"As you know, I wrote to the Forestry Commission on June 3rd, asking them not to grant permission for the proposed motorcycle event in July.
I attach a copy of the reply I have received from the Forest District Manager. As you will see, they have decided to go ahead with permission and I know you will share my disappointment at this outcome.
"My own view is that the prospects of getting this decision altered are small, and we should therefore focus on minimising noise, damage and inconvenience."
14 June 2004
Dear Sir George
Thank you for your recent letter regarding the Forestry Commission granting permission for a motor cycle event in Great Pen Wood. As Forest District Manager I have been kept fully informed of the issues and have consulted senior staff before providing this response.
I accept that we have not handled the engagement process with local stakeholders well. It is quite clear that the mixed messages in the two flyers to the residents adjacent to Great Penn Wood has caused as much local ill-feeling as the prospect of the event itself. I will be clarifying internal procedures with my staff to minimise the likelihood of this happening again.
I must, however, reiterate the points made in previous correspondence. There is an established process for informing local people of forthcoming recreational activity, which is contained within our standard permit conditions. At Great Pen Wood, we went further than normal in seeking the views of local people because we anticipated concern with what might be seen as a noisy and damaging event. We are grateful for the views expressed and have taken ~ of these into consideration in making a final decision on granting permission for this event.
The role of the Forestry Commission in providing a diverse range of opportunities for recreation is very clear to us. We work hard to accommodate a wide variety of activities, from archery to husky racing, from religious gatherings to walks for health, in spite of their specialist nature. All are treated equally and we endeavour to grant access wherever possible.
I agree with you that woodlands and forests can provide a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of daily life, but we do not consider that occasional use for recreational activities is in conflict with this. Woodlands are very good at containing noise and absorbing high levels of use. Many of the most prestigious motor sport events rely on forests for their success. These sites do not become permanently scarred or lost to nature conservation, contrary to what people may have you believe.
There is a very clear distinction between illegal motor cyclists and the law-abiding members of motor cycle clubs. We have attempted in the past to prevent illegal motor cycle use as your correspondents have noted and we will continue to try to control such unlawful activity. We have had some success recently following similar sporting events elsewhere and we would hope to replicate this in Great Penn Wood. I cannot stress enough though that the degree of success in controlling all illegal activity on PC land comes down to resourcing. The most successful initiatives are partnership based, pooling all the skills in the community.
Taking your numbered points in turn;
I. Regarding disturbance to wildlife, we recognise that there might be some minor disturbance, but from our wide experience of these kinds of events, we know that these effects are transient.
2. Access is restricted; this would only be for a very limited time and no more so than for other woods used for similar purposes. The motor cycle club are happy to work within the constraints of a largely single-track route and will have signs and marshals in number on the day to deal with any difficulties. Spectator numbers are usually limited to families and followers of the club and these have a vested interest in the event's success.
3. We will be opening up one of the bunded tracks into the forest to accommodate parking for the event. Suitable facilities will be provided as a matter of course by the club.
4. There will be some noise, but this will be within the bounds set by the motor sport ruling bodies and within environmental guidelines.
5. I did not mean to suggest that one event will control illegal use. It is a long road to regaining control where activity is well out of hand, and we do not underestimate the challenges ahead. I would refer you to the point made above about partnership. The Forestry Commission cannot deal with this alone.
6. The roads will not be blocked and the motor cycle club will have an ambulance on site. Forest fires in July are extremely unusual when all the surrounding vegetation is green, but access will not be affected should this occur. It is normal practice for clubs to carry extinguishers at all motor sport events.
7. It is a pity that the local police do not want to assist, but I am not at all surprised that the Police do not want to attend -they do not normally get involved in this type of low key organised and permitted event, Appropriate marshalling, signing and behaviour from the club members will minimise the likelihood of traffic difficulties.
8. There may be some minor inconveniences to these enterprises, but with consideration by all parties this should be kept to a minimum.
Having walked the route with the organiser, we are satisfied that he has all the issues in hand. The route was acceptable and may be subject to minor variation if the ground is still very wet in July.
We have received 30 letters objecting to some degree and two letters of support. We are grateful for all the comments received and these have raised our awareness in particular of the access issues, but we are satisfied that the club has adequately addressed these.
After carefully consideration of all the issues and with the experience gained from similar activities elsewhere we have decided to allow the event to go ahead.
Forest District Manager