Fines Proposed On Night-Time Forest Users

A Spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) said, “The Forest Service has proposed daylight access hours on grounds of health and safety and the practicalities of the ‘on the ground’ management and enforcement. “Indeed such opening and closing times are a widespread feature of byelaws for urban and country parks. This is certainly not a blanket prohibition and we will listen carefully to stakeholders’ views emerging from the consultation, before making any decisions.” Camping permission will also be required from DARD for anyone wishing to use forestry land for recreational use. Camp sites must also only ever be erected in designated camping areas provided permission is granted. Similar restrictions will be placed on alcohol consumption in forestry land areas. The Byelaws, however, will not prevent responsible drinking in designated areas such as caravan sites or picnic areas. Caro-lynne Ferris of the Board of Countryside Recreation Northern Ireland and the Officers of CAAN said, “Whilst we acknowledge that the Forest Service require byelaws to ‘promote responsible enjoyment of forestry land and help ensure the safety of all visitors and users and sustainability of the forest, environment, wildlife and habitats’, our overriding comment to the consultation was that many of the byelaws could never be enforced by the Forest Service with its existing level of resource. “We also stressed the importance that the byelaws are not used by Forest Service to reduce in any way the existing recreational use made of the forest estate. “Unfortunately, the byelaw about sunset/sunrise as it currently stands will significantly impact on the existing recreational use made of the forest estate.” [caption id="attachment_25118" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Mountain Biking will be more heavily restricted"][/caption] In response to persons being restricted to cycling in areas specifically designated for such activity, Caro-Lynne Ferris added, “Research carried out for SportNI in 2009 by CAAN showed that cycling takes places in over 80 different venues across Northern Ireland, the majority of which are Forest Service sites.” The Board of Countryside Recreation have asked for an explanation from the Forest Service concerning the functionality of this byelaw. “We have asked for an explanation from Forest Service has to how it sees this bye-law working? Is the Forest Service recommending that areas will be zoned for cycling within all forests? “We would question how this could be achieved without a detailed Recreational Plan done for each forest to assess what areas of the forest would be more suitable for cycling than others and how this activity would fit into the wider recreational use of the forest.  How would this zoning be communicated at all forests currently used for cycling?” The proposed byelaws seen by many as “draconian” have also received criticism when contrasted to Scottish and English tourist offices which promote outdoor recreation activity such as mountain biking with virtually no restrictions. Concerns have been raised that any restrictions on forestry land may in fact generate a poor economic outcome. Stena have also offered mountain bikers fron Northern Ireland an incentive with an attactive package to visit Scotland, and the conclusion is that there is a lack ofj oined up departmental thinking at the Assembly. This could have been teased out better at Committee level. Now tourism is to play second fiddle to economic development and forestry. This will have a significant imact on visitors to the Mournes.]]>