Trails pulled down by the Forestry in Nottinghamshire. Was it justified? Was it spiteful? We have both sides of the story...

This month’s star letter is the sorry tale of a trail network being pulled down by Forestry England… it aint pretty…

Read more: How green is the mountain bike industry?

’dozer diplomacy

“The letter from Shaun Rogers on the difficulties engaging with Forestry England over trail building in the June 2021 issue really hit a chord.

“It’s fair to say Nottinghamshire is not over burdened with places to ride. Lockdown has brought that home in spades. There have been a couple of examples of amazing work by Hemlock Trail Association working with Broxtowe Borough Council to get some lines built on the edge of the city and incredible jumps at Bestwood. Both these are for experienced riders though. And there’s Sherwood Pines, where the Forestry England recently stoked controversy by knocking down a jump line.

“At a place called Watch Wood, Gedling Trail Association (GTA) worked really hard to build some incredible lines with the help of local people from Calverton. They were incredibly well built. For expert riders there have been some amazing examples of jumping, whipping etc. For others they’ve been able to progress their skills on mellow gradients and well built rollers and tables. Nothing dangerous at all. Yet the Forestry response has been to trot out the line that they were unsanctioned and dangerous to justify knocking them down. To the hundreds of riders who ride regularly there this was a laughable response.

“GTA have tried extensively to engage the rangers who even visited and asked for modifications to be made – which they were. Then out of the blue they knocked them down without warning or communication. With a diesel bulldozer.

“The joy, release, exhilaration and fun hundreds of riders of all ages got from these trails has been taken away just when we need it most. To add to which I’d seen riders from all backgrounds at Watch Wood.

“The Forestry Commission Framework Document 2020 says the FC should:

“Promote the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation, and the production and supply of timber and other forest products;

“Manage land placed at their disposal by Ministers including the provision of recreational facilities.

“Running a bulldozer over tree roots and disturbing the soil to knock down MTB trails they’ve informally sanctioned through previous communications is not meeting their duties to us, the tax paying people.

“The MTB community in Nottinghamshire and wider area has been let down by the Forestry and the staff at Watch Wood. Much like at Hamsterley. They need to pull their finger out.”

– Daniel Gray

Forestry England said in reply:

“Forestry England has a long history of providing cycling facilities within the woodlands that we manage. In fact, we have over 2,500km of cycle trails around England, from gentle family routes to bike skills areas or adrenaline-fuelled downhill MTB. Many of our staff are keen mountain bikers, and our passion for the sport has lead to projects working with British Cycling, and our sites playing host to top level events including National Downhill Series rounds, The Mountain Biking World Cup at Dalby Forest and our trails at Cannock Chase Forest are being used for the upcoming Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games mountain biking events. We also know just how popular woodlands are as a place for people to spend their leisure time – this is true now more than ever following the huge visitor numbers our forests have seen over the pandemic-period. So a big focus of what we do as an organisation is about facilitating these visits so that as many people as possible can benefit from spending time amongst the trees.

“However, managing forests for people to enjoy is just part of what we do. Although we receive some money from government, we generate most of our revenue ourselves including by sustainably harvesting and selling timber –  we are the largest supplier of sustainably produced timber in England, selling around 1.4 million tonnes per year. This is important as it enables us to support the wider British timber and forestry industry, and work with hundreds of contracting businesses, sawmills and factories that rely on a year-round supply of wood to maintain employment and investment in the industry. Our woodlands also provide healthy habitats for a range of wildlife. Our Foresters work with our Ecologists to make sure that our land management techniques are providing resilient landscapes where wildlife can thrive.

“This is a big job and one that keeps on growing, so we don’t always have the capacity to work with all the people that approach us with ideas of what they would like to do on the land we manage – either the resource levels, or the flexibility within the sustainable forest management plan that we have developed to make sure all our objectives and responsibilities are met.

“At Watchwood we did have informal conversations with the users and builders of these unofficial trails over the past couple of years. When the activity was modest in scale and causing no obvious concerns in terms of safety or other land management criteria the site wasn’t a high priority for us to intervene. However, when the scale of the trail building activity increased, and the quality of build deteriorated, it became necessary for us to make this a higher priority and take action. In particular, the most recent lines and features were constructed right through the middle of a recently planted area which is totally unacceptable to us.

“We know it must feel frustrating when a land manager isn’t able to work with you on an idea you have, however there will always be good reasons. In addition to visitor safety considerations, our concerns at Watchwood were for the damage and the potential destabilisation that these activities have caused to mature trees, as well as to the newly planted areas (mentioned above) and the effects that will have on both the newly planted crop and the ongoing maintenance of these trees to enable them to establish properly.

“However, people living locally to Watchwood are able to ride the trails at Sherwood Pines (about 12 miles from Watchwood), which offers something for all level of rider with green, blue and red-graded mountain bike trails, as well as the bike park which features a downhill zone and a dirt jump zone. These are all designed and built by experts, and are all factored in to the Forest Management Plan so work as part of the wider forest ecosystem. The Ranger team are keen to restart a volunteer trail maintenance team once the site has recovered from the strain put on it by the additional visitor numbers throughout the pandemic, so there will soon be the opportunity for trail building enthusiasts to work with us there. The dirt jump area at Sherwood Pines which was highlighted in the readers letter has recently been modified to remove one of the features that was causing a significant number of accidents requiring ambulance call outs as well as some anti-social behaviour by the groups of people gathering to spectate. As big fans of mountain biking this was not a decision the site management team took lightly, however even within an adrenaline-fuelled activity, the accident levels were unacceptable to us as a responsible land manager.”

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