We chat to the team at Forestry England about their work on the Forest of Dean’s Verderers Trail and skills section reconstruction.
Following on from the Dean Trail Volunteers’ work on updating GBU and Corkscrew, Forestry England have refreshed the Verderers Trail and the skills section in the Forest of Dean.
What was the impetus for rebuilding the Verderers Trail and the skills section?
The final section of Verderers has been on the list for a while, in fact the whole trail has been. We were all set to tender for a complete refurbishment of the trail when Covid -19 put a stop to that. As with everyone, Forestry England had to change priorities and the budgets were amended accordingly. This left us to make a decision of what was most important. As riders we felt the smile factor at the end of a trail is what you need to make all the pedalling before worth it! It has always been a great section of trail to ride even in its previously worn state and now it is even better as all the shape and flow has been built back in.
The Advanced Skills area was a very different situation. We were forced to close the jump line after recording a large number of accidents on one particular feature. This led to discussions with our contractor, Back on Track, and the decision to alter the line and make the whole area work better.
Once you’ve made that decision, what happens next?
Any proposed work has to go through a consultation process to identify whether that are potential issues or restrictions that need to be observed. If any are identified, we will plan works accordingly and put measures in place to ensure the work can go ahead without any adverse impacts.
How many people make up the Forestry team involved and what do they do?
There are 2 main people involved in the cycle centre from Forestry England, Hannah Christie the Cycling and Events Manager and Kate Thoday, the Cycle Ranger.
Hannah’s role covers the whole of the west district from the Wyre Forest in Worcestershire down to Cardinham Woods in Cornwall. She supports the local teams, works on permissions for events and oversees the advancement of cycling activity across the district.
Kate’s role is based at Cannop Cycle Centre in the Forest of Dean, supporting the site partners, helping to manage and maintain the trail network. Kate works in close partnership with the Dean Trail Volunteers.
We have recently added a new member to the team, Dan Weston who is our new Visitor Services Officer. We are all riders with a love and passion for the sport, the Forest of Dean and its cycling heritage.
How did you secure funding for this work?
The trail repairs have been paid for by Forestry England. Work on the trails is budgeted for every year and even though we had to make changes to those budgets following Covid-19 we were still able to make sure the projects were completed. This has of course meant that some other projects have had to be pushed back.
Have you had to overcome any major obstacles to get to this point?
The Covid-19 lockdown started the week Back on Track were due to start work, and set us back by several months, which caused other issues to arise. The hot dry weather meant building conditions were not ideal, and it pushed us into the protected bird nesting season. Both meant further delays as we had to work around legal restrictions to avoid disturbing the bird population, and then wait for the change in weather to help the trails settle.
How did you narrow it down to renovating Verderers Trail and the skills area?
The skills area was pushed as a priority as it posed a potential safety threat. This led to a re-design of the whole area. The section of Verderers was in a rough state and in desperate need of some TLC.
What was involved in that process?
Collecting data from the inspections and accident reports, rider feedback and from riding the trails ourselves. All of this was collated and considered to make the final decision.
Was it merely a process of reshaping what was already there, or was it a full rebuild?
It was a bit of both. Most of the Verderers section was re-shaped, but due to the condition of the surface it was mostly dug up and re-built. The skills area has had two new sections added to the end of the trails and a line change on the jump line where it crosses a forest track.
At what point did Back on Track get involved in the project?
As one of our approved contractors and builders of the original Verderers section they were the obvious choice for us to approach. Once it had been decided where we needed to carry out work, they were invited to site to have a look and prepare a quote.
How do you decide which trails to work on going forward?
We carry out regular inspections of all the official trails and the plan of work is driven from these. Sometimes events such as a series of accidents or damage from bad weather will cause us to re-evaluate the plan and change our priorities. We are also always looking to improve the trails and work on new ideas. We also have significant support from the Dean Trail Volunteers who help us to maintain and develop the trails.
How were the Dean Trail Volunteers involved?
Whilst the Dean Trail Volunteers were not directly involved in either of these projects, they were very supportive and jumped in to work on repairs needed after riders rode the trails before they were ready to be opened. Following on from this incident, DTV spent their weekends making sure the closed trails were not being ridden and talking to riders, educating them about the work being undertaken and the importance of not riding the trails too soon.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
Pretty much anyone who has had to put up with us talking about the work and the frustrations of delays.
A thank you to Back on Track for their patience with various situations along the way and to DTV for their help and support.
A huge thank you also needs to go out to all the patient riders out there who waited to ride the new trails, it all took longer than we hoped but hopefully its been worth it.
You can read our interview with the Dean Trail Volunteers here.