England’s Trees, Woods and Forests A consultation response from CTC, the UK’s national cyclists’ organisation 1. CTC, the UK‟s national cyclists‟ organisation, has 70,000 members and supporters. The organisation provides a range of information and legal services to cyclists, organises cycling events, and has represented the interests of cyclists and cycling on issues of public policy since its foundation in 1878. CTC welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation. We are very pleased that recent consultations (Rural Development Programme, Access For All?) have all provided opportunities to promote countryside access and recreational cycling. We were particularly pleased to see that the front cover of this consultation showed a family enjoying a cycle ride through the forest. 2. Public Access to Woodland Question 18 – part 1 3. CTC believes that promoting public access to woodland should be a national priority. Promoting cycle access in the countryside is entirely in line with the Government‟s thinking on physical activity and public health. Rural Affairs Minister Barry Gardiner MP stated in the Third Report by the House of Commons Select Committee on Health that “We spend £886 per head of population per year in providing what amounts to a national sickness service and we spend £1 per person per year on sports and physical activity which could actually prevent a lot of that sickness”. The Government‟s Walking and Cycling Action Plan notes that “Around 60% of men and 70% of women are currently not physically active enough to benefit their health. Walking and cycling offer the opportunity to build moderate, pleasant exercise into people‟s routines. This kind of exercise can help us to counteract problems of overweight and obesity as well as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer in addition to improving mental wellbeing.” The recent White Paper from the Department of Health, Choosing Health, stated that “Walking and cycling present practical, alternative forms of activity that can be part of the daily routine for most people.” This was supported in the Choosing Activity White Paper, released in March of last year, which stated that “Access for all to well-maintained, safe walking and cycling routes, attractive and affordable leisure and sports facilities, playgrounds, parks and the countryside will make a significant contribution to enabling people to live more active lives.” 4. 5. 6. 7. Question 18 – part 2 8. 9. CTC supports leaving the decisions on where to increase public access to regional and local decision makers. We believe that, in line with the Government‟s statements on promoting cycling as an excellent form of low impact exercise, Defra should issue guidance on managing England‟s forests and woodlands which clearly indicates that land managers and local authorities should increase cycle access wherever opportunities exist. Question 19 10. CTC believes that access to the countryside, and the nation‟s forests and woodlands, should reflect demand and suitability, not historical usage. At present, the reliance on past usage leads to idiosyncrasies on the ground, such as Roman roads classified as footpaths, or paths changing status as they cross County lines. CTC believes that potential and existing cyclists are being dissuaded from cycling in the countryside or England‟s forests and woodlands because of the nature of the rights of way network. Currently, cyclists only have access to 22% of the rights of way network, and this figure does not take into account „cul-de-sac‟ bridleways and restricted byways, paths which are unrideable due to obstructions and maintenance issues, or ways which do not go anywhere which the public is likely to wish to go. The actual figure of usable, convenient rights of way for cyclists is unknown but almost certainly less than one fifth of the rights of way network. Studies have shown that provision of safe, local routes would encourage people to cycle more1, and England‟s countryside, woodlands and forests are ideally suited for this, as the Woodland Trust‟s analysis of England showed that, were all of England‟s woodlands to be accessible, 82% of the population would live within four kilometres of larger woodland2. We would like to see the process of dedicating rights of way reformed in light of the success of the Scottish Land Reform Act, and the right to roam provisions within the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. To encourage cycle access, the nation‟s countryside and woodlands must contain routes which take people where they would wish to go. This might be a linear route between two towns, or a circular route through picturesque scenery. Where the local authority is satisfied that a convenient linear or circular cycle route could be created or completed by the creation of a bridleway or restricted byway under section 26 of the Highways Act 1980, then the balance of expediency should be presumed to lie with the creation of the path. Where a convenient linear or circular route could be created by upgrading a footpath to a bridleway or restricted byway under section 26, then the balance of expediency should be presumed to lie with the upgrading of the path. Increased funding should be made available to cover the resultant increase in compensation. Applications to upgrade paths often meet with objections because of the physical condition of the trail: width, surfacing or sightlines. Defra should establish a fund from which local authorities can bid for improvements to the rights of way network, particularly