Update: Two further talks about the Future of the Ashdown Forest have been arranged. One online on Thursday 11th November and the other on Monday 29th November in Uckfield.
A six-week public consultation regarding proposed car parking charges on the Ashdown Forest launches today (26th October).
The Conservators of Ashdown Forest are considering the introduction of the parking charges from Spring/Summer next year. An annual pass would cost in the order of £80 to £100.
The Forest is experiencing a significant funding shortage made worse by increasing numbers of visitors and the extra pressure on the land during the pandemic.
Their new Chief Executive James Adler who started in January explained that the Forest is struggling financially and the problem will get worse:
We’ve got a deficit of around ninety thousand pounds this year. When we look at our modelling, that goes up to a quarter of a million pounds in the next four years.James Adler, CEO Ashdown Forest
In the past East Sussex County Council made up the deficit. Due to the financial strain they are experiencing they are no longer able to cover it.
What we really want to do is work with the County Council to find a way to as much as possible have the Forest standing on its own two feet, and not just in the poor condition that it’s in at the moment, but improving over time.James Adler, CEO Ashdown Forest
Ashdown Forest has 47 car parks and many are in a rough poor state of repair. The funding is vital to repair car parks, and restore access tracks, repair bridges and many other requirements.
They are considering a cashless system. There will be parking meters in only the busiest car parks but visitors will be able to pay via a mobile phone app. An alternative “day pass” is also under consideration. They are also thinking about an annual pass for regular users of the Forest. Charges would apply from 6am until midnight, 7-days per week.
Wardening of car parks will be undertaken by a commercial car park operator.
In the Proposed Business Case, they have projected revenues using three levels of tariff:
However their analysis shows the lowest charge would not deliver a net profit, once the costs to run a scheme are deducted.
James categorically denied that parking charges were being considered as a means to control visitor number. Wealden District Council have introduced SANGS like Walshes Park, alternative green space to attract dog walkers, in order to protect the Forest from exhaust fumes from increased traffic:
No, we were not looking to discourage people from coming here. It is as simple as that. But we do know that the vast majority of people who come here at the moment are not making any contribution to the management of the Forest, which is our challenge.
Crowborough Life asked James whether he was concerned that by introducing changing in the car parks, some people will instead leave their vehicles on local roads.
Indeed, it’s a it’s a risk; and obviously we do not manage the highways. You’ll be aware that there is some discussion between District Council and Sussex Police around the enforcement [of parking] on highways across the district. That’s obviously a bigger conversation than Ashdown Forest, but all of those agencies are aware of what we are planning. We have discussed it with them. And the challenges is how do they manage that, if that becomes an issue.
Our car parks have the capacity to cope with the number of visitors who would visit the Forest, we’ve seen that through the lockdown. That means that it will be people trying to avoid a charge and that will be a great shame.James Adler, CEO Ashdown Forest
The Ashdown Forest has 10 full-time equivalent members of staff to manage 2,500 hectares. James said a comparable site up at Malvern Hills has 16 full-time equivalents for approximately half the size.
The team have to do a huge amount from clearing-up fly tips, dealing with dog attacks, helping people who are lost, as well as doing all the statutory duties that we have on the Forest. So we are a very small staff team for managing a visitor attraction of one and a half million people a year.
Are we always as efficient as I’d like us to be? Not yet, but we will be. But I know that we can’t find a hundred or two-hundred thousand of pounds worth of efficiencies within our budget. The idea that we’re managing a site of this size with a budget of present about under a million pounds is not tenable in my opinion.James Adler, CEO Ashdown Forest
The Ashdown Forest Foundation was established, as the charitable arm of The Conservators, to fundraise to ensure the best possible future for the Forest. Visitors can buy a car sticker for £25 to support the Forest. It features ‘Lucifer’ their four-horn Hebridean ram.
A big anniversary is coming-up in 2026. The 14th October will be the hundredth anniversary of the publication of the first collection of Winnie-the-Pooh stories. James is anticipating a large number of visitors, but he explained there will also be an opportunity to explain how the rare heathland habitat needs managing:
We will have many people who will never been to the Forest before, who don’t understand that it’s vulnerable and fragile, and needs care.
We mustn’t waste this four to five years that we’ve got coming up. We need to build a wide range of partners who can work with us, we need to look near and far for supporters for the Forest, which is something that the Foundation are really looking at.
And how can we work with local people and those from further afield to really push that momentum behind looking after this place? Because when you look at the pictures from Cotchford Farm when Milne was writing the books, there aren’t any trees, you know, you can’t see a single tree really between his house and up to Gills Lap with with the clump at the top. And that’s that’s what the stories were written about. It’s that landscape. And when you look, here we are many years later on, it’s radically changed.
We just have the advantage that one of the world’s most famous children’s book was written on the Forest. And we should tell that story alongside our management story.James Adler, CEO Ashdown Forest
Since the 1940s the proportion of woodland has dramatically increased from around 7% to 40%.
The Forest was featured on the BBC local news yesterday. With the United National Climate Change Conference (COP26) starting at the weekend, they took the opportunity to talk about the peat bogs on the Forest and how they “lock-up” carbon.
As part of the consultation, four public meetings are being held. Around 100 people turned-up to the first one in Withyham last night. James explained that one of the issues that came-up was whether the Forest could be compartmentalised to manage the various competing requirements:
There is a fundamental tension for, for every land manager, where public access is allowed, between wanting people and encouraging people to really enjoy being in these places and use them so that they get something from them.
It’s was absolutely vital for people’s mental and physical health through the lockdown. And then at the same time, we have the statutory duty to care for the incredibly rare internationally protected habitats and species,
We do have some advantages on the Forest, in that it is very big. We have 47, car parks, and they are relatively concentrated in certain areas, which means there are parts of the Forest that are quieter.James Adler, CEO Ashdown Forest
The talk in Crowborough is on Wednesday 3rd November at Crowborough Community Centre. It starts at 7.30pm.
The questionnaire and further information about the proposed charges can be found on their website: www.ashdownforest.org. The consultation ends on Monday 6th December 2021.