A document has revealed that Forestry England is considering closing Savernake Forest to all vehicles and building a large fee-paying carpark for hundreds of cars along with a café, bigger toilets and a play area at Postern Hill.

The document, signed by Kevin Stannard, forest management director of Forestry England, includes a proposal that people may no longer be allowed to walk where they want in the ancient forest and would have to stick to specified trails, with other areas being restricted to the public.

It also floats the idea of closing Grand Avenue to vehicles as well as building a café, bigger toilets and a play area at Postern Hill.

The Earl of Cardigan, who owns the forest alongside trustees and leases it to Forestry England, says he is “firmly opposed” to the plan.

The Forestry England paper, titled “Savernake Forest, A Way Forward”, states that the current free-to-roam use of the forest is harming the ecology and “aesthetic values” of the 1,000-year-old, 4,500-acre woodland.

It adds: “The historic nature of the Grand Avenue, in terms of landscaped parkland; as well as the biodiversity and aesthetic values of the Forest are poorly served by the unregulated use of the Grand Avenue by the public for recreational access, anti-social activities and using the Avenue as a through route, or ‘rat-run’.

“Increased use of all of these access points by the public for recreational use, as well as to undertake anti-social activities, has grown.

"This is causing an increased nuisance to residents in the forest, as well as having the same negative impacts on the aesthetic and biodiversity values of the woods.”

Forestry England is considering introducing an “Our Shared Forest initiative” and the re-writing of the Forest Plan to “zone” it.

The document adds: “This possible Way Forward is predicated on Postern Hill being developed as the only visitor hub, where a new, larger car park (probably 300 to 350 spaces), is provided with proper toilets, play and café facilities. Leading out from the new car park would be a series of trails.

“The redevelopment of Postern Hill would be coupled with the closure of the Grand Avenue, and indeed the rest of the forest for vehicular access by visitors.

“The trail network would be routed to stay out of the quiet areas, nature reserves (which would include the grazing units); and include: 1km all-ability well surfaced trail; 3k and 5km or longer walking trails; and 3 and 5km surfaced running trails.”

The Earl of Cardigan, who owns the forest, said in a statement: “ I am firmly opposed to any plan to effectively ban the public from this forest, corralling them into a Forestry Commission pay car park on Postern Hill instead.”

A spokesperson for Forestry England said the document was “an internal discussion document about Savernake Forest, produced by Forestry England for our landlord, the Savernake Estate, to consider and discuss.”

She added: “That document puts forward a proposal of how the visitor facilities at Postern Hill could be improved while addressing concerns of the Estate regarding anti-social activity and unauthorised vehicle access.

“This does not constitute any agreement, plan, or strategy, but the Estate’s legitimate concerns speak to the damage of ever-increasing numbers of visitors - the vast majority of whom arrive by car - to the natural, historic, and aesthetic values of the Forest.

“We recognise and appreciate the depth of affection felt for Savernake Forest and are constantly in awe of the forest’s majestic beauty as a stronghold for nature and its nationally important collection of ancient trees.

“There is no intention to stop visitors, or even curtail the increasing numbers of visitors to the Forest.

“However, as responsible managers of public land, we must prioritise the features that make Savernake so special, to safeguard them in light of our changing climate and biodiversity crisis, and to ensure a thriving and sustainable forest for future generations.

“Our aim is to better manage how visitors enjoy the Forest so that the most sensitive and damaged areas can be protected and allowed to recover.

“The overall intent is to increase the resilience of the Forest to accommodate people, and balance their needs with the needs of the natural and historic environment. Our internal discussions support our commitments made in the Our Shared Forest management plan, which is available for public comment until 5 April.

“Members of the public are invited to review our full land management plan for Savernake Forest and share their feedback at www.forestryengland.uk/article/our-shared-forest-savernake-forest