The Forestry Commission provides a wide range of recreational facilities and opportunities for over a million visitors each year to woodlands across the North East of England, Cumbria and North Lancashire.
The key sites in Cumbria are:
- Whinlatter Forest in the North Lakes near Keswick, attracts over 200,000 visitors a year to the 1200 hectare site. Rising to over 790 metres, Whinlatter is known as England's only 'mountain forest' and is a central component to the Lake District tourist offer. The forest has walking trails of varying lengths to suit all abilities including the Whinlatter WildPlay trail, a unique play trail for children. The Altura and Quercus trails have put mountain biking on the map in the Lake District and those with a head for heights can swing through the trees on the Go-Ape course.
- In the South Lakes, Grizedale Forest attracts around 250,000 visitors. It was the UK's first forest for sculpture and is now home to over 50 installations. Art Roots Grizedale is a major new commissioning programme designed to reinvigorate Grizedale Forest as a centre of international excellence for art in the environment. Grizedale Forest is a centre for mountain biking, from family routes to black grade, and hosts a variety of walking trails varying in length from 1 mile to 10 miles. A recent three year project has reintroduced Red Kites to Grizedale to help establish a population in the north west.
The key areas in the North East are:
- Kielder Forest in the North Tyne Valley, where there are 50000 hectares of woodlands, a forest visitor centre at Kielder Castle and a number of walks, cycle trails, picnic places, a forest classroom and a forest drive. Visitors to Kielder Water & Forest Park are split between day visitors from Tyneside, and holidaymakers from as far afield as SE England and continental Europe. Latest estimates of visitors per annum to the park is just over 350,000 visits
- Hamsterley Forest in Co Durham is a 2000 hectare woodland and the busiest recreation area in the forest district. Visitors are largely day trippers from Wearside and Teeside. At Hamsterley there is a small visitor centre and shop, a forest classroom, a range of walking and cycling trails and a forest drive. Latest estimates of visitors per annum to Hamsterley Forest is just over 170,000 visits
- Chopwell Woodland Park in Tyne and Wear is a woodland of some 350 hectares which is very much an urban recreational area with most of the 180,000 visitors being local residents enjoying the woods for walking, cycling and horse riding. Chopwell also has a forest classroom.
The Forestry Commission in the North of England provides a wide range of facilities for visitors. Charges are made at Grizedale, Whinlatter, Kielder and Hamsterley for car parking. There are visitor centres at each of these sites with an interpretive display, cafe, bike hire and toilet facilities. Access to the visitor centres is free as is the use of walking, cycling and horse riding trails. Many of our walking and cycling trails leaflets describing the routes are available from the visitor centres.
Walking – There is open access for walkers on all Forestry Commission land and this is by far the most popular recreational activity. For those who prefer to follow waymarked trails the area has a large number of trails designed to meets all needs from short walks around 1km suitable for families with young children to demanding routes up to 20km for the keener walkers.
Cycling – The fastest growing user group on Forestry Commission land. Forest tracks provide ideal conditions for mountain bikers. Access along most tracks is allowed although there may be some restrictions due to timber harvesting. There are purpose built singletrack trails at Kielder, Hamsterley, Whinlatter, Grizedale and Gisburn (N Lancs). Kielder Water & Forest Park has a full range of mountain bike trails from green graded easy cycling through to orange extreme bike park for extreme riding. As with walking a range of waymarked trails are available to suit all needs.
Horse Riding – The Forestry Commission agreed a concordat with the British Horse Society in 1999 allowing open access to a number of woodlands. Most woods, which are owned freehold by the Forestry Commission, are open for horse riding.
Whinlatter is home to the Lake District Osprey Project which runs from April to September and the Friends of Whinlatter volunteers, numbering almost 200, help out with a broad range of activities including tree planting, family events and trail building.
The 'Wild Ennerdale' project in NW Lakes is a partnership project with the National Trust, United Utlilities and Natural England to promote wild land restoration of Ennerdale. Community involvement is an essential part of this process and volunteering opportunities have been created to help manage the wildscape.
In Chopwell Wood, Slaley Forest and Wooler Common there are local ‘friends of’ groups run jointly by local people and Forestry Commission staff. The aims of these groups vary, but the outcome is improvements in facilities for the local woodland users.
At Kielder, along with Northumberland Council and Northumbrian Water, the Forestry Commission is a major contributor to the ‘Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust’ whose aim is to promote and market the Kielder area and to raise funds to improve the facilities and marketing in order to increase visitor numbers. This has a local spin off in the creation of jobs and bringing money into the local economy.