The international Mountain Biking Association (IMBA-UK) welcomes the publication of the Future of Forestry report by the Independent Panel and applauds its recommendations to protect public access but expresses concern that it fails to secure access in perpetuity for mountain bikers and other cyclists.
The report attempts to put a value on the benefits which forests deliver and embrace biodiversity, economic growth, climate change mitigation and to a much lesser extent, recreation. The Panel’s recognition that woods and forests are ideal locations in which to spend quality, safe, mostly traffic-free recreational time and they are settings which are known to improve physical and mental health is applauded.
IMBA supports the panel’s view that there is a need to create more woodland in England and we urge the Government to seek out means to secure permanent access to the 82% of privately owned woods and forests.
The report supports a permissive approach to future access and it says decisions about providing access for recreation and leisure activities other than walking should be taken locally. IMBA is extremely disappointed cycling isn’t specifically mentioned despite being second only to walking in popularity within publicly owned forests.
IMBA very much regrets the panel seems not to have considered the immense recreational relevance of forested land important enough to make specific recommendations in this regard
relying instead on the inconsistency of local initiatives which if they do allow mountain biking, will provide no guarantee of longevity.
The report recommends the formation of a group of guardians, or trustees, to oversee a new public forest management body which would become an independent standalone organisation. Predicated on relevant aspects of how the Forestry Commission currently manages the national forest estate, this new body would be accountable to Parliament and have responsibility for protecting and increasing benefits from woodlands and forests which are known to benefit people, biodiversity and the associated economy.
IMBA would like this body to secure permanent access to forested land by dedication under section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act as the Forestry Commission has done and by this means provide permanent access rights for cyclists.
IMBA implores the Government not to shirk its responsibilities in this respect and not make the same mistake again of underestimating the importance of woodland and forests to the public as so clearly demonstrated last year. In our case, we cannot overstress the value we place on being able to safely mountain bike in our nation’s woods and forests and we will continue to fight for this right until it becomes assured for all time.