One of the woodland I regularly travel could in some ways be described as unremarkable. It has no historic trees or tales to fill the mind and due to being used for timber harvesting it has an overly high proportion of conifers when compared to a natural english wood. However it is enjoyed by walkers, cyclists, horse riders, photographers, birdwatchers and occasionally bushcrafters.
A few years ago it was considered for development by the Forestry Commission. As you could imagine this was of concern to people living in the nearby villages and on the edges of the wood itself. One local man organised a meeting at a nearby village hall and invited local councilors and asked if a representative from the Forestry Commission would attend.
A few days later I found myself sitting at the back of this meeting listening to the various points and debates being raised and watching the personalities involved to read their unsaid intent. Many of the locals were concerned that the wood would become a "McDonalds" wood, making reference to another Nottinghamshire wood where bikes could be hired, adventure courses had been built and you could park and enjoy all these for a fee. All well and good if you want to take little Johnny and his pals for a fun afternoon, but not so great if you want to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet or if you don't have enough money to pay for the activities or the parking. One of the other residents told us of his issues with anti-social behaviour in the wood, and of him and his son being propositioned one evening by people using the wood for illicit activities. I know such activities do occur in that wood from time to time, but I have walked that wood at night for nearly nine years and found such people have left me well alone. The local councilor was an interesting figure and her tones and delivery easily gained the support of the locals, I am however a cynical type and wondered how much she took from the support and the deeper or even subconscious motives behind her eloquence.
In short, it seemed that despite some issues with people in the wood, local residents seemed happy to have a place to walk and that the wood was a valued space. The Forestry Commission seemed to have been looking for a test piece for small woodland development and found on the whole that the locals were actually quite happy with what they had already. Reading between the lines I had the feeling that the Forestry Commission was under pressure to make more revenue from the woodlands.
The development never took place and aside from some trees being harvested and other replanted the wood is still as it was. It seems that the desire to make money out of our woodland areas is still being driven along with the sale of the issues and problems that currently dwell on public land. After looking at the defra map for the proposed forest sell off, it seems my local wood is marked for sale to small commercial developers. If it was to be sold off, I would assume that the couple of public footpaths that run through the wood would be retained, but the smaller tracks and trails would not have such rights. It is these smaller tracks that most of the woodland users enjoy and are the key to finding the peace and quiet that many seek there.
As the population and its demands grow, we are in danger of turning our countryside into a giant domestic farm. Space and wilderness is needed to keep in touch with nature and put things into perspective. I have no intentions of paying more money to walk safe paths of a commercial adventure walk or see forests turned into nothing more than plantations and crops.