Defra’s forestry panel under fire

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GROUPS who fought the forestry sell off have slammed the make-up of the new forestry advisory panel.

The environment department (Defra) announced on Thursday last week that the panel tasked to look into forestry’s future would be almost entirely forestry and conservation representatives with the only ‘user group’ being the Ramblers Association. Walkers’ access rights are legally protected, but no group whose access is only permissive is represented.

Jan Harber, who ran a campaign for East Anglian Forest Riders, said: “It’s ironic the Ramblers, whose access is already protected, are the only recreational user body on the panel. How is it that none of those local campaigners and user groups such as horse riders, mountain bikers, orienteers, dog walkers and husky racers is represented?”

John Gould, chairman of Thetford Improved Mountain Biking Environment (Timber), said: “For all these user groups not to have representation is ridiculous.”

Timber works with the Forestry Commission to build bike trails in Thetford Forest and Mr Gould said only one mountain bike course in the UK is not on FC land.

Friends of Thetford Forest chairman Ann Mason was disappointed and worried by the panel’s terms of reference, which include looking at future forest ownership.

“That implies it’s not necessarily the Forestry Commission,” she added.

Defra said it wanted to keep the panel’s size manageable and members were chosen for expertise and not as representatives of their bodies.

“They’re expected to contact these other people,” a spokesman said.

But Thetford MP Elizabeth Truss felt that was not good enough and said: “There’s room for representations on who should be on it. I’m going to write to the secretary of state asking that these groups [horse and bike riders] be represented.”