The Greensand Trust is facing up to a public backlash after telling commercial dog walkers, professional photographers and anyone else using Rushmere Park for business purposes they should be paying for the privilege.
And other organisations and groups, such as childminders, have also been advised that, while they won’t be charged, they should fill in an ‘organised activity request form’ ahead of their visit to the site in Heath and Reach to ensure their activity “is in keeping with the protection of the site, its sensitivities and the safety of other users”.
The Trust, which in June raised parking charges at the site to £3, says the policy has been in place since Rushmere was opened up to the public and it was merely raising awareness by reiterating the rules this week. It says it follows an increase in the number of businesses using the woodland in recent times, particularly professional photographers setting up photoshoots with clients.
The policy sets out how commercial operators must apply for a permit, paying a £25 administration fee, a refundable deposit, plus a permit charge of 15% of the revenue generated though their commercial activity (charities and non-profit making groups will usually be calculated at 10% of the value of activities).
But the policy has been roundly blasted with several people contacting the LBO and countless others venting their anger on the Greensand Trust’s Facebook page.
One woman said: “This is health and safety crazy. I used to be a childminder and if we did this every time we went to the park we would have taken them nowhere. Be grateful people and businesses are visiting and stop trying to put them off there are plenty of other places they can go!”
Another said: “These small businesses also bring new customers to you, who purchase drinks and food and pay for parking. I agree with it, if it is a commercial photo shoot from a big business or TV filming, but for small family photography businesses , it would be a lot of money to pay to you and they can use other locations for free. So how about supporting local small businesses rather then making their life harder!
Another added: “This is hilarious. I can imagine guerilla photographers and dog walkers around Rushmere. The photographers will just tell people to meet them somewhere in the park and surreptitiously take their cameras in. Rushmere would then need to prove that photos are taken in their woods. It’s ludicrous!”
A local professional photographer commented: “The beautiful images that photographers create and share will only raise awareness of your park and encourage people to go. As you charge for parking and entrance, plus whatever is purchased in the cafe, it is a win-win. If not there are plenty of other parks to go to and you lose that revenue you would’ve got.”
And a dog walker groaned: “I visit pretty much daily, often twice a day, to walk my three dogs. They are my own dogs. Am I going to be challenged and asked if I have a permit? I also enjoy taking photos in the park. Am I going to be challenged? How can you tell the difference?”
But defending the rules, a Greensand Trust spokesman said: “Rushmere Country Park has been made available for visitors through The Greensand Trust and Central Bedfordshire Council working in partnership for the benefit for both people and wildlife.
“The site is managed on a not-for-profit basis by The Greensand Trust, a local environmental charity, who secured the purchase of Rushmere Estate in 2009, and combined it with Stockgrove Country Park and Oak Wood to create a much larger and more sustainable park.
“As local authorities have greater demands on their funds than ever before, Rushmere has been developed by the Trust as a facility made possible only through the support of its visitors, users and volunteers.
“We have had to develop a range of fundraising activities to achieve this and have transformed what was a private estate into an accessible, welcoming and well supported site which offers high quality facilities for visitors, alongside enhanced habitats for the benefit and protection of wildlife.
“Rushmere requires significant resources to manage and protect it - our staff and volunteers work hard to ensure the site remains safe and welcoming for visitors and to enhance its environment.
“ Last year the removal of visitor litter alone cost in excess of £10,000. In addition to those who contribute through donations, or other fundraising activities such as parking, using our catering facilities or attending our events, we ask that those running a business by using the site, should further help support it by making a contribution. We are not alone in this approach as many other charities running similar sites also charge commercial operations for using their site.
“Through hard work and the generosity of visitors, staff, volunteers and partners, much has been achieved since Rushmere opened. However, we must continue to raise funds to ensure these precious accessible areas and habitats remains safe and protected for the benefit of all its users, both people and wildlife.”
Asked whether they could realistically police the policy, the spokesman added: “We rely on businesses responding to our request through visitor services and monitoring of activities by staff and volunteers. Quite a number of formal and informal groups contact VS direct to ask about any specific requirements and we work hard to accommodate their needs where we can.”
And on criticism that non-commercial groups or childminders filling out activity request forms in advance was “heath and safety gone mad”, she added: “We advise any activity organisers to let us know of their presence at the site. We are keen to ensure that they have planned for a well organised and safe visit, carry the appropriate insurances and we are also very happy to help them get the best out of the park. At times we need to plan for larger groups who intend to visit on the same day.”
Businesses can apply to use the woodland at https://www.greensandtrust.org/commercial-activity-request
Groups can access an activity request form via https://www.greensandtrust.org/organised-activity-request
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