London: Public Anger Growing Over Plans To Sell-Off Forest

27 Jan

Plans to sell-off swathes of England‘s publicly-owned forests have been announced despite widespread opposition from environmental campaigners.

Anger Grows Over Forest Sell-Off Plans Enlarge photo

Ministers are due to outline proposals that will allow them to lease land managed by the Forestry Commission to private owners.

Some 15% of the forest estate, worth an estimated £100m, is already being sold.

The latest consultation could lead to the sale of the remaining 85% owned by the Commission, totalling 2,500 sq km.

Forests in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not affected.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: “State control of forests dates back to the First World War, when needs were very different. 

“There’s now no reason for the Government to be in the business of timber production and forest management. 

“It’s time for the Government to step back and allow those who are most involved with England’s woodlands to play a much greater role in their future.”

But the move has angered many in England who fear woodlands will come under threat from developers or be cut down for timber.

There are also concerns that public access to the forests will be affected.

High profile figures including Annie Lennox and Dame Judi Dench have spoken against the move, saying it would be “misjudged and short-sighted”.

The National Trust says unless the sales are sensitive to the forests’ cultural and conservation value, they should remain in public care.

Labour has called for a parliamentary debate on the plans, labelling them “environmental vandalism”.

Today’s announcement is expected to say historic woodland such as the New Forest and Forest of Dean will not be sold to private developers and could instead end up in the hands of charitable trusts.

Ministers have been forced to defend accusations the land could be used for golf courses or holiday parks.

Despite the assurances, the Woodland Trust has warned the Government it must improve protection of all of England’s woodlands as current rules are failing to stop them being destroyed.

The Trust also wants to see 20,000 hectares of damaged ancient woodland that is managed by the Forestry Commission and is currently planted with conifers restored to its former glory.

The Environment Department (Defra) will examine the future of the Forestry Commission, which was saved from the axe in the “bonfire of the quangos” but will be subject to reform.

The consultation will run from January 27 to April 21 2011.

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