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NEWS RELEASE No: 1648313 MARCH 2015

Forestry Commission England bucks the countryside trend with increase in visits

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Gruffalo Birthday

The Forestry Commission has recorded an average 11 per cent increase in visits to its main forest centres in England across 2014; marking a hugely successful year for forest tourism and its associated economic and social benefits.

The increase comes as a national survey shows that the number of people visiting the countryside has been decreasing in recent years*.

The Forestry Commission is the biggest provider of countryside leisure visits in England, with 2,500km of walking and cycling trails on the public forest estate – the distance from Land’s End to John O’ Groats and back again.

2014 saw Forestry Commission England team up with the creators of The Gruffalo to host sculptures and two activity trails across the Public Forest Estate.

The first Gruffalo trail alone attracted over 1.2 million visits. For many of these visitors, this was their first time visiting a Forestry Commission site.

Visits to Forestry Commission England woods and forests help to support more than 70 businesses and organisations; from camping and cabins sites, to cycle hire, cafes, restaurants, Friends groups and learning providers.

Ian Gambles, Forestry Commission England Director, comments:

“England’s public forests have never offered more to people, business and the environment. 

“We work with a wide range of organisations to continue to improve our visitor offer. This partnership investment has included major upgrades to visitor facilities at The National Arboretum at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire, Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest in Kent, Alice Holt in Surrey and Dalby in Yorkshire.

“Through continued partnership fundraising, 2015 will see the creation of a Treetop Walkway at The National Arboretum at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, encouraging visitors to view trees from a whole new perspective.”

Visitors can now choose from seven Forest Holidays cabins sites across the Public Forest Estate in England, contributing around £30,000 per cabin to local economies every year.

In 2014, over 206,000 people pitched tents or stayed in their own caravans and motorhomes with Camping in the Forest.

Go Ape, who run Tree Top Adventure, Forest Segway, Tree Top Junior and Zip Trekking Adventure activities, has also reported record visitor numbers in 2014.

Innovative ways of encouraging new visitors to discover woods and forests continues for 2015, with trails and activities for Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s hugely popular children’s story Superworm coming to over 20 sites. The trail has been developed to link the characters and themes of the story with woods and forests and to provide fun and educational activities for children of a broad age range.

The Forestry Commission has also been working hard to meet the environmental and ecological requirements expected of England’s largest landowner. With 67,000 acres of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in the organisation’s care, stewardship of the environment remains a critical part of its role. By area, 99.5% of these SSSIs are in favourable or recovering condition.

Ian Gambles continues:

“Of course, we must maintain the right balance between demand for visitor facilities and maintaining the tranquil, special nature of our woods and forests that draws people to our sites.

“Our many wildlife successes in 2014 include action to sustain and expand populations of the ladybird spider, the rare white faced darter dragonfly, and 10 osprey fledglings in the north of England.”

More information about visiting woods and forests in England can be found at


Notes to editors

1. The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Further information can be found at The rise in average visitor numbers across 16 key forest centres in 2014 was from 4.1m to 4.6m.

2. Go Ape is the UK's number one Forest Adventure with 54 activities UK wide including Tree Top Adventure, Forest Segway, Tree Top Junior and Zip Trekking Adventure. Go Ape recorded visitor numbers of more than 820,000 to its 28 UK sites in 2014. The company achieved an increase in turnover of 28 per cent from 2013 to £18.2m.More Info: or contact

3. Forest Holidays is a joint venture Public/Private Partnership that originally came into being in May 2006 through a competitive tender process. It is now co-owned by The Forestry Commission and Lloyds Banking Group and currently owns nine cabin sites on Forestry Commission land in some of the most stunning forest locations in Great Britain. The company operates entirely within the Forestry Commission estate, and has a 125-year lease on the land on which the sites are based.

4. Camping in the Forest operates entirely within the Forestry Commission Estate and provides Camping holidays at 16 stunning locations in England, Scotland and Wales. Camping in the Forest is a partnership between the Forestry Commission and The Camping and Caravanning Club. Further information can be found at

5. *Natural England Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment 2013-14 annual results.

6. Media Contact: Katrina Podlewska, Forestry Commission England Senior PR and Partnerships Officer, or 0300 0674030.