Monday, 1 March 2021

The Future of Forest Rallying?

Once upon a time, 20 years ago, a small group of motor sports enthusiasts had a most wondrous idea. Had it been taken up then, perhaps forest rallying wouldn't be in quite such a precarious state as it seems to be now.

Recent posts on this page have expressed concern about the future of forest rallying in Great Britain. This followed the publication of last year's Motorsports Review by Forestry England, which although not quite damning, fell short of being supportive. So far, there have been no puffs of ominous white smoke from Forest & Land Scotland's HQ chimney.

Inspired by the imminent closure of a 1990s opencast coal mine in South Lanarkshire, the idea was to convert it into a 'National Rally Training Centre', itself part of a bigger idea for an 'Outdoor Pursuit Centre'. This huge facility was adjacent to the A74 (M) motorway in South Lanarkshire and had its own motorway junction. Ideal for access.

An approach was made to Scottish Coal as the site owners who actually became quite excited about the idea. Not just for any altruistic ambition, but with a financial incentive as they had set aside funds for the re-constitution of the site once the coal had been extracted and this idea would have minimised their cost!

There was also the prospect of support from the Strathclyde European Partnership which was making huge investment in the area from the dis-used Gartcosh and Ravenscraig steelworks to the World Heritage site at New Lanark and this sporting development scheme had a certain appeal.

The local Member of the Scottish Parliament and  South Lanarkshire Council were onboard and indeed the local councillor was a motor sports fan.

And that's where this idea ticked all the boxes. By calling it an 'Outdoor Pursuit Centre', it could have been used all year round for a number of activities, not just motor rallying, 4x4 events, autotests, trials and off-road motorcycle sports, but other sports such as mountain biking, orienteering, clay pigeon shooting, archery, equine events and cross country running as well as water sports on the lochan in the centre of the site. A safe and secure site for all ages from school children and teenagers to adults.

On-site facilities would have included offices, lecture suites and garages which could be used to train sports officials and marshals. The plan was to make this a revenue earning 7 day a week facility which would earn its keep and subsidise sports training and development.

Even the Police, Fire and Ambulance services were interested in using the site for 'Major Incident' planning and practice. One other thing, the Forestry Commission itself expressed an interest in using the facility as a central training venue for staff!

Architect plans were prepared which included a network of two interlocking loops of gravel road which could have been expanded in years to follow and which could have been used by rally teams for testing and perhaps even staging smaller single venue events - much like M-Sport's private facility in Cumbria.

A feasibility study was commissioned from a professional consultancy, and it was all looking good. What wasn't included in the planning at this stage was the fact that there was a substantial amount of private investment ready and waiting to get the show on the road before any public money was released, but that investment was conditional on MSA support for the proposal.

On that basis the Chief Exec of the Motor Sports Association wanted a site visit. It was February. It was cold, wet, grey and dreich. Just what you would expect in Scotland at the tail end of Winter but the visitor arrived with his MSA anorak and shiny shoes to inspect what was still an open cast coal mining site! The bumpy trip around 'the sights' in a Scottish Coal LWB Defender did little to improve the mood.

It would appear that following this visit, the MSA had the 'unique and bright idea' of creating an off road motor sports academy complex  in south Wales although this had not been mentioned publicly. Draw your own conclusions. That didn't happen either.

We missed our chance, and now it's a wind farm. And folk wonder why I'm so cynical.

Anyway, the basic idea could still work although it would require leasing or buying a suitable forest and collaboration with Forest & Land Scotland - they get the timber and we manage the roads and jointly manage the plantation. Simples, eh?

Of course it wouldn't be simple, but the idea still has merit, does it not?


Sunday, 28 February 2021

Rally - 2021 Snowman Rallython

2021 Snowman Rally ... Oh no there isn't, oh yes there is! In fact Highland Car Club will be presenting the Snowman Rallython on Saturday 6th March - all day. I have no idea of the format or the content, and I wonder if the HCC snowpersons have any better idea. They are planning a whole day's worth of activities reflecting the fact that the Snowman usually presents a full day of rallying.

