Ashdown Forest Car Parking Charging

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Closes 6 Dec 2021


Ashdown Forest is a living time capsule of the culture and history of our county.

Our famous heathland and verdant woodlands represent generations of human activity. At the heart of these processes is historic grazing by wild and domestic animals which created the original Forest landscape alongside woodland clearance.

This process was intensified in the medieval era with the enclosure of the Forest as a royal hunting park behind a 23 mile long pale or embanked fence. Further areas were enclosed in the 18th century with the remainder being recognised as having rights of common. The records show legal battles being waged to keep the land as common land. It is these fights that allow us all to enjoy the open access to Ashdown Forest today.

Enabling this public access to the Forest is a guiding principle for us. Use of the Forest by the public has grown steadily in recent years and monitoring suggests 1.4 million visits were made during 2016. The number of visits during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic of 2020/21 was far higher with the Forest being open throughout challenging lockdowns. We know how important the Forest was for so many during that tough time.

We want to maintain and enhance the experience for our visitors to provide a welcoming, safe environment. Our car parks and infrastructure struggle to create that atmosphere due to the pressure they received from normal use and then the increased footfall during the pandemic.

Like many organisations, Ashdown Forest has seen its funding squeezed in recent years, and our primary source of funding for day-to-day operations has been removed, just at a time when the level of use and the costs of managing the Forest are increasing, placing ever greater pressure on the already stretched team responsible for managing the forest.

With public funding under pressure nationally, Ashdown Forest is forced to take on responsibility for raising the funds we need to cover the growing costs of managing the forest and improving the experience of our visitors.

How we spend our resources and why we need new funding

Why we need new and additional sources of funding

In 2021 Ashdown Forest has three main sources of funding.

  • We receive an annual grant, from Natural England. This is for the ecological management of the forest only and cannot be used to support any of the core costs of maintaining Ashdown Forest as a safe and welcoming public amenity
  • We receive support from two independent charities, The Friends of Ashdown Forest and The Ashdown Forest Trust (TAFF) to help us purchase equipment and undertake specialist and general projects.
  • We receive ‘core’ income from:
    • licenses, for example for horse riding
    • the Forest Rate paid by Commoners
    • payments for access across the Forest to private properties.

This core income, plus monies from trading, is used to cover the operational and recurrent costs of running Ashdown Forest.

Altogether, however, they are insufficient to cover the costs of running the Forest, and not enough to improve the area beyond its basic state.

The Conservators have a legal obligation to protect the status of Ashdown Forest as a Special Protection Area (SPA). If the bird species, Nightjar and Dartford Warbler, that give the area the SPA status are lost, the future protection of Ashdown Forest would become much less certain. Our grant from Natural England helps us manage the forest for its biodiversity but is not enough and does not help us protect its other values. We simply do not have the funds to protect the Forest’s cultural and landscape values. Managing overgrown gorse or heather, for example, costs over £2,000 per hectare. Unless we do it regularly, we lose our treasured views and some of our rare birds begin to struggle.

In the past East Sussex County Council, under the terms of The Ashdown Forest Act 1974, agreed our budget and made up shortfalls in our funding. Driven by the imposition of the cap placed by central government on local council budgets and the escalating cost of provision of care for vulnerable adults and children along with other essential services, the Council was obliged, along with other similar measures, to curtail funding for the Forest from the financial year 2020/21 onwards. This, alongside the pandemic, has impacted greatly on the ability to protect the Forest, conserve its ecological importance, and ensure public access. Due to the heavily protected nature of the land, there are few opportunities to earn money through trading or licensing.

We have tried a range of activities to increase income and reduce costs. We have licensed coffee vans in some of the car parks, asked for donations and reduced the number of staff we employ. We asked for voluntary contributions via signage in the car parks and on the Conservators’ website. Visitors were encouraged to purchase annual car parking stickers or make one off contributions for using the car parks. Unfortunately, the income generated through these avenues has been less than £10,000.

