Report raises concerns over woodland access

ROTHER residents could be excluded from their woodlands if they are sold off by the government, a new report has warned.

Campaigners from Keep Our Forests Public (KOFP) have surveyed former Forestry Commission sites across the south east to see how they have fared in private hands.

Among those analysed were woodlands in Robertsbridge.

And the findings of the volunteers’ survey, which have been submitted to the government-appointed panel looking into the issue, paint a depressing picture.

Six of the 31 woods were found to have physical barriers to public open access, five displayed excluding or inhibiting notices and six had a statutory right of access which was negated by blocked or non-existent entrances, and/or excluding or inhibiting notices.

In total, these three inaccessible categories added up to more than half of the former publicly-owned woods surveyed, warned KOFP.

It added that some woods had become more or less incorporated into private grounds – sometimes as extensions of domestic space.

At one the sites surveyed, Pennygrove Wood, Vinehall Forest, Robertsbridge, there was no detectable route of public access.

KOFP say an old locked Forestry Commission pole gate on the road is gradually sinking into tall herb and hedge vegetation.

They say it is an open access wood under the Countryside and Right Of Way Act, sold with access rights and should be open to local walkers and riders.

KOFP was one of the forest campaign groups which helped force a government climb-down on the sell-off of Forestry Commission land earlier this year.

It says it is now determined to ensure that ministers do not backtrack now public attention has switched away from the furore.

A spokesperson said: “Our survey shows exactly what many would have expected – that our precious woodland heritage is not safe in private hands.

“It highlights the relevance of our campaign’s call for statutory public access to all England’s woodlands.

“Put simply, private owners can get away with whatever they want if nobody can see what they are doing, if the public are prevented or discouraged from walking through these woods.

“We hope the government will seize this opportunity not just to halt the damaging sell-off of our forest sites, but also to give the people of England the same access to, and thus stewardship of, their countryside that is already enjoyed by our Scottish neighbours.”

The full report, including a list of woodland surveyed, can be found at www.worthingdownlanders.org.uk/KOFP_report.pdf