South East Wales

Petition calls for Cwmcarn Forest Drive to reopen

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Media captionThe larch trees are being replaced with different species to minimise the risk of disease

More than 1,000 people have called on the Welsh Government to intervene with funding to ensure a popular scenic drive reopens next year.

Cwmcarn Forest Drive in Caerphilly county closed to cars in 2014 as contractors cut down thousands of larch trees to prevent the spread of disease.

Natural Resources Wales, which is replanting 170,000 trees, can only reopen if it is "managed differently".

The Welsh Government acknowledged the concerns.

But officials said it "made sense" to await the results of a feasibility study due to be commissioned.

About 860 hectares (2,125 acres) of the site was covered with larch trees, which, like many across Europe, had succumbed to dieback disease, Phytophthora ramorum.

Contractors are half way through the felling operation to remove the affected trees to stop the spread of the disease, but will continue to cut down larch in other areas until 2020.

Special machinery and zip-lines have had to be employed to remove the trees from a challenging terrain.

Work is now underway to plant 170,000 new trees to replace those felled since 2014.

A mixture of species including oak, pine and conifers will replace the larch there were at Cwmcarn Forest Drive.

A mix of oak, pine and conifer species are now being planted in their place.

It is hoped different species, grown from seeds taken from the wider area, might be more resistant to climate change and other diseases.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said, while walking and mountain biking trails have re-opened, it does not have the budget to do the same with the area's scenic drive.

When it was last open, motorists were charged a fee to use the seven mile (11km) route with stunning views of the valley, but it ran at a loss and has remained closed since felling began in 2014.

Image caption NRW's Sally Tansey said a feasibility study would be carried out this summer

Sally Tansey, from NRW, said a feasibility study to be commissioned this summer would look at how the wider area might be managed differently to bring in more money, which could subsidise the drive.

"For the first time we're actually looking in an open-book way at the assets that we've got, the assets that Caerphilly County Borough Council have got - they've got the visitor centre and camping sites, we've got the forest drive," she said.

"It's the first time we've looked at whether someone could make better use of those assets if somebody was to manage them all together."

Rob Southall, chairman of the Friends of Cwmcarn Forest Drive campaign group, said, while he understood NRW's financial position, the drive was important for older and disabled people to enjoy the "gorgeous scenery".

More than 750 people have signed an online petition and a further 300 on a paper petition calling for it to reopen by Easter 2018.

"A thousand people have put themselves forward to say 'we would like this open to the public' so let's get the Welsh Government to actually do something about it," he said.

A Welsh Government spokesman said management of the forest drive was a decision for Natural Resources Wales.

"We appreciate the local community's concerns but believe it makes sense to wait for the outcome of the work that NRW and Caerphilly CBC are undertaking," he added.

Image caption Rob Southall believes the Welsh Government should act

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