Forest access review toolkit

A forest in spring with masses of bluebells

The Sensory Trust was commissioned by the Forestry Commission to develop a review toolkit and national training programme to help their managers respond to the new Equality Act and make their recreation sites engaging and accessible for everyone.

We designed it to address some key questions -

How can forest recreation sites be made inviting, accessible and rewarding for everyone? If the highlight features are adrenaline-rich activities, how will people know they can also visit these places for a gentle stroll through a forest, or to enjoy a riverside picnic with their friends?

And when resources are limited, how do forest rangers work out which access improvements should take priority? And how do they make sure they understand how different people relate to and would like to use their sites?

Access and quality of experience

The review looked at how visitors get around and what types of experience are on offer so we could get a view of why people would choose to visit, not just whether they can.

One of the biggest access issues is distance and we looked at different solutions, including more seating, shorter routes and better information. it was interesting to see some of the access initiatives already in place, such as accessible cycles available from a cycle hire company.

A forest walk in autumn

Accessible bicycle

Forest managers used our sensory mapping tool to identify the highlights - a crucial first step in identifying what the forest already offers to different visitors. Mapping also included identifying the decision points - places where visitors have choices where to go and where it could help to have more information to help.

Sensory mapping response on a tree says the bark looks like a living jigsaw puzzle

Mapping a forest area identifies a point where visitors have to decide where to go

The priority was to create something easy to use that would dovetail with existing Forestry Commission review processes and would help forest rangers identify priorities for improving access and enhancing the visitor experience.

A series of Sensory Trust training workshops ran at Alice Holt, Grizedale, Sherwood and Westonbirt to introduce site managers to the toolkit and give practical insights of how to use it. These were positively received with strong attendance - all events were full.

The Toolkit is now in use by the Forestry Commission, helping guide plans to improve accessibility and attract new audiences to the forests.


Outdoor access design factsheets - free guidance

Access Chain - a tool for reviewing access from the user's perspective

Access statements - samples for you to use

What is inclusive design? - why it matters and how it works

Accessible information design - why it matters and who benefits

Useful links

Can we help?

Sensory Trust runs consultancy in site reviews and inclusive design. Read more about our consultancy services >>