This has not bridged the gap between income and expenditure. In August 2021 we had a hole in our finances of £120,000 and, even if we fill that hole, that will only allow us to stand still, not to improve the forest. The Conservators of Ashdown Forest are therefore considering the difficult decision of whether to introduce car parking charges from Spring/Summer 2022.

What do we spend our funding on?

To run a conservation and amenity site like Ashdown Forest takes a great deal of work behind the scenes. Much of this relates to efforts to deliver specific conservation work, like increasing the numbers of rare birds or insects. But great effort is required simply to keep Ashdown Forest an accessible and safe space for our visitors.

The work of delivering specific conservation outcomes is undertaken with funding from Natural England under a central government, Conservation Stewardship grant. The work of managing Ashdown Forest as a place for people to visit is paid for separately, from ‘core costs’. Such work includes:

  • Engaging with the many and varied visitors to Ashdown Forest on a day-to-day basis, answering questions, providing guidance and giving advice and assistance when needed
  • Maintaining our 47 car parks so that they are safe for people to use. Fixing the potholes in just one car park will cost around £1,000
  • Maintaining 75 miles of paths and rides and the bridges and culverts that cross the forest. A new footbridge costs £3,500; each one must be checked every year for safety, and they are usually replaced every 10 years
  • Keeping fire breaks open to help manage wildfires which may increase due to climate change
  • Ashdown Forest is open to all, but it is not accessible to all. Those with restricted mobility, impaired vision or other difficulties may struggle to experience the forest. We believe the Forest should be more accessible to these users. Such projects may be achieved by dedicated fundraising, but once in place, they need to be maintained
  • Managing the impacts of growing numbers of visitors – and more are expected to come, especially during the anniversary years of Winnie the Pooh.
  • Surveying and managing trees on the forest boundary and neighbouring our many miles of roads and tracks
  • Litter collection, including fly tipping, and disposal of dumped material
  • Maintaining and replacing our specialist fleet of vehicles, and all the tools and equipment needed to manage the forest estate
  • Establishing and managing a volunteer work force of 130 people who support work on the forest throughout the year
  • Monitoring the large deer population that moves through the Forest and responding to a range of deer related incidents
  • Protecting the rights of the Commoners and helping them to exercise their rights including grazing livestock on the forest.
  • Working with the public and the police to manage dog related incidents including livestock worrying, wildlife and horse riders
  • Responding to visitor emergencies as and when people get into difficulty on the forest and need to be supported, located or receive first aid
  • Providing information and interpretation of the priceless cultural asset that the Forest is. Providing education to children, working with local schools and other groups
  • The salaries of our small team of staff – including the rangers and managers who ensure public access and deliver conservation
  • Maintaining the buildings that make up the Forest Centre – the offices, workshops, shop, picnic site and tables, public toilets, and Education Barn including safety and security systems and IT
  • Day to day administration, finance, human resource management, relationship management, and organisational governance
  • Supporting the volunteers who make up the Board of Conservators, elected by Commoners or nominated by East Sussex Country Council and Wealden District Council
  • Protecting the Forest as required by our bye laws and environmental legislation including preventing and dealing with encroachments, responding to illegal use, and managing permitted and licensed uses.


Graphic of how resources are allocated for management of Ashdown Forest

Source: Ashdown Forest Financial Information for a Generic Year based on 2021/22

 Why are we looking at car park charges?

We must have new and additional sources of revenue to function as an organisation and manage the Forest effectively.

The forest’s governing legislation, The Ashdown Forest Act of 1974, requires the Conservators to regulate and manage the Forest as a place of amenity and resort. The withdrawal of the County Council funding, which has been in place since 1974, removed the guaranteed source of funding to achieve this. The Act does, however, allow the Conservators to make reasonable charges for cars parking on the Forest.

With the deficit in the 2021/22 budget and an uncertain charitable donation outlook, the Conservators have no option but to fully investigate charging for parking. Many if not most sites similar to Ashdown Forest already charge for car parking which makes us one of the last to consider this step. 

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