A submission to the Independent Forestry Panel on behalf of IMBA-UK
Question 1 – What do forests and woods mean to you?
Mountainbike recreation grew exponentially during the 1990′s, and it soon became clear that lack of funding and political will meant that the bridleway network would never become a satisfactory facility for this increasingly popular activity.
It was important to find other opportunities, and IMBA-UK was formed to identify and work with potential partners. After a tentative start, the Forestry Commission responded brilliantly to this new requirement and now provides virtually all the English high quality mountainbike trails, including the use of stoned roads, purpose built downhill trails, freeride areas and the ever popular cross country trails.
Virtually no such facilities exist outside of the Forestry Commission for the young, and young at heart to enjoy our cycle recreation, and the threat of loss of this facility would not only be devastating to the mountainbike community, but would potentially adversely affect other countryside users and landowners as mountainbikers moved to less desirable locations.
Question 2 – What is your vision for the future of England’s forests and woods?
We wish to see cycle access to Forestry Commission woodlands protected in the same way as Scottish forests – and to mirror the current protected English access for walkers.
We are disappointed that woodlands outside or the public estate are, with a handful of exceptions, closed to cyclists, and would be keen to support policies which encouraged woodland owners to open their trails to cyclists.
Question 3 – What do you feel to be the benefits of forests and woods to:
a) You personally;
I enjoy cycling in Forestry Commission woodlands for the opportunity to enjoy the tranquility, the buzz of technical descents, relaxed or energetic rides, and the absence of concerns about “should I be here”.
b) Society as a whole;
Mountaibiking is enjoyed by young and old, gals & guys, city fund managers and unemployed people. Woodlands provide a great traffic free environment for all to cycle in to the benefit of health, wellbeing and desirable recreation.
c) The natural environment;
The IMBA website provides peer reviewed studies to confound the perceptions that mountainbiking is any more damaging to the environment than walking. Indeed we would argue that all forms of cycling are pollution free, and uses very few non renewable resources to support this recreation. We do become angry when ill informed environmental arguments are used to restrict or prohibit cycling in woodlands.
d) The economy?
IMBA UK is aware that without capital funding, it is difficult to develop a business plan in which a pure mountain bike facility can be profitable. Forests and woodlands are largely situated away from towns and cities, often in rural areas with low per capita income. Studies in southwest England, at Coed y Brenin in Wales and the 7Stanes project in the Scottish Borders show that mountainbiking can bring significant income into otherwise disadvantaged rural economies.
Question 4 – We would like to hear about your suggestions of practical solutions and good practice which can be replicated more widely.
The 1SW partnership has shown how the knowledge of FC can be spread to the private and third Sector to the benefit of the wider society. Typical is the new trail at Ashton Court on Bristol City Council land which recorded 10,700 riders this June – over a three-fold increase in rides on the original trail, making it one of the most popular in England.
In the last 19 months the 1SW Partnership has built over 40km of trail on land in four different land-ownerships and recorded over 80,000 passes – around 400,000km of cycling.
Other trail centres outside of the Forestry Commission such as Swinley on the Crown Estates show that partnerships between mountainbike clubs and landowners can sustain mountainbike trail network using permit schemes to finance the maintenance and purchase materials for new trail build.
The mountainbike trails at Drumlanrig Castle near Dumfries provide a useful blueprint for the introduction of mountainbiking as part of a much wider visitor experience, requiring a single entry fee to walk, relax or cycle on the estate.
Clubs affiliated to IMBA-UK have considerable experience in trailbuilding techniques, and are keen to engage with landowners to explore further mountainbiking opportunities.
In addition there are now a number of professional mountainbike trailbuilders in the UK who use the excellent trailbuilding manuals published by IMBA-UK’s parent organisation in the USA.
Question 5 – What do you see as the priorities and challenges for policy about England’s forests and woods?
IMBA-UK accepts that mountainbiking represents just one part of forestry objectives which will also include conservation requirements, timber production and the needs of other users such as walkers and equestrians. We believe that the maintenance – and hopefully development of extended mountainbike facilities will continue to be a priority within the state forests.
If it is decided that further sales should be considered, then the challenge will be to protect current mountainbike access, by dedicating these facilities for cycling in perpetuity.
But there is a further challenge, and that is to find ways of encouraging owners of woodlands outside the public sector, be they private, businesses or charitable, to welcome cycling on their tracks and trails.
IMBA-UK. 29th July 2011.