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O’Neill announces public right of pedestrian access to forestry land

Forestry Minister Michelle O’Neill today announced that a public right of pedestrian access to Forest Service land will come into effect on 17 March 2013.
Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Announcing the new legislation, the Minister said: “This is an important step under the Forestry Act 2010. The public right of pedestrian access encapsulates in law the Assembly’s endorsement of our vision to promote the wider recreational and social use of the Department’s forest lands.

“Public access to open space is a valuable resource, it gives us opportunities for tourism, for sport, it helps us to take exercise and look after our health, and reminds us of our rural environment and heritage. The public right of pedestrian access will complement local government policies on recreation and access to the countryside.”

Also coming into force on the same date are The Forestry Land Byelaws (Northern Ireland) 2013. Explaining the purpose of the byelaws, the Minister said: “When we consulted on the byelaws in 2011 many people told us that they wanted as few restrictions on the access to forests as possible, they said that most people were prepared to use forests responsibly, and that they were prepared to take responsibility for their own safety.

“While I believe that some limitations are needed, to allow the Department to intervene when people behave irresponsibly, to protect the forests from damage and disease, and to provide for public safety when forestry operations create a hazard for the public, I also believe that the new Byelaws are a good balance between personal freedom and legal restrictions.”

The public will be able to exercise their public right of pedestrian access day or night unless the forest is closed for one of the reasons allowed in the byelaws. Dogs must be kept under control and in core recreational areas this will mean that they need to be kept on a lead. The byelaws recognise that some behaviour is likely to create annoyance to other forest visitors, they provide examples of unacceptable behaviour, and they allow forestry officials to remove people whose behaviour is unacceptable.

Concluding, the Minister said: “We value our public forests and the opportunity they give for informal access to open countryside. This legislation is an important step in moving the permissive access to Forest Service lands and the first Forest Parks enjoyed since the 1950’s to a legal right to be enjoyed responsibly by everybody.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The Forestry (2010 Act) (Commencement No. 2) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013 brings into effect the provisions under Section 31 of the Act relating to The Public Right of Access.
  2. The public Right of Access is subject to certain restrictions as set out in The Forestry Land Byelaws (Northern Ireland) 2013.
  3. The new public right of pedestrian access applies only to DARD forestry land. This land is managed by the Forest Service. Privately owned woodlands are not affected by the Order and the byelaws. Similarly, where the Forest Service occupies land under conditions which restrict public access agreed with the original landowner then the new legislation has no effect.
  4. There are over 100 Forest Service properties that provide way marked woodland walks. Pedestrians will have access to most of the 76,000ha of forestry land managed by the Forest Service. This land contains conifer and broadleaved plantations and natural woodlands and open space. Some of the lands are specially protected as nature reserves and historic landscapes, and the public right extends to most of these areas. All forests are certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council as being under sustainable management. Increasingly, access facilities are being provided and managed by the Forest Services’ operational partners from the public, charitable and private sectors. Like the Forest Service, those organisations may charge for services such as fees for car parking.
  5. Copies of the Commencement Order and the byelaws will be made available on the Department’s website.
  6. All media queries should be directed to the DARD Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or email: DARD Press Office.Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.