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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Right to roam is not good enough - without robust rights of access we need to keep our forests in public ownership

Alice Holt Forest just outside Farnham, Surrey
- could be under threat
I confess I wasn't too bothered when I first heard of plans to sell many of Britain's forests to private owners.

The planning system would prevent any mass bulldoze & build, and our "right to roam" introduced in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 means that the new private landlords can't prevent walkers enjoying the forest trails as they've done for centuries.

But I've since discovered our rights to roam will not be enough to guarantee continued access for everyone who currently enjoys our forests, if they're sold off.

Firstly the right to roam only applies to walkers - it does not extend to cyclists, horse-riders and other activities that are currently permitted in many of our forests.

Secondly, there's nothing to compel private landowners to maintain the existing car parking, toilets and play areas available at many forests.  Without such facilities, a visit to the forest comes difficult if not impossible for some, especially families with small children and those with disabilities.

And thirdly there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of underhand tactics employed by private land owners to dissuade people exercising their right to roam.  Such tricks are reported to include dumping large volumes of earth to block entrances and erecting bold signs such as PRIVATE LAND implying that access was forbidden, even though the right to roam across the land exists in law.

We need safeguards to protect access and maintain facilities at all forest sites to ensure that local people continue to enjoy the countryside around them.  Without such stringent safeguards I oppose any sell-off of local forests such as Bourne Wood and Alice Holt Forest.


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