Along with planting trees, one of the Heart of England Forest’s central aims is to encourage as many people as possible to discover its delights. Summer provides the perfect opportunity to catch the Forest in all its glory, and the network of footpaths throughout the woodland means that around every corner there’s a new discovery.
Many miles of footpaths to explore
Around the Forest’s Dorsington headquarters there are some 28 miles of waymarked routes. Elsewhere in the Forest there are networks of carefully delineated ‘permissive’ paths, most accessed from our dedicated car parks.
These trails, including five miles at Haydon Way Wood in Spernal and two miles at College Wood, Studley, have been mapped and established throughout newly planted, mature and ancient woodland, expressly to showcase the range of terrain, flora and fauna that make the Forest so special.
All of these routes are ‘permissive’ pathways. This means that, while the trails belong to the charity as the landowner, access to them is opened up to explorers with our permission.
Being permissive footpaths means that, on occasion, the Forest trails may be closed for the purposes of maintenance or our farming activities. They may be re-routed in the event that an area along them becomes a sensitive wildlife habitat. For legal purposes and to maintain the permissive rights, all of the Heart of England Forest’s permissive footpaths are closed to the public for at least one day of the year, usually in December.
Conversely, public rights of way (many of which are represented on Ordnance Survey mapping) are legally protected routes allowing the public continuous access throughout the year. At the Heart of England Forest we are fully aware that these public rights of way, for example the Heart of England Way at Spernal or Dorsington, criss-cross our waymarked trails and are careful to ensure that no access to these is restricted by our activities.
In return we ask that walkers using these public routes remain on them and respect the Forest ‘rides’ which are unplanted routes separating the woodland coppice. Mown several times a year, while the rides may look like paths, they are in fact important for forestry access, habitat variety and as fire breaks.
Opening more of the Forest for visitors to enjoy
With the health benefits of Forest roaming now well documented, the charity is keen to continue opening up new sections of Forest land to discover and enjoy. Plans are afoot for new ‘Ramble Routes’ that are slightly more ‘wild’ than the waymarked routes for more intrepid explorers to access. However there are many considerations when looking to increase access to the Forest.
Given that the Heart of England Forest covers many thousands of acres, it would be impractical to simply throw open the gates to all of the land. Some must be retained for farming, while other parcels, such as the more recently acquired land at Sheriff’s Lench, comprises rare calcareous grassland which requires sensitive management.
As access to the Forest increases, so too does the demand for infrastructure such as car parks, both from our visitors wanting convenient places to start a walk and also from our neighbours who can be inconvenienced by cars parking in gateways etc. This brings additional considerations for the charity such as planning permission, fear of anti-social behaviour and ongoing maintenance.
At a time when The Ramblers charity reports that almost a tenth of Britain’s 140,000 miles of walking routes are difficult or impossible to access through either blockages or disrepair, isn’t it heart-warming to know that the Heart of England Forest routes remain well maintained and open to all? Watch this space, because more will be opening soon.
Protecting and preserving the Forest
Happy habitats depend on responsible roamers. Find out how you can help us protect and preserve the natural beauty of the forest when you visit by reading our top tips.