Aston Hill Bike Park | Temporary closure FAQs
When does felling work begin to remove the diseased tree?
Work to prepare the site for felling starts on Monday 8 November with warning signs being placed on site and marking out of safety zones. The harvesting machinery will arriving on Tuesday the 9 November.
Is the bike park closing for good?
No. Our plans are to complete the felling works and then re-open the bike park with new investment.
However until the work can be completed the site is closed and all trails are closed to keep people safe. The response from the mountain bike community has been fantastic, thank you for your patience whilst the site has remained inaccessible. We fully understand the disappointment around the closure of the popular trails and would like to thank the community, especially Bike Park Chilterns CIC for the ongoing support and understanding.
Why is the Hill closed for so long?
Aston Hill has one of the highest density of ash in the local area, which is great as the ash trees have provided the woodland environment that we all enjoy. However recently we've seen decline in their health due to a fungal disease called Chalara fraxinea and this has led to safety concerns. Chalara ash dieback is a serious disease of ash trees caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The disease affects ash trees by blocking the water transport systems, causing leaf loss, lesions in the wood and on the bark. This leads to the dieback of the crown of the tree. Trees become brittle over time with branches breaking away from the main body of the tree. If they are not dealt with, trees are at risk of collapsing, presenting an immediate danger to the surrounding area. To protect everyone’s safety, we're removing trees that are a risk.
To safely fell the affected ash and to thin out the other tree species, to improve the woodland ecology and maintain tree health, we need to bring in specialist contractors with skills and experience in steep ground working and until this work starts the site must remain closed. During this time we ask everyone to stay safe by adhering to the onsite signage and barriers at trail starts.
Aston Hill as the name suggests is situated on a hill with gradients well in excess of 13%. Therefore standard mechanical felling with powered access and standard mechanical harvesting equipment is unsuitable to remove the trees. We need to work with a specialist company and due to the demand for this specialist work and a growing demand for similar felling across England, we have faced delays to the operational start date. In addition to the complexities of felling the trees, Aston Hill is home to a wide range of flora and fauna. Some of the species found in the area are internationally significant and receive the highest protected status. We care for more than a quarter of a million hectares of habitat for wildlife across the nation's forests, helping to create healthy and natural ecosystems.
We are working hard to find a contractor with availability and undertaking works planning with the hope of starting work soon. We cannot give exact timings until suitable contractors have been appointed. If we can complete the works sooner, we will, but we think that 6 to 8 months is a realistic timeline to complete the works safely, repair the trails and re-invest in the park before re-opening.
Are you going to remove all the trees on site?
No. We will be focusing on the worst affected ash and will also complete planned thinning operations to space out the other tree species, which will help improve the woodland ecology and maintain tree health. There are a number of other tree species across the site including beech and Norway spruce which will be retained.
Why can’t you use tree surgeons to undertake the works sooner?
Our tree safety management process normally involves an annual survey followed by remedial works undertaken by our own trained chainsaw operators or tree surgeons. Unfortunately, infected ash poses a risk to chainsaw operators on the ground as the stems are brittle and dead branches in the crown can fall, and consequently our risk assessment points to mechanical felling (e.g. harvesters) as the preferred option where ever possible. The large numbers involved and the difficult terrain means that we need to engage specialist contractors with the right equipment to cost effectively fell the trees.
Will harvesting damage the trails?
Tree felling and removal on steep ground will be a challenging operation and whilst we will ask our contractors to avoid damaging the key trails as much as possible, some damage is inevitable. In rebuilding the trails for the future we will work with user group representatives to ensure that the trail network is designed to better allow for future tree harvesting operations.
Is Wendover Woods going to close?
No. Dead and dying trees are a natural component of the forest and in the right place are a welcome part of the forest ecosystem. We undertake tree safety surveys along high public access areas (eg facilities, trails, public roads) to assess the risk and identify remedial works. We are aware of diseased ash at Wendover and other sites and will be monitoring and carrying out remedial actions to keep our visitors safe. Unlike Aston Hill, the trails and facilities at Wendover can be accessed by tree surgeons using elevated platforms which makes management easier.
Where else can I ride whilst the bike park is closed?
Suggested sites include:
- Rushmere Country Park - Riders Ridge Bike Park and 6km XC Trail - 15 miles from Aston Hill (AH)
- Woburn Woods - Woburn Bike Park and the Longslade XC Trail - 23 miles from AH
- Chicksands Bike Park - 33 miles from AH
- Swinley Forest - 50 miles from AH
- Surrey Hills - 60 miles from AH
- Rogate B1kePark - 80 miles from AH.
What’s happening to Firecrest Mountain Biking and the Skills Courses they run at Aston Hill Bike Park?
Firecrest Mountain Biking are continuing to run Mountain Bike Courses and have moved their course programme to Rushmere Country Park. Whilst Rushmere Country Park doesn’t offer the elevation of Aston Hill Bike Park there are some fantastic trails for skills coaching both in the Riders Ridge Bike Park and on the 6km Cross Country loop. Firecrest MTB will be returning to run their programme of courses on Aston Hill as soon as the park re-opens. To find out more about the courses they offer, visit their website.
Beyond the felling works we will be looking for a partner organisation or business to work with us to deliver the operational management of Aston Hill and will be seeking this through formal tender at the end of 2021.
Will there be any races and events in 2021
No. As much as we wanted racing and events to return to Aston Hill Bike Park in 2021, due the closure this won’t be possible. As soon as the bike park re-opens, MTB downhill, enduro racing and events will return.
I'm a member - what's happening about my Membership?
We have emailed all our members for Aston Hill Bike Park to explain how this affects your Membership. If this has not reached you, then please check your junk folder. You can also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be happy to help you.
Am I going to take ash dieback home after I visit nearby Wendover Woods?
We all have a part to play in the prevention of the spread of pests and diseases. Though Chalara ash dieback spreads on the wind-borne spores of the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, and so there is little we can do to prevent the spread of the disease, the spread of other threats can be slowed or stopped by:
- Pests and diseases can spread in the mud and debris on shoes, paws and tyres, so simple measures such as cleaning your boots and car wheels after a walk in forests and woodlands can help to limit the spread of diseases.
- Don’t risk it! Don’t bring any plant or tree products back from trips abroad, because these might be carrying harmful non-native tree pests or pathogens.
- Be vigilant! Report any trees that you suspect are in ill-health to the Forestry Commission using Tree Alert
- Join us! You can help us to protect trees against the threat of pests and diseases by becoming a member of Forestry England.