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Sussex woods saved from sell-off
Campaigners are celebrating after the Government announced it would no longer try to sell off historic woods to private developers.
The Government has announced it will not sell off the public forest estate after an expert panel called for the 258,000 hectares of woodland to remain in public ownership.
More than a dozen forests in Sussex were among those listed as potential commercial projects including Friston Forest near Seaford and Abbots Wood near Hailsham.
Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas described the decision as “an incredible victory” but warned forests would remain under threat if the Government imposed further cuts on the Forestry Commission.
Yesterday (July 4), environment secretary Caroline Spelman pledged the forests would stay in public hands following the publication of a report by the specially commissioned Independent Panel on Forestry.
The panel said the estate should remain in public ownership as land held in trust for the nation and that the Government needed to invest in the public forest estate to avoid having to sell off woods to balance the books.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also confirmed that the planned sale of 15% of the public forest estate, the most that can be sold off under existing legislation, would not go ahead.
The sale to raise up to £100 million had been put on hold while the panel conducted its inquiry.
The sell-off plans caused a huge public outcry when they were announced last year with more than half a million people signing a petition against the proposals.
Speaking yesterday Dr Lucas said: “Today’s announcement that the Government will not be selling off our public forests is an incredible victory for the many groups and individuals, including thousands in my constituency, that joined forces to protect the forest estate for people to enjoy today and for future generations.”
However, she added that questions about the management and funding of the estate remained.
She said: “There is a real risk that the Forestry Commission’s ability to evolve and build upon its track record of innovation and value for money will be hampered by current cuts to its budget and by job losses – the Government must now promise that there will be no further cuts to the Commission’s budget and staff.”
Simon Pryor, the natural environment director for the National Trust, said: “We encourage the Government to adopt and implement this report.
“If it does, the nation’s protest last year will not only have saved the public forest estate, it will also have triggered a step-change in the way we treat woodland in England.”