Savernake Forest Restrictions; Residents Say No!

Marlborough residents rally online to criticise Forestry England’s proposals for Savernake Forest. The questionable survey’s deadline has been extended to the 22nd of April, and a previously internal document called Savernake Forest – a Way Forward, has been published which suggests serious restrictions of access to the forest, in favour for paid parking facilities and a polarized vision for future usage.

“We are so privileged to have this beautiful and ancient forest on our doorstep,” one pleaded, “where we can freely wander where we wish. The Forestry Commission wish to change this. No vehicular access through the forest, paid parking for vehicles at Postern Hill and designated walking routes.”

Early one Sunday morning, mid-to-late nineties, and police arrive at a location off the Grand Avenue in Savernake Forest. They tell us the owner of the forest, Lord Cardigan, has reported a party. “But all we see is a few kids tidying up,” they observed with mirth, and went on their merry way. We carried on our labour, binbags in hand; we might’ve had a party, that much would be telling, but we were adamant we’d leave the forest as we found it, and mother nature would do its thing.

We did this because while we had our fun, we also respected the forest, and I don’t believe for one second any past or future generation’s youth would think any different. Long before it was “our” back garden, and I’d like to think long after, Savernake Forest has served tourists and residents alike, as a free, natural and muti-purpose attraction. It’s 4,500 acres, for crying out loud, you can have a party one end and folk can have a bike ride at the other and each be oblivious to what the others are doing!

Residents appear to take the opinion if it’s not broken, but Forestry England say “our Vision for Savernake is to nurture a shared forest unlike any other. By allowing the decisions we take to be guided by the natural potential of the land, as well as by the varied influences of our ever-changing world, we will create a diverse and inclusive forest that is a global example of what can be achieved through forward-thinking forestry.” Ah, yeah, sounds nice; when can we see it? NEVER!!

It continues to use environmental issues as a smokescreen to create a polarized plan restricting access to only the formal recreation facilities at Postern Hill.

Despite claiming the “popularity [of Postern Hill] is having a detrimental impact on the ecological values, and aesthetic values,” rather than continue the free access elsewhere to spread footfall out, the vision is for “Postern Hill being developed as the only visitor hub, where a new, larger car park (probably 300 to 350 spaces), is provided with proper toilets, play and café facilities. Leading out from the new car park would be a series of trails.” Naturally, this would be “coupled with the closure of the Grand Avenue, and indeed the rest of the Forest for vehicular access by visitors.”

Here’s the obvious clinch, the carpark will be a paid carpark, and herein the penny drops; this conservative value which seems to hate the concept no one is profiteering, even if it’s entirely natural. Similar misguided logic as the construction of a tax-funded yet chargeable mound at Marble Arch, or a tunnel under Stonehenge so one can’t see our wonder of the world unless one pays. The vision for Savernake Forest is rinsed with “spin, mis-information and claims masquerading as facts on a grand scale,” calls one local resident.

“The whole survey is worded in such a manipulative way,” suggests another Marlborough resident, “it can’t even be taken seriously! You can want all the things it tricks you into agreeing with without wanting to allow profiteering and restricted use of a beautiful local asset.”

One submits, “I’m sure the number of pheasant pens has increased in the last few years – does that count as diversity of wildlife? Certainly, a reason the Estate side that run them might be supportive and why they wouldn’t be keen on people walking around freely.” And on this, another speculates, “what they are up to is keep the public out so they can lease the bottom half of the Forest out for shooting and stalking deer.”

On several occasions the report points the finger at antisocial behaviour, that “the historic nature of the Grand Avenue, in terms of landscaped parkland; as well as the biodiversity and aesthetic values of the Forest are poorly served by the unregulated use of the Grand Avenue by the public for recreational access, anti-social activities and using the Avenue as a through route, or ‘rat-run’.” As if one can eradicate anti-social behaviour by banning everyone from a particular place it might just happen at.

One resident rightly points out the Grand Avenue is far from a sensible option as a rat-run, “more like a snail run,” they say, “as it takes three times as long driving through the Avenue as it does to drive round via Bedwyn or Burbage; it’s like these muppets have never visited the Forest!” And be safe in knowledge I agree, you really don’t want to race through Grand Avenue unless you want wrecked suspension and deer impact craters on your bodywork.

The lane is a beautiful drive, take it less than 20mph, find a place to stop, take a wander, have a picnic, that’s its purpose, and so should it continue to be. “As a resident of Marlborough for 64 years,” Barry tells me, “And a constant user of Grand Avenue, the idea of closing it is totally absurd and only being carried out for monetary gain by the commission. Their survey was, to say the least misleading, although I did highlight the removal of access should not be considered. The forest has been a lifesaver before, during and after lockdown, you only have to drive through it to see the amount of use it gets.”

Usage it might get, but the scale of it means it’s far from overcrowded. Steve expresses his concern to me, “the busiest part is at Postern, but even then, it’s not crowded. But with a car park and cafe it will be crazy. The rest of the forest is never busy, it’s mainly locals that walk in the less well-known areas. Of course, no one likes pollution from cars, but with Savernake being adjacent to two major roads the small amount of traffic on the grand avenue is like a piss in the ocean. I was bought up with the forest as our back yard; my mother who is 87 with early dementia and not very good mobility loves it when I take her in the car through the Avenue.”

Whatever their broken logic, it seems restriction of Savernake Forest, so dear to local residents is a detrimental supposition of liberty, “a lesson in how to alienate all green and nature followers,” suggested an online commentor. Another says “a project of this scale must be preceded by an Environmental Impact Analysis. I can’t find any evidence that one has been done. No EIA no planning consent.”

Please contact the Forestry Commission if you feel strongly about this. Every letter/email WILL help.


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