New threat alert to the nation's forests; Budget cuts will have a huge impact.
THOUSANDS of North East protesters who helped fight forest sell-off plans were warned yesterday of a new threat on the horizon.
While the Government has abandoned its plans to privatise 85% of Forestry Commission land in the face of fierce public opposition, campaigners say that budget cuts will seriously weaken woodland management.
"The amount of passionate support we received over the sell-off plans was quite humbling," said Ian Everard, North East spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union.
"But the people who supported us deserve a properly-funded Forestry Commission and not a body which is a shadow of itself . "We want to ensure sufficient resource levels to enable people to continue to enjoy the woodlands and forests in the way they have been doing," said Mr Everard, who urged people to contact their MPs on the issue.
He said that the budget cuts raised the likelihood of a retreat from multi-purpose forestry, where timber production was combined with leisure and conservation provision. A spokesperson for The Save Chopwell Wood Campaign said: "How will the Forestry Commission be able to look after our wood and other forests when they will soon be losing a large number of their staff? "We are only paying 30p per person each year for the Forestry Commission to care for our forests.
"And it now sounds like this will be cut to 23p per person.
"What is the point of saving forests, and then allowing them to fall into neglect because there are insufficient staff to look after them? " If the Government now agrees with the nation that our forests should be cherished, then surely they can find what is a relatively small amount of money to do it?" Campaigners are also cautious about how the proposed independent panel, which will review the role of the Forestry Commission and the future of the public forests, will be organised.
The spokesperson said: "We don't want to be fighting to save our wood again in a few years' time. We want our woods and forests kept in public ownership, with access, ancient woodland and wildlife all protected in perpetuity. We want them managed by a properly funded Forestry Commission."
An estimated 600 people attended a rally organised by Save Lakeland's Forests and Friends of the Lake District at Whinlatter Forest, near Keswick in Cumbria at the weekend.
Speakers included mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, rock climber Leo Houlding, Keith Fitton from the Lake District Osprey Project, Lord Clark of Windermere, Jack Ellerby from Friends of the Lake District and local MPs Jamie Read and Tony Cunningham.
Sir Chris warned of the importance of keeping up pressure as separate plans to sell-off 15% of public woodland under the Comprehensive Spending Review have only been suspended pending an independent review, and sell-offs could start in the autumn.
Lord Clark warned that this could mean the sale of 30-40% of the public woodland in the Lake District.
CAMPAIGN Some of the people protesting against plans to sell-off publicly-owned forests