Panel sees wide range of uses in Suffolk’s forests

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THE sheer diversity of uses in East Anglia’s woodlands was brought home to the panel investigating the future of the country’s forests.

Three members of the Independent Panel on Forestry visited Suffolk on Wednesday. The panel was set up by the Government in the wake of the furore over proposals to sell off the bulk of nationally owned forests,

Panel member Dr Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, said the morning had been spent seeing large privately managed forest businesses but speaking at the Green Light Trust’s woodland creation at Lawshall he said: “We’re seeing a local level of community involvement and communities involved in creating and managing woodland for themselves.”

The visit was the last of 10 the panel has made across the country, which Dr Clarke said brought home how varied England is. He said that though the issue was raised by the situation with public forests, which make up 18 per cent of woodland, the panel’s remit was to look at the future of forestry generally in England.

He said the panel’s had to look well to the future. “Of all land uses, forestry is the longest lived,” he said. “Forests operate over long term scales so we have to have a long term view.”

When the panel was set up there was criticism because the only user group represented was the ramblers, whose access to Forestry Commission land is protected under Right to Roam law, unlike permissive uses like horse and bike riding. But Mr Clarke said: “Round the table there are a number of individuals with experience of managing land for a wide range of uses. There is a high level of awareness of different uses.”

He said 40,000 responses to online and written consultation and public meetings helped them get a wide range of views.

Panel member Shireen Chambers, executive director of the Institute of Chartered Foresters, said: “We all really believe in how important the forests are.”

Dr Clarke stressed the economic, health and environmental benefits of forests and added: “If you look at England’s forests and the public support that goes into them, a great deal of benefit comes out of that.”