Forest sell-off outlawed by people power

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PEOPLE power has won the fight to stop the sale of state-owned woodlands – including parts of Sherwood Forest – after massive public opposition forced the Government to drop the proposals.

Members of the Save Sherwood Forest campaign are celebrating after the public consultation on plans to transfer the management of Forestry Commission-run forests to charitable organisations and community groups or to lease them to commercial operators, was halted.

Paddy Tipping, former Sherwood MP and spokesman for the campaign group, said: “It’s good news. There was strong local feeling and it was clear that people who live in the north Nottinghamshire area were strongly opposed to the sell-off of the most famous forest in the world. This was people power in action – the outlaws have come out of the forest and won.”

Mr Tipping said that the ‘overwhelming’ public response seemed to have taken the Government aback and forced the U-turn and it is now hoped that the raised profile of public-owned woodlands will encourage more people to use them, including walkers, bikers, horseriders and nature lovers.

And after winning this battle, the campaign group is now focusing its attention on the need to regrow and renew parts of Sherwood Forest, creating more heathland and making it less fragmented by joining up separate pockets of woodland over a period of time.

“People have thought ‘we had better use it or lose it’ and we need to build on that, bring all interested people together and create a vision of the new, regrown Sherwood Forest,” Mr Tipping added.

The group is also urging caution over concerns about other potential threats to public spaces caused by the cuts being made by Nottinghamshire County Council and to the Forestry Commission.

Members fear that woodlands and country parks could be easy targets for jobs and infrastructure cuts and that the 25 per cent reduction in the Forestry Commission’s budget will also affect its ability to protect woodlands.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman confirmed the consultation on the future management of the Public Forest Estate had been halted in a speech in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Mrs Spelman also announced an independent panel of experts will examine forestry policy in England and report back to her in the autumn.

Mansfield MP Alan Meale, who had tabled an Early Day Motion against the forest sell-off, said that it was ‘great news’ that the Government has scrapped the plans.

“They seemed pretty clear what they wanted to do but I am pleased that they bottled out in the face of phenomenal opposition right across the spectrum,” he said.

“For once they have listened, but I think the avalanche of opposition that came in shocked them and forced them into a re-think.”

Mr Meale added that he is keeping a close eye on the issue so that when the Government returns to it, he is ready to act in the interest of keeping woodlands for public use.

Sherwood’s Conservative MP Mark Spencer, who had supported the plans, said halting the consultation showed that Ministers had listened.

“Having undertaken an extensive consultation on the future of our forests and listened to the views of both the public and various organisations, it was clear that there were serious and widespread concerns about the proposed changes and the consultation has accordingly been brought to an end,” he said.