The make-up of the UK Government's independent forestry panel has been announced – and it doesn't look good for mountain bikers.
The group has been set up following the postponement of plans to sell off the Forestry Commission estate and will help decide the future of England's public owned woodland.
It includes representatives from wildlife charities, the Ramblers Association and the National Trust – but there's no-one to protect cyclists' interests.
"Quite extraordinarily, the closest group to mountain bikers on the panel, in terms of people having fun in the woods, is the Ramblers!" says James Greenwood, of the Forest of Dean's Hands Off Our Forest campaign. "You've got NGOs, business and forestry. Where does mountain biking fit in?"
Roger Geffen, Campaigns and Policy Director at CTC said: “We understood that CTC’s off-road advisor Colin Palmer had been suggested by Department for Environment officials for possible inclusion on the panel, so it is particularly disappointing to see cyclists being left out altogether.”
"Given the number of mountain bikers, and other cyclists, who use and voluntarily maintain the forest trails across England, it's extraordinary that we're not represented on this panel," says journalist and UK Etape Training founder Rob Penn. "This isn't the late '80s. It's a disgrace. Unless the Bishop of Liverpool is a closet dirt jumper, we're not going to get a look in here."
The full panel is:
- Chairman: Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool
- Shireen Chambers, executive director of the Institute of Chartered Foresters
- Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB
- Tom Franklin, chief executive of the Ramblers Association
- Stuart Goodall, chief executive of ConFor
- Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of Wildlife Trusts
- Sue Holden, chief executive of Woodland Trust
- Alan Knight, founder of Single Planet Living
- Dame Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust
- Sir Harry Studholme, Forestry Commissioner
- John Varley, estates director for Clinton Devon Estates
- William Worsley, president of the Country Land and Business Association
Their official remit is to advise Ministers on a new approach to forestry policy in England, including looking at how woodland can be increased and at options for "enhancing public benefits". Defra say they received many requests to join the panel and promise that "all those that expressed an interest will be invited to submit their views and join in".
Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director at UK national cyclists' organisation CTC, said: “We understood that CTC’s off-road advisor Colin Palmer had been suggested by Department for Environment officials for possible inclusion on the panel, so it's particularly disappointing to see cyclists being left out altogether."
"What's important is that a good case is put forward to the panel," says Greenwood. "We need to make sure they take account of what's a rapidly growing sport which needs access to the forests. We need to demonstrate to the panel how important the woods are to us." James says the best way to do this is for people to get out on their bikes this weekend to mark International Forest Day.
"There aren't many organised events," he says. "The idea is that people go out and do their own thing, but we need people to feed back." So, if you get out and about this weekend, take some pictures, email them to email@example.com and we'll try to show the strength of support for England's forests.