Walkers in England today celebrated the permanent right to access 165,000 hectares of forest and woodland.
Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight launched the dedication of the Forestry Commission's public forest estate in England for public open access at a ceremony at the Moreton and Affpuddle Plantation.
Jim Knight said:
"England's public woodlands are there to be enjoyed, understood, valued and cared for by all of us.
"The Forestry Commission has already added 117,176 hectares of public forest to the area of the English countryside where people have a legal right of access. By the end of the year, that area will be around 165,000 hectares of forests and woods for people to enjoy.
"Their decision to dedicate almost all their freehold estate in England for public access in perpetuity is commendable, and will give everyone the right to freely explore our public forests on foot.
"I hope the fine example set by the Forestry Commission, which will increase the amount of land accessible under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act by 17%, will encourage other landholders to follow suit."
Mr Knight said the process of dedicating land for public access had been made very simple under the new laws, which reduces liability for landowners and makes it possible to grant "higher rights" to activities like horse riding and cycling.
"Efforts to encourage more and more organisations and private landowners to dedicate land for access is part of our wider goal to create more recreational opportunities for walkers and improve the health of the nation through a more active lifestyle.
"Dedication can make a real difference to access opportunities in places where there is little mapped access land, and can ease the pressure on land already available to the public.
"In the right places, dedication can join up isolated pockets of mapped access land, and provide better opportunities to manage existing access problems for landowners."