Row over future public access to Savernake Forest in Wiltshire

The Earl of Cardigan, owner of Savernake Forest. Credit: ITV West Country

A row has broken out about public access to Savernake Forest in Wiltshire.

Forestry England - which leases the ancient 4500-acre woodland near Marlborough - wants to restrict cars to a paying car park at one end and keep walkers to marked trails.

The plans have met strong opposition from David Brudenell-Bruce, Earl of Cardigan - the 31st generation of his family to own Savernake Forest.

He told ITV News the plan would effectively make large sections of forest inaccessible to the public.

He said: "I'm appalled that the public - who have been able to enjoy this forest for hundreds of years - are going to be told that the only way to come in is to going to a paying car park and walk from there."

David Brudenell-Bruce, 31st Hereditary Warden of Savernake Forest. Credit: ITV West Country

The Earl of Cardigan argued families and older people in particular would not be able to reach large parts of the forest if they were banned from driving into it, and added it would amount to a 'mass ban' on families.

Currently, the public can walk through most of Savernake and drive their cars along several avenues and tracks.

But laying out its plans in a document entitled Savernake Forest, A Way Forward, Forestry England describes the current free-roaming arrangements as damaging to the ecology and 'aesthetic values' of the forest.

Instead, Forestry England proposes restricting parking to the Postern Hill Car Park, south of Marlborough town centre.

Public vehicle access to the rest of the forest would be banned, and walkers and cyclists would be signposted along trails and away from certain areas.

At the moment there are no way-marked trails and most of the forest is publicly accessible.

Savernake Forest is well over 1000 years old. Credit: ITV West Country

In response, Forestry England told us that there is no intention to stop or limit visitors to the forest.

They added: "Our aim is to find the best way to balance the needs of the people who love Savernake with the needs of the natural environment, in light of the changing climate and biodiversity crisis."

Savernake is the only ancient forest still in private hands.

Forestry England holds it on a 999-year lease from the Brudenell-Bruce family.

The access plans will be discussed at a Marlborough Town Council meeting this evening (Monday 11 April).