The affair will be run on the Snowman Rally Facebook page and will feature films and interviews, short stories and photos, games and public participation. How it will all work I have no idea but it would appear that Saturday 6th of March will be a day for staying at home, plonking the armchair in front of the screen, getting the beers in and the family sized bags of crisps on standby.

The 'show' will also feature stars from past and present and contributions from far and wide, and there will be plenty for the auld gits as well as the youngsters. Entertainment and fun is promised for all, so please support it, support rallying and tune in.

This will be the next best thing to cold feet on snowbanks, chapped cheeks in the cold and wet bums in the sleet. It sounds just like what is needed in these dark and pandemically troubled times.

There are a few clips already posted on the Facebook page, so have a look and make sure you bookmark it for the 6th.

The Snowman Rally website will also carry news in the run up to the weekend:



Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Rally - Review of the Review


Forestry England - Motorsports Review ... Yesterday's review of this document generated quite a bit of interest, but if you can bear it, there is a longer version in the on-line magazine. However, best put the fags and drink out of reach before you settle!


Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Rally - Forestry England Review

A previous post on this page mentioned the recent publication of the Forestry England Motorsports Review document and referred to its 11 page 3,000 word Executive Summary. And whilst it would appear that forest rallying is safe for the moment it was not exactly fulsome in its support. Mention was also made of how the sport fits into the future of Forestry England plans, both financial and environmental, and how the organisation is perceived by the wider public.

Much has now been written on its contents by more learned journalists and published in more august and esteemed journals and it all seems pretty positive. However, I wonder just how many folk have read the full 75 page, 22,000 word Report and not just the Summary.

The main report was compiled by a company called Rural Solutions Ltd who are headquartered in Yorkshire. It is a very comprehensive report and the company's conclusions were informed by both a stakeholder and public consultation process. Public response generated 1680 email responses, 633 of which related to Rallying and 982 from motor cycle Enduro and Trials followers. Eleven car clubs also responded to the questionnaire.

Not a great response, is it? Consider the fact that the Forestry England estate attracts some 235 million visits per year whereas it is estimated that "the footfall generated by motorsport during 2019 attending a total of 19 rallies, 28 enduros and 13 trials was 27,130."

If that figure is correct, motor sports visitors account for 0.01% of FEs total individual visits. Kind of puts us firmly in our place in the pecking order, does it not? According to Rural Solutions they used "data supplied by MS UK and the MSA Rally Championship Steering Group and the ACU."

On the finance front, the average total income generated by motorsports is in the region of £300,000 to £400,000 per annum with expenditure of £300,000 to £350,000 which suggests an overall contribution to the forest estate of somewhere between £50,000 and £100,000. The concern here is that FE does not record accurate repair costs following each event but  they have indicated that this is a matter which will be addressed  so that they can come up with a more accurate 'true' figure. And, according to the Report: "Motorsports appear to be at odds with FE's financial sustainability objectives."

Another concern is public opinion. Many of their visitors believe that motor sport should not be accommodated or tolerated within the forests, on the grounds of pollution, noise and wildlife disturbance. However, FE's own studies have found that wildlife disturbance is minimal whereas other forest activities can be more detrimental. On the issue of pollution both Rural Solutions and FE are well aware that more automotive pollution is caused by the huge numbers of visitors travelling to and from the forests in their own vehicles than by motor sports!

Again the Report states: "Motorsport is an activity which is difficult to justify against the environmental objectives of Forestry England and therefore if these activities are to be permitted, there is a strong argument that they should demonstrate a step change in the adoption of more environmentally sound practices."

The Report concludes with three options - Stop, Continue, or Evolve & Adapt.

The first Option is self explanatory - motor rallying in the woods will cease, while the second Option is just to carry on as before - only that would appear not to be acceptable.

Which leaves the third Option, to Evolve & Adapt - That means to allow the sports to continue, but in an evolved manner in an adapted format.

Hence Motorsport UK is calling for our ideas, suggestions and contributions regarding how the sport can be adapted from the present format, and also, what can be done to the 'tools of the trade', i.e. cars, to make them more environmentally acceptable and less damaging. On this final point that means electrical or alternative fuelled propulsion and less surface damaging technology.

