Written Evidence submitted by The Ramblers (TPW0032)



  1. The Ramblers is Britain’s largest walking charity working to protect, expand and promote walking for health and pleasure. We believe that woodlands can be managed effectively for people, wildlife and timber and want everyone to be able to enjoy the benefits of walking in woodlands responsibly, both close to where they live and further afield. It is important that, in responding to the climate and environmental emergencies, government protects and enhances the ways in which people connect to nature, learn about it and understand its importance.
  2. We are submitting information to questions 5 and 6 in the call for evidence, which most closely relate to our work in connecting more people to nature.


Responses to questions posed by the Committee

Question 5: In relation to increasing forestry coverage in England, what should the Government be trying to achieve?

Maximising Natural Capital Gain

  1. We recognise the vital contribution of tree planting towards reaching carbon net zero by 2050 but also the many other important benefits of trees and woodlands. It is critical that tree planting schemes are designed to maximise gain in natural capital (including public access to woodlands) and not focused on one benefit at the expense of the others.
  2. We do not underestimate the challenge of meeting the government’s tree planting targets, nor of meeting our commitment as a country to reaching carbon net zero. However, we consider that there can be greater gains for people, nature and the economy through tree planting designed for multiple benefits, driving innovation in the ways these can be managed together harmoniously.
  3. The Woodland natural capital accounts, UK: 2020 gave the natural capital benefit of recreation as £515.5 million based only on expenditure per trip and not including the avoided health costs of increased mental and physical wellbeing. The Defra 2018 Tree Health Resilience Strategy valued recreation and landscape of forests and trees at £1.1bn, on a par with the carbon sequestration value of £1.2bn. Models of public access that are appropriate to the scheme and the balance of natural capital objectives, should be considered wherever public money is given in grants for tree planting.

No Natural Capital Loss

  1. The government should avoid loss of existing natural capital though tree planting. This includes  existing priority open habitats, and the potential loss of the right of open access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. As a minimum, any losses as a result of publicly funded tree planting schemes should be adequately compensated so that there is no net loss.
  2. Trees planted on Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) open access land could lead to the loss of CRoW rights when the open access maps are updated.  Public money should not be used to subsidise schemes that threaten existing access rights. Such woodlands should either:

a)      be dedicated for open access under Section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, or

b)      alternative, comparable land of at least equal area/ recreational value should be dedicated nearby to compensate – for example, replacing currently isolated land with land which is connected to roads or rights of way.

New planting should not be allowed to cut off public access to wider areas of open access land.


Question 6: Are the right policies and funding in place to appropriately protect and manage existing woodlands in England? How will prospective changes to policy and legislation effect this?

  1. There are two main areas where we consider that the existing policies, guidance and funding need to be strengthened:

Payments that encourage improved public access 

  1. Current tree-planting grants include options that give an extra payment if new public access is provided. However, the current regime does not appear to be stimulating access provision in practice, meaning that opportunities to enhance access - and its connectivity through the landscape - are being lost.
  2. We understand, for example, that uptake of woodland creation grant access payments in the Priority Areas surrounding towns and cities is low. If the new regime does not address this, the risk is that many new woods would be created with either no public access or with limited existing rights of way through or around them. The effects of this are likely to include:

a)      Exacerbating the greenspace access inequalities highlighted during the COVID-19 lockdown

b)      Public money being spent without maximising the natural capital returns of the woodlands

c)       Reduced public support for spending public money on woodlands from which they are excluded

d)      A missed opportunity for woodlands to be integral to our post-COVID health recovery.

  1. We consider that new policies and guidance should address this through:

a)      Integration/alignment of the woodland creation grants with the Environmental Land Management system public access components

b)      Policy and guidance supporting well-managed woodland access and advice/support for woodland managers on managing access appropriately

c)       A review of the efficacy of the voluntary supplementary subsidy payments 

d)      A long-term approach to enhancing public access, supported by multi-annual payments to promote certainty for land managers and the public.


Auditing and compliance against a strengthened UK Forestry Standard

  1. Currently, the Forestry Commission administers grants for woodland creation and management but has no capacity for auditing to ensure that the landowner meets their legal obligations to keep public rights of way unobstructed. This falls to local highway authorities, which have undergone large budget cuts in recent years and may not be aware of the tree planting. 
  2. We hear that trees are being planted too close to paths and are either directly encroaching, or the canopies are closing over the paths, leading to encroachment of brambles etc; of degradation of the path surface if it is unable to dry out; and of fallen trees across paths. These obstructions disproportionately affect vulnerable users. People with reduced mobility will find it hardest to get around them and people from sections of society which are less comfortable and confident in the countryside are most likely to be put off. 
  3. Public subsidies are only effective and cost efficient for the taxpayer, and able to promote equality, if underpinned by consistent enforcement of robust regulatory standards.
  4. The UKFS currently requires the legal minimum in terms of public access provision and infrastructure. Anything further is purely voluntary. This should be strengthened so that it represents best practice for access provision and management, and it should be actively audited against for all woodlands in receipt of public subsidy.  The UKFS should include guidance on tree planting beside paths and rights of way, so that paths remain unobstructed and remedial costs for both paths and adjacent trees are reduced. 


November 2020