My Department’s Forest Service already makes provision for cycling at a number of forests. That includes mountain bike, family cycling and Sustrans trails. In addition, my officials are working with a number of partners to develop a mountain bike project in the Mournes. If the various funding, legal and operational issues can be finalised, that will represent a significant new cycling resource in the North. My officials are also working with other partners, including councils and the National Trust, to explore other cycling opportunities.
I thank the Minister very much for her response. There is promising development there, but we do not develop our forests to their full potential, particularly for recreation and tourism. I notice that quite a lot of money is going into the Forestry Commission in England and Scotland to develop cycling in forests. Does the Minister agree that that could be developed in our forests?
I certainly agree that we do not utilise our forestry resource enough. That is why I committedForest Service to come up with a strategy for recreational and social use, so that we would commit Forest Service to develop business partnerships with suitable public and private providers to secure a more diverse range of facilities and attractions for visitors to our forests.
The Global Geopark in County Fermanagh is a great example of what can be achieved through partnership agreements. We worked closely with Fermanagh District Council to establish management agreements to improve recreation and education facilities. Other partnership opportunities are being explored with organisations such as the Tourist Board, the National Trust, the RSPB and local councils.
However, we could certainly do a lot more, and I want to work with other Departments and see what other funding can be used. We have the land, but not necessarily the money. If we work in partnership, we can bring maximum benefit to not only rural areas, but to visitors going to those areas.