Interview with Graham Elliot – current Timber Chairman

Posted: September 9, 2011 in General

Graham took over as Timber Chairman about 18 months ago and has injected new life, fresh drive and a far more positive feel than the previous incumbent (I can be rude about that person, as it was me!). He took over a group that was on the verge of collapse following difficulties adjusting to the real world, the impact of amateurish jumps, obstacles and other features and drove it on to become one of the FC’s favourite trail groups.

I caught up with Graham earlier this week and asked him to talk to me about Timber, the FC and the impact of budget cuts with particular reference to the impact on cycling in the forest:

Tell me about Timber, where you see it now and in the future

When we set Timber up in 2006 it was in response to the continual degradation of the trails in the forest, both by mass usage as a result of way marking and also through racing. It was in essence an act of frustration.

Since that time we have learnt the hard way that what appears simple is far from it. We have made numerous mistakes along the way, and sometimes the learning has been extremely painful and costly. However, we are now moving to a condition where we are in really good shape for the future and where we have a really good understanding of what is and isn’t possible. We are also moving inexorably towards being supported by, but autonomous from the Forestry Commission.

Then came the cuts and things have started to change. Slowly at first, but like an avalanche, with increasing destructive force and an inescapable inevitability as the thing develops.

All we hear about nowadays is cuts, how will this impact on us, as cyclists in Thetford Forest?

Currently at Thetford the situation is stark. What were 8 rangers and backup staff is now 4 and likely to reduce further. So inevitably the range of work that can be covered is severely reduced. Therefore, as with any other organisation facing this sort of situation, the roving eye is being cast about to see what can reasonably be cut which will not effect incoming revenue unduly.

In the midst of all of this the FC have to implement OGB37, the infamous in house set of rules regarding cycle trails. Without being boring, these have to be in place to protect them from litigation in the event of an accident. Remember the FC is self insuring, so this is a massive area of risk for them. Now there will be those that look skywards at this moment and mutter into their energy gel about the nanny state. However the actual stats for the last year are:-

Broken Shoulder 7
Broken collar bone 7
Broken Leg 1
Broken Wrist 2
Broken Pelvis 1
Broken Toe 1
Broken Back 1

I haven’t bothered with the soft tissue injuries, as they do go on for a bit.

The implementation of these rules is mandatory and given the above self evidently not negotiable, given that they are in place to prevent the FC from being exposed to ambulance chasing lawyers.

So… does that affect me?

Well currently, every trail that the FC is aware of has to be routinely inspected; it has to be maintained in a fit state when those inspections indicate the need. Every tree 10 metres back from every trail has to be inspected once a year against disease and the risk of it falling. (In case anyone has missed it the news in recent weeks has been full of the cases of two deaths on National Trust land where trees or branches fell onto members of the public, so again not something to be shrugged off.

The way marked routes are in a bad state of repair with the possible exception of the Red, which we have almost finished beefing up for mass usage.

Surely there’s a decent amount of income coming in from regular forest users….what happens to all that money?

Generally the greater MTB public contribute little or nothing to the FC coffers, very publically parking at Brandon Country Park to avoid doing so. So guess what?

Yep you got it. There is a lobby within the FC who quite reasonably argue that the bill for looking after trails is not sustainable, they don’t earn much money and therefore they are the obvious place to make cuts. So there is a very real chance that at least one of the way marked trails will succumb if we don’t do something about it.

Ah yes, but lots of people keep away from the way marked stuff, they aren’t going to be affected are they?

Well sorry guys, that’s just not the case, for two main reasons:

1) Any closure of way marked trails will inevitably divert people onto the “wild trails”, so your play ground is going to get mashed and congested.
2) It has probably escaped your notice, but Thetford is a working forest with harvesting and planting going on routinely. The reason it may have escaped your notice is that the High Lodge blocks haven’t been harvested much in the last 15 years. That’s is about to come to an end, and 15 years worth is going to happen pretty much in one go, so lots of the “wild trails” are going to disappear.

That’s all pretty depressing, haven’t you got any good news?

All is not lost. It is within our power to actually improve the MTB offer at Thetford rather than cut it back. We have massive respect at FC towers, and their full support to the extent that they’ve just bought us a new toy to play with for £20,000!!

See here

However, we can’t do it all without help. We need active members to get out and get their hands dirty with us. It doesn’t have to be massive. Last year we got shed loads done, and the majority of it was done by people who committed 3 days or less in the year. We also have a bloody good laugh while we are doing it. Incidentally 3 days will earn you a free high lodge car parking ticket for the year. How cheap is BCP when you have one of those eh??

  1. PeterH says:

    And it only costs £5 to join TIMBER and you can save that much with one bike service with 10% off at Revels or BikeArt!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s