where widening, re-surfacing or improving the sightlines of an existing path could render it suitable for other users. This funding should be earmarked for use in creation agreements or creation orders under section 72 of the Highways Act 1980. In order to promote access, it is important that the public can easily discover where they can and cannot walk, cycle or ride a horse. At present, when a highway authority wishes to increase cycle access by upgrading a footpath to a cycletrack, the path disappears off the definitive map. This can result in opposition 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 1 “The top priority for improvement is very evident… the provision of safe local routes for cyclists. Nine in ten of respondents selected it in their top 3 and 70% regarded it as their first choice.” Survey of Cycling in Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, UK, 1999 (emphasis in original) 2 Space for People, Woodland Trust, UK, 2004 20. 21. 22. 23. to an upgrade, not because of objections to allowing cyclists to use the path, but because of policy opposition to rights of way disappearing from the definitive map. CTC believes that cycletracks should appear on the definitive map and urges Defra to enact legislation to bring this about. Likewise, where unclassified county roads overlap with footpaths and bridleways, the Ordinance Survey displays the shared section as having the lower rights. This means that, as with cycletracks, there are routes which cyclists have a right to use which do not appear on readily accessible maps. The rationale behind this was the uncertainty over whether UCRs had rights for mechanically-propelled vehicles, and a policy of discouraging MPV access to the countryside, but now that this has been resolved by Part 6 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act there should no longer be a need to „hide‟ the higher rights. CTC would like Defra to issue guidance which instructs OS to display higher rights in these instances. This guidance could form part of the regulations and guidance to Part 6 of NERC. The Forestry Commission has been at the forefront of efforts to increase cycling in forests, and CTC fully supports their initiatives. The Forestry Commission Scotland has recently consulted on a national strategy for Scottish mountain biking, and CTC would like to see the same strategic overview from the English and Welsh divisions of the Commission. Question 20 24. 25. CTC welcomes moves to increase countryside access, particularly to minority groups and those who do not currently cycle. England‟s forests are a national resource which must be accessible to people from all strata of society. Current trends indicate that people from socio-economic groups A, B and C1 are much more likely to own and use a bicycle; conversely, members of lower social groups are overwhelmingly less likely to own a bicycle and more likely to be overweight. A study by National Statistics found that “Obesity is linked to social class, being more common among those in the routine or semi-routine occupational groups than the managerial and professional groups.3” There is also a noticeable difference between cycle use amongst men and women. The National Travel Survey for 2004 found that men cycle far more than women, making on average twenty-four journeys per year compared with ten journeys for women. Men also cycle for leisure more than women, although this is distorted by the extent to which mountain bikers (the Enthusiast market) is predominantly male. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the National Statistics study found that the combination of sex and social status meant that women in “routine operations” were twice as likely to be overweight, with 30 per cent classified as obese compared with 16 per cent in higher managerial and professional occupations. They also found that “among those who had never worked and the long-term unemployed, 25 per cent of women were classified as obese, compared with 16 per cent of men”4. It is therefore incredibly important that Defra take steps to encourage cycling amongst women, people from ethnic minorities and areas of disadvantage, the unemployed, the disabled and less-mobile and groups with lower-than-average cycle use, or higher-than-average rates of obesity, heart disease or other illnesses 26. 27. 28. 3 Obesity among adults: by sex and NS-SeC, 2001: Social Trends 34, National Statistics, UK, 2001 4 National Statistics, 2001 29. related to lack of exercise. Defra should work closely with those NGOs and voluntary organisations with experience of working with members of these groups, such as the Black Environment Network, or MIND, so as to focus on areas of expertise. CTC recommends subsidised cycle training, graded trails, bike-buses, cycle hire, organised rides and greater information provision to make cycling more accessible, which encourages people who do not cycle to try cycling, makes their experience more enjoyable and helps keep them cycling in the future. Cycle Training 30. CTC believes that off-road skills training is a fundamental part of promoting forest cycling and mountain biking. The traditional image of mountain biking as being an extreme sport, or one which requires years of practise and a flashy bike, has created a perception amongst some members of the public that off-road cycling is difficult, dangerous, and expensive. A well-run programme of cycle skills training can give novices the confidence to try cycling, and the skills needed to ensure that they cycle within their own abilities, in