Dirt tea-boy Chris Lewis looks into the implications for us bike riders regarding the Governments plan to sell off our National forests to private firms.

Forestry Commission Sell Off.

Where to start with this? Looking into it there is a lot of hearsay and internet rumours. It’s hard to decipher what is true and what is just peoples opinions and heated arguments. This is a subject that seems to have got people really riled up; they’re out in force to stand up for their beliefs about it, both sides. Never mind about the thousands of job losses and petrol prices that make it hard to get out to the woods at the weekend, people really feel very strongly about keeping our woods ours.

forest 1
forest 1

So having spent the best part of two days scouring the internet and printed media trying to soak up all angles of the arguments and I might add the impossible task of actually finding anything on a government or forestry commission website. When I finally did find a document from the House of Commons it was full of cleverly worded sentences and contradictions, as far as I can make out that try to cover up what they know, at the end of the day is a procedure in making funds, and getting rid of responsibility and a cost that doesn’t directly result in government wealth. That’s the end of my hippy rant let’s look at the facts and opinions.

What are the Government trying to achieve with this? Well if you take what they say as gospel, then they are trying to improve how the forests are run and maintained. According to them they want to give the local communities and councils the opportunity to run their local woodlands as they believe is best for both conservation and public use. Now here is the first problem I have, my local council, the one that would have to purchase The Forest of Dean can’t seemingly afford to look after our roads let alone find the funds to buy and then maintain an area of land as large as the forest. So if our local communities aren’t going to buy it then who else do the Government want to buy it?

Well apparently charities such as The Woodland Trust and The National Trust, the government has said they would even give them a discounted price as they are the preferred buyers but they have yet to show much interest and certainly couldn’t afford the supposed £100 million the government want for it all.

That leaves privatisation, the MP’s themselves have said they fear overseas buyers with no interest in our heritage or energy companies buying them and chipping the lot but they can’t stop these bids, which sounds a bit worrying to me. The same line of, all public access and rights still being enforced and maintained even if private buyers ends up being the only way. However they don’t seem to be able to guarantee it and using the example of Rigg Wood in the Lake District, as Paul Townsend states “Rigg Wood was sold by the Forestry Commission last year. Although the new owners are obliged to continue to allow walkers on the land they have been able to close the car park, remove picnic benches and put up fences, making it much more difficult for people to access the woodland in future" it looks like it would actually be very difficult to police these rights on 253.000 hectares of land which is what will be sold off by 2020 if the plan gets the go ahead.

Mini DH in the Forest Of Dean at the weekend. Photo Mark Armstrong/ Matt Grindrod

The cost of running these woodlands and other areas equates to 30p per person per year in the U.K. And I think for the amount of use we get from them and how well they are run and looked after by the forestry commission it’s a ridiculously small amount to pay, say compared to the road tax we now all have to pay on our cars for roads that aren’t maintained at all.

no bikes
no bikes

So what does it all mean for us bikers, well not good really, of course this is just my personal view of it. I see no good outcome for us if the charities or local councils do manage to buy it all they are then going to be very strict on bikes due to the possible claims against them. Insurance must cost a small fortune and councils and communities would have the money to deal with that. If someone such as The Woodland Trust were to buy, then their main area of focus and importance (and rightly so for them) is going to be conservation and biodiversity they aren’t going to want bikers tearing up the land, they will want to minimize or completely remove the human impact on our ancient forests which the Forest of Dean is. Private owners would be the same The insurance would be a nightmare for bikers or anyone other than a simple hiker really, take your average privately owned car park where we see the no skateboarding, rollerblading or biking signs everywhere because if you fall off on their land there are certain people out there who would sue so I wouldn’t be surprised to see these signs rapidly appear at the entrances to paths at the fenced in woodlands of the future.

2011 is actually the International Year of Forests
international year of forest logo

This week the government are officially consulting the public about the plans, as if the hundreds of thousands of signatures on the many different petitions weren’t enough, so we will see what happens already today the government has come out and said that they won’t be selling off the ancient woodlands but as this is just breaking news today we’ll hold judgment and see how true this statement is in the days to come. We’ll keep you posted about what happens and our views on it has this all unfolds in the coming weeks and months. But for now as we know you guys love to, discuss below, I want to hear your thoughts on it and any facts I might have missed?

Chris Lewis.

Checkout the Save Our Forests campaign at 38degrees.org.uk


The Hands off Our Forest campaign at the Forest Of Dean.

Forestry Commission.