Local riders meet Friston Forest Rangers

A group of 19 local riders met up with the Forestry Commission to discuss the possibility of forming a mutually beneficial partnership. Cycle Seahaven and other local groups & businesses were represented.

One of the outcomes was the forming of an online forum where options and direction could be discussed with a far wider audience.

To express your views and concerns you can join the forum at this address: http://fristonmtb.forumotion.co.uk/

If you don’t fancy joining the forum then please contact andy.lock@cycleseahaven.org.uk with your views or concerns.

 

Minutes of the meeting

Meeting with Local MTB and Foresty Rangers 8th May 2013 Friston Forest Visitor Centre

Present: Mark Arno,  Marina Brigginshaw, Ian Bromley – Forestry, Leila Dawney – Highrollers, Mark Dawney – Highrollers, Nick Cole, Liam Harris, Kevin Head, Colin Homan, Harvey Homan, Nick Kelleher – Whipser Bikes, Gus Lock – Cycle East Sussex, Jamie Lynch – South East Mountain Biking, Dean McCartney, Ming (the merciless) – Sussex Muddy@rse, Philip o’Dwyer, Peter Rawlinson – Forestry, Chris Sparks, Mark Woodgate – Cycle Seahaven

Apologies: Sophie Anns, Lisa Bowell – Sussex Muddy@rse, Steve Carey, Edward Davidson-Bowman, Terry Edelston, Simon Godding – Cuckmere Cycles, Jors Man – Whisper Bikes, Jay McNally – Bespoke (Eastbourne)

Invited: The Facebook group FristonMTB (258 members at the time of writing) was the primary source of contact. This has been recognised as a limited medium for gathering interested parties and a better, more inclusive solution will be sought.

The meeting opened with introduction from Ian Bromley (FCE), the local ranger for Friston Forest. Ian outlined the reason for the meeting: to see if local riders would want to work with Forestry Commission (FCE).

Ian then explained the reasons why FCE would like to work with local riders: – FCE have a duty of care for all forest users (dog walkers, horse riders, walkers, husky trainers, …) – Ignoring the situation isn’t an option for such a large organisations such as FCE. – Apart from ‘Ignore’ the other option is to remove the trails/works. – The final option, preferred by FCE, is to engage with trail riders and builders, hence the meeting.

Ian then went on to say why some sort of recognised group would assist FCE: – there would be a single point of contact representing MTBers – sharing of information would be simpler (harvesting operations, events from MTB or other groups, access problems, confrontations…)

Peter Rawlinson (FCE) expanded on Ian’s introduction, and gave a brief outline of the new management structure. Friston Forest is now managed from Norfolk, in a ‘patch’ extending out from there to Oxford Brighton. Ian has responsibility from Friston and up as far as Gatwick.

Ian and Peter then gave examples where FCE worked with volunteer trailbuilders and a dedicated trails ranger (Thetford) to give the locals the ability to develop and maintain their trails.

A discussion was then had regarding liability for any local MTB group, i.e. who takes ultimate responsibility? Peter pointed out that litigation would automatically be directed at the organisation with the most money – that being the government funded FCE, rather than a local group of riders. Peter expanded on FCE’s duty of care and gave real examples of litigation against FCE in other forests. He also pointed out FCE’s ‘second to none’ record of successfully defending against claims where life changing incidents had occurred on FCE land.

Peter was keen to point out that any partnership (if at all) could be as formal or informal as the group desired. Examples were given of various partnerships with different levels of expectation and responsibility and that FCE were not looking to impose anything.

A lot of talk covered the expectations of local riders, namely to keep things pretty much as they are: to ride natural and built trails – official & unofficial, current & new. Two examples were given (by local riders) of sections that FCE might want to address – FourDrops and the DH run. Plenty of suggestions were made on how to address these, but FCE were keen to state that this would be a working partnership and dialogue would nearly always find a solution. The priority for now was to establish a channel for such dialogue.

Interaction with other forest users (walkers, equestrians, dog walkers) was discussed and examples given of possible conflict of interest. Local riders explained the steps already taken to engage with TROT (who manage the fee paying access to the forests for horse riders), whose main issue was the lack of clear signage throughout Friston Forest. There was strong support from those present for improved signage, which would clearly mark MTB trails/areas and would make it clear to other users (including MTB of different skill levels) to: be aware; take care; keep off.

FCE were quizzed regarding development of trails, including North Shore, the availability of heavy machinery and access to a budget. The response was that the level of development was dependent on the level of reposibility and formalisation that could be established by a partnership.

FCE have a ‘constraints map’, showing rare flora/fauna, Ancient monuments and New plantings. Any further development would have to be with consideration to this map.

There was some talk about the forest itself and how there is little in terms of restrictions of use due to conservation/ archeology etc.

FCE were asked about holding events and that there was no problem with that, the application of which would simply have to be assessed and approved by the FC. The process usually takes 8 weeks.

There was a brief discussion towards the end of the meeting about the “FourDrops” onto West Dean road. This has been identified by the FC as a dangerous area that needs addressing. Various options were explored and the discussion ended with a suggestion at this stage of an FCE notice simply warning riders of the danger.

There was general agreement that a representative group would be beneficial for all. It was pointed out that there are many who do not (and will not) have a Facebook account, which is a barrier to using the current Friston MTB account. An online forum was suggested, and strongly supported.

 

The next steps were discussed, and agreed:

– The attendees would exchange contact details and work out a way forward to creating a more formal group.
– FCE would assist in communication between local riders and FCE, other user groups and existing MTB groups working with FCE.
– There was general agreement that a representative group would be beneficial for all. It was pointed out that there are many who do not (and will not) have a Facebook account. An online forum was suggested, and strongly supported.
– Date of next meeting was not decided.