Stay safe and be responsible in public forests

The Forest Service manages public forests in Northern Ireland. Walkers have free access to almost 76,000ha of forest land, including conifer and broadleaved forests, woodland, open space, nature reserves and historic landscapes.

Your personal safety

Forests contain many hazards such as rugged terrain, deep water and hidden cliff edges. The forest is also a working environment where many operations take place such as timber harvesting, using techniques and machinery which can be very dangerous to the general public.

It is therefore important to consider your personal safety when you visit a forest. Your skills, ability, knowledge, equipment and preparation are very important.  For your safety:

  • take note of weather conditions and forecasts
  • make sure you are properly prepared, equipped and clothed for the terrain and your activity
  • observe all notices, signs and grading of trails as they show the expected levels of difficulty
  • follow any instructions and advice given by forestry staff
  • tell others of your intended route and your estimated time of return
  • make sure all children are properly supervised
  • keep your distance from work sites and obey all signs
  • do not approach any working machinery
  • do not climb on timber stacks - they can be unstable and may move if disturbed

A leaflet providing safety tips when visiting forests is available on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) website:

Being responsible and looking out for safety of others

When you visit a forest, you shouldn’t do anything which will stop other visitors enjoying the forest or put them in danger.

Respect nature. Be responsible. Keep your dog under control. Bring your litter home. Show consideration and care for other visitors. Do not remove or interfere with any signs or barriers.

Restricted pedestrian access

Walkers and other forest visitors are not allowed access to:

  • any building or structure on forestry land
  • any facility where a charge is payable, for example caravanning
  • privately owned woodlands
  • land leased to Forest Service that restricts public access

Sometimes Forest Service restricts pedestrian access. Reasons include:

  • health and safety when tree harvesting, insecticide spraying or construction work is being carried out
  • wildlife protection
  • preventing the spread of animal or plant disease or pests
  • when an event is taking place
  • when a lease, licence or agreement requires restricted access

Most restrictions are temporary.  The exception is where a lease, licence or agreement does not permit public access.  

Rules in public forests

Laws about what you can and cannot do in forests protect you, other visitors and forests. The Forestry Land Byelaws are the rules in public forests and say:

  • when visitors should ask Forest Service for permission to run an event such as a motor rally, concert or rare breed show
  • what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour for visitors

It is an offence to break the forest byelaws. You could be fined up to £1,000. If you break any of the rules, Forest Service may even ask you to leave. It is an offence to refuse to leave.

Protect forest property

Most visitors to forests behave responsibly, but some do not.  Forest fire causes terrible damage and is often caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette. While on forest land, you must not:

  • interfere with any building, structure or official notice
  • drop or leave any lighted match, cigarette or anything burning
  • light any tree or vegetation
  • put up any sign or poster without permission
  • leave open or block any gate or barrier
  • drop or leave any rubbish or litter

Protect forest land and wildlife

Visitors should respect forest land and wildlife. In public forests, you must not:

  • dig up or remove anything from the ground, such as soil, turf, moss or peat
  • dig up, pull up or damage any plant, tree or flower
  • disturb or harm any wildlife, or interfere with their burrows or nests
  • do anything which is likely to pollute water or interfere with the flow of water

Protect all forest visitors

Forest visitors should consider other people using the forest. In public forests, you must not:

  • put anyone in danger
  • stop anyone going about their lawful business, whether they are visitors or staff
  • use language likely to annoy others
  • drink alcohol in a way which puts others in danger or upsets them
  • harass or cause distress to anyone
  • make loud, continuous or repeated noise which annoys others – this includes shouting, singing, music and machinery

Fires, stoves and barbecues

Forest fire can have devastating consequences. Lighting a fire may put others at risk, especially when the ground is dry.  In public forests:

  • you must only light a fire, stove or barbecue in an area set designated by Forest Service
  • if you want to light a campfire or stove or barbecue outside designated areas, you must get permission from Forest Service
  • you must not cause any damage to property, trees or vegetation, including grass  
  • you must not put other people or animals in danger  

To barbecue safely and avoid injuries or damage to property, follow this advice:

Leave no trace

Leave no trace outdoors by:

  • planning ahead and preparing
  • being considerate of others
  • respecting farm animals and wildlife
  • travelling and camping on durable ground
  • leaving what you find
  • disposing of waste properly
  • minimising the effects of fire

Holding an event

You must get permission from Forest Service if:

  • you want to put up any structure, including a marquee, stand or portable toilet for an organised event
  • you want to sell or distribute anything, such as selling refreshments at an event or handing out leaflets

Camping

There are designated sites for camping in public forests. Most visitors stay in the designated sites:

If you want to camp outside a designated area, you must get permission from Forest Service.

Vehicles and cycles

When driving or cycling you must:

  • keep to the roads and car parks
  • follow the direction signs
  • keep to the indicated speed limit
  • avoid causing annoyance or alarm to other users
  • keep out of any restricted areas

Dogs

It is your responsibility to make sure your dog is always under control in public. Some adults and children are frightened by dogs. They don't know how your dog behaves. If you bring your dog to a public forest, you must:

  • keep your dog under control
  • keep your dog on a lead in areas where dogs must be kept on leads
  • put your dog on a lead if a member of Forest Service staff asks you
  • clean up your dog's fouling

You must not:

  • allow your dog to cause annoyance or alarm to others
  • take your dog into or let it stay in an area where dogs are not allowed

More about rules in public forests

The forestry byelaws do not affect any existing rights you may have, including rights of way, peat, sporting and shooting rights. If you want to find out more, read The Forestry Land Byelaws.

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