Sharing the woods

About sixty people attended a meeting in the Withiel Village Hall on Tuesday 12th May to discuss how different users of the local Forestry Commission land can co-exist harmoniously and continue to enjoy the woods in our neighbourhood. There have been concerns locally about the safety of walkers and horse riders who are now outnumbered by mountain bikers who enjoy rapidly descending steep new tracks they have created through the trees in Grogley, Bishop’s and Hustyn woods. The extreme sport of mountain bike ‘trail’ riding has become incredibly popular recently and the woods are widely publicised on the internet as a great venue for enthusiasts to practise their skills.
Roughly half the attendees were bikers and half were horse riders and walkers. Most of the regular, longstanding users of the woods live locally and perceive the visiting mountain bike riders to be taking over the woods without apparently following any rules. However, it was made clear by the bikers that the group will try to be responsible for the well being of others.
Some of the bikers were unaware that most horses would react to something approaching suddenly and unseen through the undergrowth and felt that it was unwise to be on board a ‘skittish’ horse. Horse riders were able to explain that nearly all steeds, whose natural instinct is to flee from perceived danger, would be alarmed and take evasive, possibly dangerous action when frightened. However well schooled and experienced he may be, a horse can be unpredictable and might be spooked by sudden surprises! It was also pointed out that whilst for many years horse riders had been prevented from putting up jumps or making any changes at all in the woods, the new biking fraternity seem to have a free rein to do as they wish which has caused some bad feeling.
Chris Mason, the Forestry Recreational Ranger (and a mountain bike rider himself) listened to all concerns with patience. He outlined his plans for improving the bike tracks now crisscrossing the main firebreaks along which horse riders would normally proceed so that bikes could not go straight across and would be forced to slow down as they approach the main routes thus avoiding colliding with, or alarming other users. He emphasised how important it is that the space can be shared by all without conflict and will work hard to achieve that.
It was also clear at the meeting that the danger is not limited to equestrian sport. Walkers, particularly the elderly, have felt intimidated by the speed and lack of information about the layout of the bikers routes downhill.
Increased litter was also discussed, as was the parking problem. Litter bins are not provided so obviously bike riders are expected to take their litter home with them but some fail to so. At weekends there are now so many vehicles at the entrance to Grogley Woods that the road either side of the entrance has to accommodate the overspill. It was suggested that people should park at Grogley Halt instead or cycle to the venue. The main entrance may be changed to accommodate more vehicles.
The Forestry Commission representatives tried to be helpful and clearly took on board people’s concerns reiterating that in order for the space to continue to be available to all, mutual respect is vital. Working groups are to be set up to make plans for the future.
They also made it clear that they were prepared to work with horse riders, bikers and walkers equally so that everyone who has a love of this wonderful ‘Open Access’ Land can enjoy their time in the woods safely and peacefully.
If anyone has any comments they would like to make to the Forestry Commission Recreation Ranger, please contact Chris Mason –

Janet Shearer