Recent sightings of groups of naked men taking a walk in Sherwood Forest – and a report of someone exposing himself to a passing woman cyclist – have sparked news items in the Times, Daily Mail and other publications and on BBC Radio Nottingham. More worryingly, there is now a petition via asking the RSPB and Nottinghamshire County Council to “stop promoting nudity at Sherwood Forest.”

According to the petitioner, nudists can be seen “every day, in good weather,” and that the police have told them that “it is an offence if we find it offensive, which we do.” Moreover, the petitioner claims that the RSPB, rather than “discouraging this minority,” has made it clear in the national press and on signs in the forest that “nudists are welcome so long as they wear clothes when leaving and returning to their cars.”

Let’s look at the facts.

Under the law of England and Wales, naturism and public nudity are not criminal offences. Anyone simply removing their clothes to feel the sun and breeze on their skin is acting within the law. Nudity is legal in a much wider set of circumstances than is sometimes assumed and according to the Director of Public Prosecution’s Guidance on Nudity in Public of September 2013 to the Crown Prosecution Service, a balance must be struck between the Naturist’s right to freedom of expression and the right of the wider public to protection from harassment, alarm and distress. In practice, however, no case brought against a Naturist exercising their Naturism has been prosecuted since 2012.

As for the man in the bushes – the law distinguishes between Naturists and people engaged in activities involving sexual content and intent to cause alarm or distress. Anyone behaving like that is not a Naturist, so please don’t tar us with the same brush. We’re extremely happy to work with anyone who wants to stamp out such behaviour.

Far from being the menace alleged by the petitioner, Naturism is exhilarating, life-affirming and fun. We are a non-judgmental community whose members simply want to enjoy the same wide variety of activities non-naturists do. Those apparently harmful and dangerous naked men in the woods are, first, smaller in number than reports suggest and, second, literally only doing what other walkers are, albeit with a different (and better) dress code.