PLANS to end state ownership of 99,000 acres of English forest were unveiled by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman yesterday.
Mrs Spelman said national forests dated back to World War One and added: “There’s now no reason for the Government to be in the business of timber production and forest management.
“The Government is absolutely committed to the ongoing provision and protection of the public benefits provided by the public forest estate.”
The Government wants to off-load 15 per cent of the Forestry Commission’s estate: 40,000 hectares or 98,842 acres. It promises to protect heritage and community forests which provide high public benefits by inviting new or existing charities to take on management.
The Environment Department says the consultation aims to maintain environmental protection, including sustainability, and public access under both Right to Roam law and permissive use, like horse and bicycle riding.
But The Woodland Trust launched a Save England’s Ancient Forests campaign claiming existing safeguards are ineffective.
Commercial forestry will be leased to retain control through lease conditions.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Julian Roughton has warned that important conservation projects to open up heathland areas among woodland in Thetford Forest might be lost if the land was commercially owned.
Consultation documents can be found at www.forestry.gov.uk/england-pfeconsultation.