Ramblers Win Countryside Access Reprieve

Countryside ramblers may still be able to be access NI's picturesque landscape around the clock after it was reported this week that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Minister, Michelle O'Neill had backed down over a proposal to bar access after sunset.

The Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson has welcomed what she claimed was a climb-down by the DARD Minister over a number of proposed forestry by-laws.

"I am sure that many people will be pleased to hear that the Minister has now decided to take a less draconian approach to implementing her forestry bye-laws, not least in relation to the ridiculous proposal to close forests between sunset and sunrise," she said, on Tuesday.

Over the summer, DARD's Forest Service was working with a range of stakeholders and partners in reviewing existing legislation, but added: "The Forest Service has proposed daylight access hours on grounds of health and safety and the practicalities of on-the-ground management and enforcement."

The 'Consultation on Forestry Land Byelaws' came on foot of a bid to change legislation under the Forestry Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 and will replace the Forest Parks and Forest Recreation Areas Byelaws (Northern Ireland) 1979.

But DARD's draft Byelaws led to a protest online which continued to gather momentum over the law that would severely impact on access to the countryside.

Social networking was initially harnessed by ramblers and other countryside lovers to oppose the planned law on the grounds that it would ban anyone from being on Forestry Service land from dusk to dawn - without exception.

In less than 24 hours, 'Fight fining us for being in a forest after dark in Northern Ireland' had over 200 facebook friends and soon stood at more than 500, with the bid to change the regulation labelled "heavy handed" by country lovers.

Now, it looks like there has been a U-turn on the issue with the Ulster Unionist Party politician adding that those who had responded to the consultation had roundly criticised this proposal as being overly harsh and are therefore pleased that the Minister has taken on board suggestions.

"Just a few weeks ago we heard that a number of the proposals had been dropped by DARD following extensive and detailed responses to the consultation.

"These included the totally impractical proposal to restrict fishing in forestry land," said Jo-Anne Dobson.

"However a number of areas which, despite receiving a significant number of objections remain under consideration, including the prohibitive proposal to ban cycling in forests, other than in designated areas and the strict proposal on the lighting of a fire or stove in a forest.

"It appears that decisions on these and other outstanding issues are not now be taken until into the New Year - we await the Minister's proposals with interest," she said.

Speaking today, DARD Minister O'Neill said: "Forests offer great potential for recreation and leisure pursuits, tourism and sport and demand for such provision is on the increase."

She added: "The recent consultation on proposed Forestry byelaws drew a wide range of responses.

"Many of these pointed to a need to adopt less restrictive byelaws and suggested that most visitors behave responsibly both in relation to providing for their own safety, and their attitude towards other forest users.

"In light of this, I intend to relax the proposed restriction on night-time use by pedestrians, to allow the continued use of forest roads and paths after dark.

"I will be raising this matter with the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in the coming weeks," she concluded.

See: Hundreds Sign Up To Oppose Rambler Bylaw


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