FORESTRY Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced that a public right of pedestrian access to Forest Service land will come into effect on 17 March 2013.
Announcing the new legislation, the minister said: “This is an important step under the Forestry Act 2010. The public right of pedestrian access encapsulates in law the Assembly’s endorsement of our vision to promote the wider recreational and social use of the department’s forest lands.
“Public access to open space is a valuable resource, it gives us opportunities for tourism, for sport, it helps us to take exercise and look after our health, and reminds us of our rural environment and heritage. The public right of pedestrian access will complement local government policies on recreation and access to the countryside.”
Also coming into force on the same date are The Forestry Land Byelaws (Northern Ireland) 2013. Explaining the purpose of the byelaws, the minister said: “When we consulted on the byelaws in 2011 many people told us that they wanted as few restrictions on the access to forests as possible, they said that most people were prepared to use forests responsibly, and that they were prepared to take responsibility for their own safety.
“While I believe that some limitations are needed, to allow the department to intervene when people behave irresponsibly, to protect the forests from damage and disease, and to provide for public safety when forestry operations create a hazard for the public, I also believe that the new Byelaws are a good balance between personal freedom and legal restrictions.”
The public will be able to exercise their public right of pedestrian access day or night unless the forest is closed for one of the reasons allowed in the byelaws. Dogs must be kept under control and in core recreational areas this will mean that they need to be kept on a lead. The byelaws recognise that some behaviour is likely to create annoyance to other forest visitors, they provide examples of unacceptable behaviour, and they allow forestry officials to remove people whose behaviour is unacceptable.
Concluding, the minister said: “We value our public forests and the opportunity they give for informal access to open countryside. This legislation is an important step in moving the permissive access to Forest Service lands and the first Forest Parks enjoyed since the 1950’s to a legal right to be enjoyed responsibly by everybody.”