a safe and controlled manner. Skills training gives novices and those with previous cycling experience the confidence to challenge themselves, and after a course cyclists feel significantly more confident in their riding skills and their ability to cycle off-road. Participants in CTC‟s stage 1 off-road skills weekends commented that the weekend “inspired me to explore more of the Dorset bridleways, to tackle terrain that I would normally avoid”; “increased my confidence in riding by a massive amount” and “I had forgotten how much enjoyment I got from mountain-biking and will be doing it again soon”. We perceive mountain biking as developing in a manner analogous with skiing. While recreational cycling must be accessible, with skills courses there for those who would prefer to have training, mountain biking is a riskier activity, and one which would benefit from a training culture. Just as skiers can receive training before skiing down a black slope, so cyclists should be able to receive skills training before embarking on a black route. Training should not be compulsory, but the option should be there for those who want it. Cycle training should conform to a National Standard, corresponding to a National Standard for trail grading. For example, stage 1 training could provide the skills required for a route graded green, and stage 2 could provide the skills for blue trails. This allows novices to feel confident about embarking on an unknown but graded trail, knowing that, while they still need to take care, they should be able to complete the circuit. There is potential to run training courses in conjunction with local businesses, such as bike shops, which helps provide economic growth in rural areas. Local residents can be trained as skills trainers, and either employed by forest managers or licensed to operate in the forest. There is also the potential to provide maintenance courses, or Scottish Mountain Bike Leadership Awards, and to have participants stay in local accommodation and eat in local restaurants. This promotes the wider area, encouraging repeat visits, and ensures that the community receives the maximum financial benefit from cycling in forests. Training courses are an excellent opportunity to showcase a location, and encourage repeat visits. Cyclists will want to return to the site with friends and family, to see how they have progressed, or to ride more challenging routes. There is also the scope to get non-cyclists on specialist courses, such as team-building exercises, or „Red Letter Days‟-style activities. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. CTC has also experimented with women-only courses, with great success, and feedback has indicated that participants felt much more relaxed and willing to challenge themselves in single-gender groups. Comments included “I definitely wouldn‟t have wanted to go on a „first time‟ weekend with men participating as students”; and that the single-sex environment “took some of the pressure off”. CTC therefore recommends running women-only skills weekends alongside regular mixed weekends, and this could be expanded to cover other niche markets as they are identified. We would also recommend running subsidised courses for local residents to encourage those who live near the forests to visit them more regularly. We would also suggest running subsidised courses for the unemployed, ethnic minorities, younger cyclists, and people from areas of disadvantage, as these groups are more likely to suffer from obesity or other illnesses related to lack of exercise. CTC would like to be involved in any developments towards a National Standard for off-road cycle training. Graded Trails 40. Land managers across the UK have increasingly been grading trails according to their difficulty, using a ski-slope method, with trails rated from green (easiest) to black (hardest). We believe that this is an excellent way of informing the public about the skills required for a route before they set off, but at present there is no standardised means of judging trails, so the difficulty can vary between sites. CTC recommends standardising the current trail grading system. We believe that the key to reducing accidents is to educate the public as to the risks and obstacles of each section of the trail, and to enable them to make educated choices as to whether or not to ride a particular section. A National Standard for Trail Grading would mean that a red route at one forest corresponded with a red route at another. We envisage trail grading coordinated with a system of cycle training, so that riders who have been on a training course are able to judge their riding abilities against the trails. Stage 1 training might equate to green routes, and stage 2 to blue routes, enabling cyclists to approach a graded route for the first time with relative confidence. Trails should be graded according to the hardest section, but provision should also be made for alternative routes around obstacles where possible. The Slab and the Terrible Twins at Dalbeattie in the 7Stanes is the perfect example of harder sections incorporated into easier routes. 41. 42. 