SEAFORD: Woodlands policy U-turn welcomed

CONTROVERSIAL plans which could have seen Friston Forest change hands have been abandoned.

Walkers and wildlife lovers had expressed concern after learning popular areas of woodland being run by the Forestry Commission could be taken over by private companies, charities or community groups.

But last week plans to sell off 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland in England were abandoned after Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman told MPs the government had ‘got this one wrong’ and announced the current consultation had been halted.

It is now understood a new panel of experts will look at public access and biodiversity within the country’s publicly-owned woodland.

Tony Whitbread, chief executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, said he had been concerned that if land had been sold off to private owners maintenance could have become an issue.

He added, “From my personal view I think it was taking place rather too quickly.

“They need to look at the wider policy and in particular what does the country want to achieve with its public forests?”

“The initial plans did not really seem to have a proper purpose.”

Mr Whitbread said the right thing was now being done by a new panel of experts looking into the issue.

Friston Forest is owned by South East Water and popular with both walkers, mountain bikers and tourists to the area.

In documents released last month it was understood small commercial woodland such as Friston Forest and Abbot’s Wood were the most likely plots to be put on the market.

But under the original plans, if they were not privatised in the first wave, they would then have come under a second set of plans for the forest estate that would mean the community is given first refusal on taking over control of the land.

Failing that, private firms would have had the chance to take them over on 150 year leases.