available on her website, at www.marionshoard.co.uk.