Published at 12.00 noon on Tuesday 12 February 2013
Mrs O’Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development): Fáilte romhaimh.
I wish to advise Assembly members that from St Patrick’s Day, 17 March, the public will be granted a public right of pedestrian access to DARD forestry land.
Section 31 of the Forestry Act (NI) 2010 provides, subject to byelaws, for public right of pedestrian access. The Forestry (2010 Act) (Commencement No.2) Order (NI) 2013 will bring this section into force, along with The Forestry Land Byelaws (NI) 2013.
There is much to enjoy. There are over 100 Forest Service properties that provide way-marked woodland walks. Pedestrians will have access to most of the 76,000ha of forestry land managed by the Forest Service. This land contains conifer and broadleaved plantations and natural woodlands and open space. Some of the lands are specially protected as nature reserves and historic landscapes, and the public right extends to most of these areas.
This is undoubtedly an important step under the Forestry Act (NI) 2010. The public right of pedestrian access encapsulates in law our Assembly’s endorsement of our vision to promote the wider recreational and social use of the Department’s forest lands. Public access to open space is a valuable resource, it gives us opportunities for tourism, for sport, it helps us to take exercise and look after our health, and reminds us of our rural environment and heritage. The public right of pedestrian access will complement local government policies on recreation and access to the countryside.