The announcement of the selection of experts that make up the Independent Forestry Panel has caused anger among equestrian bodies.

The panel will advise the government and Defra on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England.

But the lack of an equestrian voice has caused the horseworld to fear that their concerns will not be high on the agenda.

Equestrian bodies are hoping that this panel will dedicate rights of access for equestrians and cyclists on Forestry Commission land, thereby securing future usage even if the land is privatised.

British Horse Society (BHS) chief executive Graham Cory said: “The encouraging words emanating from ministers during the aborted public consultation exercise were obviously empty and offered merely as a sop.

“It is scarcely credible that the government should have ignored the strong case for an equestrian representative on the panel.”

Sitting on the panel are a selection of environmental, social and economics experts including Sir Harry Studholme (Forestry Commissioner), Mike Clark (RSPB chief executive), and Stuart Goodall (Confederation of Forest Industries chief executive).

It will be chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones, a member of the House of Lords since 2003.

Mark Weston, of the BHS, said: “The constitution of the panel seems to be very heavily slanted towards the interests of landowning bodies and not to the interests of user groups.

“75% of the panel membership represent bodies with significant land holdings, and there is only one user group representative, namely Tom Franklin from the Ramblers.”

Kadiya Qasem of TROT (The Toll Rides (Off-Road) Trust) said: “I believe that as our members have been paying money for permits for over 15 years we should have had a larger voice.

“I would advise people to write directly to [environment secretary] Caroline Spelman to raise this issue.”

However a Defra spokesman said: “It is not a panel of delegates from interested organisations.

“The Secretary of State wanted a small panel that would bring a wide range of interests and expertise together. The make-up of the panel does this.”

For more up-to-date news stories, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (24 March, 2011)