43. Bike-Buses 44. There is are corresponding links between social status and car ownership, obesity and cycle use: people from social groups A, B and C are more likely to own a car, less likely to suffer from obesity related illnesses, and more likely to cycle, while people from lower social groups are less likely to drive, and have higher rates of obesity and lower rates of cycling. If we want to promote countryside access and cycling as a means of reducing obesity-related illness, then we must provide public transport to get people to the countryside. CTC would like to see greater integration of public transport and forests to help people who cannot drive or do not own a car visit forests. This should take the form of „bike-buses‟ from major transport hubs to sites, which could also operate as registered bus services or uplift providers. Registered public 45. 46. 47. bus services would enhance the provision of rural bus services, by providing alternative routes to those currently in operation. By effectively subsidising the public journeys (by charging extra to carry a bike) operators can provide a profitable service, and reduce the demand for car parking at forests and the impact on existing road infrastructure. Registered providers are also eligible for the discount in fuel available to commercial bus operators. Cycle Hire 48. Not everyone owns or has access to a bike, and cycle ownership is lower amongst those demographics that the Government is keen to promote cycling to. Affordable cycle hire gives people a chance to try cycling without first buying a bike, and is also useful where public transport cannot carry bicycles. Cycle hire also provides investment opportunities for local communities, as local businesses can be licensed to run the amenity. 49. Led and Organised Rides 50. Another often-cited barrier to off-road cycling is the lack of a group of peers to cycle with. Like cycle hire, regular led rides provide an opportunity for people to try cycling within a comfortable environment and without substantial initial outlay. Led rides can also be themed, such as a nature or historical ride, in which cyclists are shown various sites of interest along the route. Rides can also be single-sex, to remove any gender barriers which may put people off trying cycling. There is also potential to link up with organisations who have experience of working with people with physical and mental disabilities, and organising rides for them. These rides could include basic cycle tuition if needed, and be designed so that participants are increasingly encouraged to cycle on their own or with friends in addition to any organised rides. 51. 52. 53. Route Information 54. There needs to be a greater trail-side provision of information. Laminated maps provided at intersections and rest / view points help cyclists stay oriented, and provide information as to escape routes, alternative routes, sites of interest, intersections between cycle trails and multi-user trails and other potential points of interest or hazard. As part of a programme of raising cyclists‟ awareness, we would recommend improving the signage and route notification to include a description of what the next section of trail contains. The black route at Thetford in Norfolk has been broken into sections, each one carrying a clear sign at the beginning advising cyclists to expect jumps, gaps or drops. This should be adopted as best practise, and this information provided at junctions and before particularly difficult obstacles and sections. Developing centres in a similar manner to those at Glentress and Dalbeattie in the 7Stanes, where fire roads and green / blue routes criss-cross the red and black trails, and providing improved mapping and information who help cyclists decide whether or not to avoid a section if they felt it was too challenging for them, by informing them that they could rejoin the trail soon afterwards. There should be greater integration between the Forestry Commission, private woodlands and local tourism infrastructure. Holiday makers should be able to visit one website, with all the information about the region available, including cycle 55. 56. 57. routes, transport options (with an emphasis on public transport), amenities and accommodation. Potential tourists should be able to book a complete holiday from this site, including accommodation, activities and possibly transport. Question 21 58. CTC believes that high quality facilities for public recreation are an essential part of promoting public access to woodland. A survey by Scottish Natural Heritage found that “The top priority for improvement is very evident… the provision of safe local routes for cyclists” (emphasis in original). If we are to encourage people to cycle in woodland and forests, then we must provide attractive places for them to cycle. This is particularly true of people trying cycling for the first time, or taking it back up after a number of years away. If the first ride is enjoyable and not too difficult, then they are likely to cycle again. If it is unpleasant, then they are likely not to cycle again. High quality infrastructure, in the form of routes, signposting and surfacing, can reduce the likelihood of an unpleasant experience. There is also a need to provide sufficient routes to cater for demand: if there is to be a substantial and sustained increase in cycling, then there must be adequate space to put all the cyclists. Increased cycle facilities will encourage people to visit forests, and stay for longer, which will provide a boost to the local tourism economy. 59. 60. 61. Question 24 62. Woodlands, like most of the countryside and rural fringe, have the potential to hold linear routes which link towns and villages together. To encourage this, land managers and local highway authorities should work closely together to build a strategic network of off-road transport routes, which must be well signposted, surfaced and expedient for the public to use. 63.