Somerset campaigners get charity-owned woodland access

Hazel Manor Estate, near Ubley in the Mendips
Image caption A five-year campaign to gain access to charity-owned woodland has resulted in the opening of new paths

New footpaths are to be opened through charity-owned woodland in Somerset following a five-year campaign.

The Will Woodlands Trust, which owns the Hazel Manor Estate, near Ubley in the Mendips, has agreed to open new permissive footpaths on its land.

Ken Wilkinson, from Campaign for Public Access, said he was pleased but it had taken the charity nearly a decade "to fulfil its contract" and allow access.

The paths are expected to be open by the end of August 2012.

In 2001, as part of a woodland grant scheme, the Forestry Commission agreed to support "the creation of more than 200 hectares of new woodland" on the estate.

"In 2008 we became aware the concerns of local people about the permissive access being provided by Will Woodlands to the Hazel Manor Estate," a Forestry Commission spokesperson said.

"In discussions between Will Woodlands and the Forestry Commission it became apparent that different interpretations were being put on the access paragraphs in the woodland grant scheme agreement and associated environmental impact assessment."

According to campaigner Mr Wilkinson, under the terms of the Forestry Commission grant, the charity "was obliged to create public access to the land".

"The lawyers for Will Woodlands argued that 'creation of access' did not necessarily mean 'provision of access'," he said.

"But they wanted a negotiated settlement, which we now have, and the vast bulk of the land will now be available for public enjoyment."

In a statement, the Forestry Commission said it was "satisfied that the opening of these footpaths will give access of broadly equivalent value to that which we envisaged in the Environmental Statement which was prepared as part of the grant application process."

The Will Woodlands Trust was unavailable for comment.

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