BikeRadar readers have been urged to join a protest rally in the Forest of Dean against government plans to sell off Forestry Commission woodland.
Local riders fear that if part or all of the Gloucestershire forest is sold to a private company, its network of mountain bike trails – which attract cross-country riders and downhillers from miles around – could be closed. The popular family cycle path could also be at risk.
Residents have started a campaign, Hands off our Forest (HOOF), to fight the plans. They're holding a rally at the Speech House Woodland car park, near the Cannop Pedalabikeaway centre, from 12.30pm on 3 January 2011.
Local mountain biker Karl Greenfield told BikeRadar: "Time is running out. The Public Bodies Bill that will confer powers on ministers to sell the Forest of Dean is approaching its third reading in the House of Lords. Once it reaches the Commons it will effectively be rubber stumped.
"We're hoping for over 10,000 people at the rally. We've got people like Richard Wilson – Victor Meldrew – speaking, and a number of other celebrities. Then there'll be a march from the Woodland car park to Speech House itself."
At this stage, the Government haven't released details of the proposals contained within the Public Bodies Bill, but locals fear the worst. Ministers say public rights of way will be unaffected by the sell-off. But the Forest of Dean has very few designated rights of way, with public access instead being granted by the Forestry Commission on a permissive basis.
HOOF want the sell-off to be abandoned or, failing that, the Forest of Dean to be exempted as a special case – as in the 1981 Forestry Act, the piece of legislation which first allowed Forestry Commission land to be sold, which was amended following a similar campaign by residents.