Only 633 folk out of 27,130 possibles responded to the initial call for submissions during last year's public consultation process. On that basis the sport didn't do itself any favours. It's all very well saying few people knew about it, or blaming who did and didn't spread the word.

And where Forestry England goes, Forest & Land Scotland will take an interest.

A final word - aimed at the politicians and decision makers - if only 13% of Great Britain is forested, that makes us one of the most de-forested nations in the world after centuries of weapon making, warship building and pit props. What then gives us the right to criticise other nations for burning trees and clearing forests for arable production?

In the great scheme of things, motor sport is but a small sapling scrabbling for life in a giant forest - and it hasn't got much time to grow!


Monday, 22 February 2021

Funeral details

Johnstone Syer's funeral will take place this afternoon but due to the ongoing Covid19 pandemic this will be very much a private family affair.

However, the service will be broadcast on the Internet this afternoon, Monday 22nd February at 14.00 hrs.

The webcast will be available to view approx 5 minutes before the start of the service. 

Should you wish to view this, use the link and details below:

User Name:  Poto 1741      Password: 155329

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Rally - Forest rallying

Last year Forestry England conducted a review into their motor sports policy (2 and 4 wheeled) and have now published their findings and conclusions. It makes very interesting reading and although it deals entirely with the English forestry estate, you can bet your little suede boottees that Scottish Forest & Land will read it and take note.

On that basis it's well worth a look for Scottish rally fans. The full 11 page 3000 word Executive Summary has now been published across three pages in the on-line mag so you can read it and form your own opinion.

Also, I now have  a copy of the full 75 page report with graphs and pie-charts and figures - and lots more words to wade through! If I come across anything more of interest, I'll let you know.

Meantime, this report has been received surprisingly  well by many folks down south, but while it makes some encouraging statements and reaches positive conclusions about the future of motor sports in the English forestry estate there are still numerous issues and areas of concern that should concern us all.

For instance the final paragraph states  "....should the environmental objective and responsibility to the widest group of forest users be determined to be more important than the loss of the positive social and economic contribution made by motorsports, then ceasing this activity may be the most appropriate course of action."

That one phrase should concentrate the minds of us all. Dramatic though it sounds, the report's authors lead up to this warning (threat?) by explaining their own environmental concerns and Forestry England's future hopes and targets.

They received around 1700 responses to their call for the views and opinions of current forest users. The report does make sense and the arguments are sound, but encouragingly they are sympathetic to our cause and although they have recognised that automotive technology is constantly improving and reducing harmful emissions there is much more still to be done.

Like Governments and industry they see the way forward as being electrically driven, although they do recognise that this form of propulsion will bring its own problems and this is what we as a sport have to face and address.

They might even consider 'zoning' areas for particular and exclusive sporting use e.g. specifying one forest area for rallying. Think back to the McRae Gravel Challenge which created three forest stages all contained within Craigvinean Forest as a possible example. That format worked well on the day although entries were limited and further constricted by the availability of large enough areas nearby for servicing which are hard to come by in rural forested areas.

One of the more encouraging statements made by the report is that Forest England is only too well aware of the quandary that motor sports represents. The vast majority of current forest visitors arrive at the various sites around the country by fossil fuelled vehicles so they can't just ban motor sport on those grounds!

However, as these vehicles start to disappear after 2025 and are replaced by electric vehicles so the argument for rallying will weaken. They can't support greener initiatives on the one hand and ignore sporting use on the other.

Motor Sport UK is only too well aware of this dilemma and are currently seeking wider consultation with individuals, groups and clubs for ideas to help with plans to safeguard the sport and we can all contribute to this.

Also, more generally, motor sports fans can do their bit to argue against those who say motor sport should be banned. It should be politely explained to those critics that EVERY sport currently uses fossil fuels. Participants and spectators alike still have to travel by motor cycle, car, bus, train, aeroplane and even by ship to take part in or follow their chosen sports. On that basis ours is not a special case, it's just seen to be a direct user of such technology.

So yes, there is lot in this Report about which to be positive, but also lots to concern us. Rallying will need to change and adapt significantly if the sport is to survive.

Read the Executive Summary here: