The discussion on the future of the visitor facilities at Birchden Wood ran from 2 December 2013 to 10 January 2014. The now closed discussion is still available to view online where the highest rated and most commented on ideas can be easily filtered and viewed.
- There were a total of 1,529 hits on the main discussion page, approximately 959 of them unique. The latter figure is a good indicator of the number of people who followed the conversation while the dialogue was open.
- Of the people who visited the discussion homepage, three quarters (75%) went on to visit other pages within the dialogue, e.g. specific idea pages, indicating a higher level of interest.
- The average time spent on each of the dialogue pages (the homepage and individual idea pages) was 1 minute 33 seconds.
For illustrative purposes only we’ve produced a graphical overview of the discussion to provide a simple breakdown of the ideas discussed, the interest groups involved and where the strongest views were expressed.
Around 35 people attended a Drop In session at Groombridge Village Hall and 38 parents and children took part in a craft activity and free tree session at Crowborough Library. The activities were held to raise awareness of the online discussion.
We received one written letter from a local resident in support of the toilets being kept open as a facility for visitors and to help promote tourism to the area. A copy of this letter (with personal information removed) is available on request.
Our conclusions and proposed next steps
The toilet block
The overriding consensus was that the toilet block should be kept open for the benefit of all visitors to Birchden Wood and Harrison’s Rocks. While this was supported by a variety of discussion participants, the largest interest group were climbers. It was particularly significant to this group as the camp site is dependent on the toilet block. Harrison’s Rocks is an important climbing site in the south of England, climbers travel to use Harrison’s Rocks and depend on the car park, campsite and toilet.
Local visitors and residents felt the toilet was important to visiting groups such as schools and tourists. There was concern regarding the mess that occurred when the toilets weren’t available.
See the graphical overview of the discussion for a participant profile.
Management and maintenance
The challenge of keeping the toilet block, campsite and car park managed and maintained was recognised by a majority of contributors to the discussion which helped generate constructive ideas.
There was some discussion around membership for use of facilities. The consensus, though, was that use of the campsite and facilities should be for everyone. Birchden Wood, where the facilities are located, is part of the Public Forest Estate and has public access, which would restrict a membership scheme being implemented.
There was acceptance that in order to keep the facilities open some form of income generation or charging for use would be required.
There was support for a certain level of development to generate income to maintain the facilities but commercial development on a large scale was felt to be out of character for the area.
Management of the facilities by another organisation
There were a number of ideas on the facilities being managed by another organisation such as a business, the parish council or a community group.
Community management was one of the most popular themes and an idea posted to discuss a Community Interest Company generated the largest number of comments and highest rating.
See graphical overview of the discussion for a breakdown of the main ideas and ratings.
Other key points
- Participants highlighted the importance of the site in raising awareness of the natural environment and promoting exercise and sport.
- Concerns were raised at the Drop In session by local residents. regarding the risk of cars parking on the road if parking charges are too high.
- A number of comments noted that the campsite was a memorial to Julie Tullis and there was a Julie Tullis fund. Julie and Terry Tullis were know for their support of school groups, disadvantaged children and disabled individuals at the rocks and hoped this would be considered as part of the sites future.
Proposed next steps
The overall consensus was that the facilities should remain open, there was understanding that revenue needs be raised to fund their operation and maintenance and it was understood that the Forestry Commission are not currently resourced to support this undertaking.
The options highlighted within the discussion were for the FC to facilitate the operation and maintenance of the facilities through either a community group or through an appropriate business enterprise. The Forestry Commission accepts this as a potentially viable solution and we will now establish a process for how we select the best and most appropriate partnership to secure the most viable future for the toilet block and campsite. We expect to be able to provide details on this process by the 14th February 2014.
The discussion was widely promoted via the following channels:
1. This poster was sited around Groombridge, Crowborough, Tunbridge Wells and in Birchden Wood while the discussion was live.
2. We directly contacted the following groups, notifying them of the discussion when it commenced, providing a poster, discussion link and background information:
Climbing organisations, groups and businesses. This included the British Mountaineering Council, Bowles, Evolution Climbing and Nuts 4 Climbing.
The Kent High Weald Partnership and Ashdown Forest as providers of local information and shared interest groups.
Bike and walking groups which included the Crowborough Mountain Bike Collective and High Weald Ramblers
Local community centres, schools, churches, pubs and libraries
Individuals and groups already involved or with an interest, which included the Harrisons Rocks Management Group, Withyham Parish Council and a petition started by local climbers.
Other national organisations with an interest which included The Princes Trust and Scout Association.
3. At the start of the discussion this press release was sent to a wide range of local and special interest media groups.
4. The Forestry Commission carried out 2 activities local to Birchden Wood to raise awareness of the online discussion.
5. An evening drop-in session was held at Groombridge Community Centre so:
the public could see the online discussion on a laptop and receive guidance on how to log on and use the site
and to raise awareness of the ideas that had been posted online.
A Free Tree and Family Activity session was held in partnership with Crowborough Library which ran a Stickman story and craft session and gave away free trees with information and encouragement to take part in the discussion.
The two activities were well attended, which was largely down to the efforts of local people, Withyham Parish Council and interest groups who worked hard on promotion, for which we offer our thanks.