Just before last weekend's Pirelli Rally, the MSA held the latest of its 'Rally Future' progress meetings in Carlisle. There were around a hundred folk there, representing event organisers, officials, marshals and the merely curious. It provided a thought provoking and sobering insight into the huge workload that volunteers now have to undertake to put on a safe one day forest stage rally.
But it's not just new and additional volunteers who are needed, sharing the top of the agenda is training. From the lonely guy manning a mid-stage forest junction to the Clerk of the Course, training is the new buzz word. That's not a criticism, just a plain necessary fact. Given what has happened to the sport over the past few years, it really did need to pull its socks up.
Given the huge task that lies ahead one has to question the title of this initiative - Rally Future. The sport is already short-staffed as it is and is under ongoing threat from other activities and interests.
The latest kick in the kidneys comes from Wales where the forestry folk are looking for a doubling of the fees to use their forest roads for rallying. If it happens, it could kill off forest rallying in Wales. And if the sport does pay up, what will the English and Scottish foresters make of it?
Perhaps we should have twigged that something was up sooner. When the MSA announced the new fees for Scotland and England on the 27th of April there was a very telling sentence at the foot of their letter which stated: "Negotiations with Natural Resources Wales regarding fees for access to the Forestry Estate in Wales are ongoing." That should have rung alarm bells, shouldn't it?
However, I can't help thinking that an opportunity was missed. This week the elections for the Welsh Assembly took place. Had a campaign been mounted following receipt of the MSA's letter that something was amiss in the woods, then individuals, clubs, associations and events could have mounted some sort of campaign to badger candidates and political parties and ask what they would do to protect the future of the sport.
They could have pointed out that rural communities will lose out financially - big time. Think of the business B&Bs and hotels do, plus restaurants and cafes, shops and garages, motor factors and accessory stockists, not to mention the specialist motor sporting prep firms and suppliers. Wales stands to lose tens of millions of pounds if forest rallying prices itself out of the woods.
Perhaps it's not yet too late though. There are some new members of the Welsh Assembly in place who will be keen to make their mark quickly. Get in there quick, before someone else does. Maybe the MSA and the Welsh Association of Car Clubs could lead the charge? If they did, for sure, the Scottish and English associations would back them all the way. Otherwise we might just need to add something to the Rally Future plan. A question mark - Rally Future?
There's a report on proceedings from last week's Rally Future forum here:
and there's more here if you're up for it:
and the one that kicked it all off here if you haven't yet nodded off: