Can you go down to the woods today?

Date published: 06 November 2017

Eight hundred years ago today (6 November 1217) the Charter of the Forest granted ordinary people the right to access royal forests. This was the first step in a campaign spanning centuries seeking the legal guarantee of freedom for people to access England’s beautiful landscapes.

It may surprise you that today, only 38% of woodland in England is available for people to fully explore, compared to the UK average of 50%. And much of this 38% doesn’t have a permanent right of access, meaning it can be closed off at any time. In the North West 29% of people have access to a wood 2ha or bigger within 500m of their home, compared to the average of 18% for England.

A recent YouGov survey commissioned by the Ramblers revealed that people in the North West are most interested in seeing increased access to woods and forests over other types of land, so the Ramblers is asking people in the North West to sign its petition, which calls on the government to improve access to woodland.

Chief executive of the Ramblers, Vanessa Griffiths said: “The Ramblers has been leading the way in opening up access to the countryside for everyone, and we’ve come such a long way from the times when land would be reserved for the sole use of aristocracy.

“Until the year 2000, although blessed with stunning countryside in England and Wales, much of our land was closed off, even to those living on its doorstep. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act revolutionised this, opening up more than a million hectares for everyone to enjoy. Now we have the right to walk over many areas of mountain, moorland, heathland and down and common land, a right that people treasure.

“But what next? We know how people love to wander through their local woodlands, enjoying the peace and beauty, but not everyone has access to enjoy these simple pleasures. And, although the government pledged in 2013 to increase access to woodland, very little progress has been made. With compelling evidence that a walk in the woods can do wonders for wellbeing, we want to see this change.”

Walking in woodland has many proven benefits on health and wellbeing. Separate research shows that spending time in woodland has a positive impact on mental wellbeing and is an effective way of reducing stress. There’s also evidence to show that people feel more healthy and energetic when spending time in woodlands.

Stuart Maconie, president of the Ramblers added: “I’m proud to be president of an organisation that has been leading the way in increasing access to the countryside during the 82 years since its inception. It’s amazing to look back and see just how far we’ve come thanks to the Ramblers campaigning efforts and an overwhelming public will for opening up the countryside. But our job is not yet done.

“Today, on the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, we’re looking forward – thinking about the opportunities there will be over the next 800 years to allow people to make the most of the great outdoors.

“With the Ramblers most recent YouGov research showing that 18-24-year olds are using open access land more than any other age group, there’s clearly an appetite not only to maintain access to the countryside, but to increase it too, so the new generation of walkers can make the most of the freedom to explore.

“This anniversary really brings to life the long history of the struggle for greater access to the countryside, a mission that is very close to my heart. But what do people want for the next 800 years? Now is the time to help shape the future of access.”

The Ramblers is kicking off a nationwide debate, gathering thoughts from everyone on what they would like the future of access to look like for the next 800 years.

People are being asked to share their views by visiting:


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