Forestry Commission

In 2010, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced proposals to sell 258,000 hectares of Forestry Commission land. This was met with heavy public resistance and in February 2011, the then Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman decided to halt the sale and set up an independent panel of selected stakeholders to address issues of concern.

The Independent Panel on Forestry released their report in 2012 which proposed that the public forest estate should remain in public ownership, and that this should be reflected and defined in statute. The report acknowledged the health benefits associated with daily walks on the public forest estate as well as the financial significance of the estate which has been estimated to provide annual returns of £400 million.

In January 2013, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, David Health announced that the government supports the Panel's report's proposal and will be establishing a new public body to manage the public forest estate, which will have greater independence from government and freedom to manage its resources and income.

Dog Owners and Forestry Commission Land

In England, 66% of all accessible woodland is owned by the Forestry Commission (FC) which means that any proposed change to the status of the public forest estate could be potentially devastating unless the existing access provisions were to be protected through binding agreements. However, previous research has demonstrated that such agreements are unlikely to be completely effective. This concern is further exacerbated in that public access to privately owned woodland has a disproportionally poor record in securing and providing access.

Research commissioned by Natural England illustrates that one or more dogs accompany people on 48% of all visits to the countryside and green spaces illustrating the woodland's importance to the nation's 8 million dogs and the 15 million people who care for them. FC woodland is particularly important for walkers with dogs, as FC surveys indicate they are the single biggest, year-round visitor to their sites.

In addition, the sale of FC land may have a detrimental impact on dog sports such as husky racing and training as under any new sale without the protection of permissive access rights, there would be no guarantee of the new owners allowing sporting events to occur. As a consequence, this would leave a large number of Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes vulnerable as owners depend almost entirely on FC land for trails for the dogs' regular exercise and mental well-being.

Thus the FC's concession of generally allowing year-round, off-lead access for dog owners is exceptionally and uniquely valuable, as this reduces off-lead dog walking in more sensitive areas. Off-lead access is the single most important amenity for dog owners; it is also essential for allowing dogs to exhibit their natural behaviour, which owners have a duty to permit under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Kennel Club's Position

The Kennel Club welcomes the Minister's announcement of supporting the Panel report's proposal of retaining the forest estate in public ownership as well as the Panel's recognition of the various benefits associated with daily walks on the public forest estate and its positive impact on all access users.


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Responsible Dog Ownership Forestry Commission
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