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The Governement should sycamore rider-friendly policy !

The Forestry Commission continues to discriminate against horse riders by demanding payment for permits for access to public property.

"The continuation of Byelaw xiii, which makes it an offence to lead or ride a horse, is wrong. Horses are for transport not recreation"   says Maureen Comber.

Not so, says Jim Paice, the Minister for the Horse

This policy is down right discrimination, says Maureen Comber.

Maureen ComberBackground
Maureen Comber wrote to her MP, Damian Hinds, about the publication by the Forestry Commission of a booklet entitled 'Diverse woodlands, diverse communities'.

I will quote from some of the comprehensive subjects covered.

Page 2 "Foreword - The Commission must be the type of organisation where no-one will ever feel excluded and people from all parts of the community will not only want to work with us, but will also want to use our forests and facilities."

Page 4 " Introduction - .....................So whoever we work with and whatever services we provide, everyone deserves to be included and valued, regardless of their ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or faith, and whether or not they have a disability..............."

Page 6 "..........about 19% of people have a disability - this last figure rises to more than 40% above the age of 50............... The Law requires us, as a public body , to do everything we can to enable everyone to use our forests, to provide them with services and to allow them to work with us. Not only do we have legal duties not to discriminate, we also have legal duties to positively promote equality and diversity in everything we do"

Page 8 "We use a process called an Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) which makes us consider whether what we are doing could be discriminatory..........."

Page 18 "Gender - 2010 only 33% of our staff are female.........."

Page 22 "Sexual Orientation - ................But gay and lesbian couples are often worried about showing their affection for each other in public..............A group calling themselves the Hiking Dykes took advantage of this initiative and enjoyed guided walks and taster sessions of bushcraft skills on a couple of occasions. Vince helped 15 ladies from the group get back to nature by building rustic shelters cooking on open camp fires and learning the traditional crafts of the forest"

Page 24 "Disability - People may have speech, hearing or sight difficulties, mobility difficulties that do or do not require the use of a wheelchair.............."

Page 26 "Religion and Belief - ....................

a.. Encourage use of the forest and its facilities for public enjoyment.

b.. Promote respect for the environment and the forest in particular.

Page 30 "How do we get it right? - Tim Rollinson is our diversity champion and is committed to making the Commission a truly diverse organisation..........

A Diversity Strategy and action plan has been developed to ensure compliance with, and monitoring of,

a.. Our legal duties b.. Link closely with the people strategy and corporate business plans c.. Ensures that the Commission achieves best practice through cultural change

The Diversity Team's role is to keep equality and diversity as a key consideration in everything we do. Although the team's most important role is to ensure the Commission complies with the wide range of equality legislation, its focus goes beyond this to promote the wider benefits of equality and diversity"

Page 34 Pamela Warhurst CBE, Chair of the Forestry Commission says "Moving Forward - Among the reasons I applied for the role of Chair of the Forestry Commission is the wonderful reputation the organisation has for making a real difference and its 'no nonense' approach to important subjects such as climate change and improving people's quality of life..........I am inspired and heartened by the real progress being made to work with all communities and share all the benefits the Commission has to offer across all of British other words what can you personally do to make a positive contribution...................."

I would like to make a positive contribution by commending this important work but also to ask the question why, after many years of comment from local people and recently the campaign by The British Horse Society, the Forestry Commission continues to discriminate against horse riders by demanding payment for permits for access to this public property and the continuation of Byelaw xiii which makes it an offence to lead or ride a horse?

Even when permits are purchased this bears no entitlement to a special facility or provision, but only entitles the bearer to use the same tracks and trails used by everyone else for free.

This means that in the summer months when parts of the forest are busy no advantage can be taken of the permit simply because the nature of the horse requires a tranquil environment.

The permit is by way of a contract and yet when a path needs repair it is simply removed from the permit and no repairs are done. Existing paths are allowed to overgrow and are not maintained. The exits and entrances are too narrow so that one can hurt ones knees on the posts. 'Cycle only' paths now take away from useable tracks around the quieter perimeter of the forest.

The A325 which transects Alice Holt Forest has a crossing facility for cyclists but despite many requests for a controlled crossing facility, horse riders are told it is too dangerous to cross in any case and the Local Highway Authority says it may cause 'tail end shunts' for motorists !!

The surrounding single track carriageway country lanes have a speed limit of 60mph which is not a safe speed to travel and is not considerate of the safety of non-motorised users. This problem is compounded by the numerous visitors by motor vehicle to the forest's large car parks. (Alice Holt)

You will remember that very recently I wrote to you about the Police having been called by the Forestry Commission to arrest horse riders who did not have permits.

All of this just does not equate with the excellent publication from which I have quoted.

I would like an explanation as to why I, who fit the 'protected characteristics' (Page 8 fourth para.) in more sense than one since I am elderly, hard of hearing with reduced mobility due to arthritic knees, am unable to access Alice Holt Forest by the only possible means available to me, on horse back, without a permit and without the constant fear of harassment by assiduous Forestry Commission staff?

Jim Paice, the Minister for the Horse replied - click here to read

The Government can't cedar wood for the trees !

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