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The Governement should sycamore rider-friendly policy !

Save Our Forests

Don't miss the opportunity to have your say on the future of our forests

Call for Views. Deadline: July 31 2011

A Sign of our Times

There are just days left to respond to the Independent Panel on Forestry's call for views on the future of our forests before it closes on 31 July.

The British Horse Society, the UK's largest equestrian charity, is urging all riders and carriage drivers to make their views known and help to preserve equestrian access to our forests.

BHS Director of Access, Safety and Welfare, Mark Weston, said: "Horse riders currently have access to only 22 percent of public rights of way and horse-drawn vehicle drivers to only five percent, so the permissive access they enjoy in our forests is of immense importance."

The Independent Panel on Forestry was established in March 2011 to advise government on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England and on the role of the Forestry Commission.

How Maureen Comber replied to the five questions being asked by the Independent Panel on Forestry:

Question 1 - What do forests and woods mean to you?

They are wild open spaces free from traffic and abundant with wildlife, flora and fauna. On the back of my horse I can be a part of it away from traffic.

Question 2 - What is your vision for the future of England's forests and woods?

I would love to be able to access the forest without being hassled for a permit or asked to wear a head or arm band to show that I have one. This reminds me of the Nazi's and their requirement that the Jews were similarly indentifiable.

I would like to be able to access all the quiet areas where the general public are not attracted to because, it needs to be recognised that horses can be intolerant of large numbers of people or the things they do, such as waving sticks or throwing balls

Question 3 - What do you feel to be the benefits of forests and woods to:

A) you personally;

They could be so much better than they are. I do not feel welcome on my horse and no provision is made for me even though a permit is required. Instead I am expected to ride on the surrounding lanes which are made busy with traffic by the FC activities. I tried to negotiate a better route for the Shipwrights Way and suggested upgrading some footpaths to bridleways - the bridleways all stop at the forest boundary and become footpaths or nothing at all,- walkers have open access however so a few upgrades would not be inappropriate. For this I was thrown out of the Conservative Party even as a sitting Ward Cllr. You can see my story on

B) society as a whole;

I am old and cannot walk far but I can ride my horse. However I have been told this is not a recognised alternative mode of transport so a permit is still required. So I can walk or cycle free but not exercise my horse. Where is the sense in that?

C) the natural environment; and

It is essential to keep our woods and forest both for their wildlife and flora. They represent the air we breathe and are fundamental not only for our physical, but mental health also.

D) the economy?

They should be managed sensitively and appropriately for the soil type and crops. They should not be turned into theme parks. Such 'honey pots' that are required should be close to other local attractions which make it unnecessary to get in the car and drive from one to the other. For example the Alice Holt car parks, cafe etc should be sited on the opposite side of the A325 to Birdworld so that it is possible to walk from one to the other. It would also be nearer to the village of Rowledge and town of Farnham. At the moment these facilities are badly placed in the centre block which obstructs access to other quieter areas of the forest.

Question 4 - We would like to hear about your suggestions of practical solutions and good practice which can be replicated more widely.

Wider consultation with the local residents and not just a chosen few. FC have set up a body called the Alice Holt Community Forum. That is confusing because it sounds as if it is like the District Council Community Forums, which it is nothing like. Anyone can go and contribute to those. The FC Community Forum draws its audience from its staff and a couple of local parish councillors, one of whom is an enthusiastic cyclist and the other used to work for them. I am never informed when they take place and did not know they existed so it is hardly the democratic organisation that its name implies.

Question 5 - What do you see as the priorities and challenges for policy about England's forests and woods?

a.. Free access for all horse riders to stop the discrimination between them and other members of the public. After all horses are in their natural environment in the forests which are usually in rural settings, more so than cyclists I would say. It should be remembered that horses have been disenfranchised on the rural lanes because the speed limit for traffic is 60mph. This is not a safe speed to drive and neither is it safe for non-motorised users. Despite this the public are still being told to get on their bikes!

b.. A recognition that horses have special needs in that they are programmed by nature to flee from danger. Therefore quiet trails and tracks are a necessity rather than a wish. It is not a case as one forester put it of "having to learn to mix with people". Horses need tranquility and their riders need their own personal space without the need to be approached for a permit. This is especially the case with children on ponies and stranger danger.

c.. Surely all should be welcomed to the Forest Estate as the FC's own publication entitled 'Diverse woodlands, Diverse Communities' implies. It seems to me that all are welcome except the local rural horse riders even though they have to contend with the general melee promoted by FC activities.

I pine for a more sensible approach to saving our forests

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