Riders in Bramshill Forest, Hampshire tell Forestry Commission, "We are not getting value for money."
Says Bob Milton
I went to a public meeting at Bramshill which was about the increase in equestrian permits by 50%.
Whilst most of the 150 people at the meeting were permit members there are probably as many who use the forest without paying.
There are approximately 300 permits on Bramshill, raising over £12,000 per year for the FC through TROT out of a total income of £33000 from equestrians in the SE region. TROT keeps 30% of what it raises. The feeling of the majority at the meeting was they do not mind paying but want something done for them. At the moment everything done is really for other purposes eg timber haul roads, fire breaks and fire appliance access, some of which causes some to ride elsewhere due to the extreme surfaces. This is good for cyclists and dog walkers as they have a hard surface to travel on but not for equestrians.
It was galling to listen to the FC try and explain why no money is specifically spent on equestrian damage mitigation or facilities when they obviously spend money on cycle tracks and other pedestrian facilities.
They tried to imply that walkers and cyclist pay at Bedgeborough, Sussex yet when pushed admitted it was the car park and not the user as with Alice Holt.
When questioned about the 1998 FC/ BHS concordant they claimed it was still in place yet they seem to be super selective about how it is implemented or interpreted. The document relies on the need to mitigate equestrian damage if the FC implements a charge for what should otherwise be free access for equestrians but cannot show any direct equestrian damage or the associated restoration and costs.
It was admitted that they do not ring fence the equestrian permit moneys but it goes into the Regional management pot. They also let it slip that they were actively looking at ways to charge more for access but politically not a direct charge but for facilities.
So my interpretation is that more car parks will be built with bigger charges as well as cafes and toilets as in Alice Holt and all on the back of equestrian permits.
Do you ride in the forests ? Do you feel you are getting value for money ?