CONTROVERSIAL plans to break up and sell off public woodlands such as Abbot’s Wood in Hailsham have been scrapped in a Government u-turn.
But campaigners have urged the public to keep the pressure on, as the Hailsham woodland could still be under threat, as the Government still wants to sell off 15 per cent of the public forest estate between now and 2014.
“The Government has been telling the Forestry Commission to sell off parts of its estate for many years so there has been a slow and continual erosion, not just limited to the current government,” said Dr Tony Whitbread, Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust.
“Therefore, although the consultation has been cancelled, the Forestry Commission is still being eroded.
“They are still suffering cuts and are still likely to lose 25 per cent of their staff.
“So some of the problems have not gone away and it could well be that places like Abbot’s Wood will be back on the list for sale at some time in the future,” he added.
In January, the Government launched a 12-week consultation on the future of England’s Public Forest Estate.
Under the proposals, 85 per cent of forests- owned and managed by the state could be transferred to other parties, while commercially valuable forests including Abbot’s Wood, which is owned by the Forestry Commission, could be leased to commercial operators.
But after fierce public opposition, on February 17, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman called off the consultation and removed all forestry clauses in the Public Bodies Bill, which would have given the government the power to sell all the public forests.
Speaking in the House of Commons, she said,“I am sorry, we got this one wrong.”
Mrs Spelman also announced that an independent panel of experts will examine forestry policy in England and report back to her in the autumn.
Dr Whitbread welcomed the move and said in practice the Government may well lose money from selling off woodlands because when a wood is sold the new owner is eligible for a range of grants that were not available to the Forestry Commission.
“I think the independent panel is the right way to go. I will be interested to see how it develops,” he said.