This site is intended as a repository for all interested parties in Saving Suffolk Forests to share data we have provided our MP, Dr Therese Coffey, with. Our aims are twofold. On a national level, to support all other groups dedicated to stopping the sale of our Forestry Commission forests, and on a local level to persuade Dr Coffey to back her constituents and vote against the whip.
This page will be used to publish horse riders concerns, questions and arguments against the Forestry Commission sale. For now I've reproduced a letter which was sent to the EADT which details horse-riders (and cyclists) access concerns:
Sir, – Re the future of the Public Forest Estate in England.
I note from your “Fears for forests” articles (EADT, Friday, January 28) that there is some confusion on all sides about access rights for the public if and when the Suffolk forests are sold.
Defra’s consultation document,
The Future of the Public Forest Estate, contains many references to the Government wishing to safeguard public access. This sentiment was repeated by Dr Therese Coffey MP in your article on page five.
When Dr Coffey says that “people will enjoy access to the forests as they do today”, sadly this is not the case for everyone.
Where Forestry Commission land has been designated as Open Access land by the Countryside and Rights Of Way Act 2000, access rights for walkers only will remain once the freehold is sold.
Currently the access for horse riders on Forestry Commission land is by virtue of a concordat agreement with the British Horse Society. Once the freehold of the land has been transferred, this concordat will no longer apply. Horse riders will lose their access to the forests.
Access to Forestry Commission land for cyclists has been included in the Forestry Commission Byelaws ever since the forests were created. Once the freehold of the land has been transferred, the byelaws will no longer apply. Cyclists will lose their access to the forests.
Where there are bridleways, restricted byways or byways recorded on the Definitive Map across Forestry Commission land, access for horse riders and cyclists will remain.
However, there are very few such routes compared to the miles of safe, off-road riding currently enjoyed by horse riders and cyclists in Suffolk’s forests under the concordat and byelaws.
So while the Government may give assurance that they will protect public access, that access is not as they are implying, but just relates to those legal designations that are already in place. Horse riders and cyclists will lose out completely.
While the Government is expecting new private owners, including charities, to ‘consider opportunities to provide public access that goes beyond any legal requirements.’ (Page 17 Consultation on the Public Forest Estate, January 27) there is no guarantee that any new owner will do anything other than “consider”.
There is, however, a solution! Before the Forest Estate is sold, those forest areas that riders regularly use, which are currently designated as Open Access land, can be dedicated with higher rights for horse riders in
perpetuity under Section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 by the freeholder – the Forestry Commission.
Now is the time to lobby to achieve a legal right of open access for horse riders and cyclists to the current Public Forest Estate in perpetuity.
SYLVIA BALLARD, Sudbourne, Woodbridge.