Woodland planting call after U-turn on forest sale

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THE Government should act to create a new National Forest and move towards planting much more woodland close to urban areas to safeguard the future of Britain’s forests, a leading rural charity has said.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has today made a series of recommendations following the Government’s decision to scrap plans to sell off the nation’s forests in the face of a wave of criticism.

The CPRE said the Government needs to “make a positive and progressive vision for England’s woods and forests a reality”.

It also recommends that more access be granted to private woodland and the public should be more involved in their upkeep.

The charity is making the recommendations ahead of a key report, due to be published next week by the Independent Panel on Forestry, which will lay out its recommendations to the Government for the future of Britain’s forests.

Ben Stafford, CPRE’s head of campaigns, said: “England is a comparatively lightly wooded country but last year hundreds of thousands of people showed that we are fiercely proud and protective of our precious woodlands.

“Proposals to sell off parts of these treasured landscapes, with the threat that public access and proper woodland management could be lost, were met with dismay and outrage.

“Ahead of their recommendations, we want the panel to remember that profound public anger and ensure they set out a clear vision for both strong protection and future extension of England’s woods and forests.

“The Government will need to embrace the proposals the panel makes, and take swift action to secure a better future for England’s public forest estate and the country’s woodlands more widely.”

The Independent Panel on Forests was convened in the aftermath of the Government’s sell-off U-turn.

The CPRE wants specific extra protections for some of the country’s most important woodlands, calling for the Forest of Dean to be made an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to ensure that the area is given much stronger safeguards.

It suggests a national competition calling for ideas on where to create a second National Forest for England, to follow in the footsteps of the successful Midlands National Forest.

“This approach could reflect that adopted by the Government to identify the first wave of Nature Improvement Areas,” it said.

It also wants a large-scale increase in woodland cover across England, with a focus on planting trees in areas close to where people live and encouraging community-based initiatives, something the charity claims will “allow more people to get out into woodlands and appreciate their special qualities”.

It wants good access to the public forest estate and to encourage local authorities to negotiate with woodland owners to open up access to the public, suggesting that this can also be agreed as part of Environmental Stewardship schemes.

The planting of more trees in the wider countryside would enhance local character, it says.

“In particular, more hedgerow tree saplings need to be nurtured to ensure that they can become the next generation of hedgerow trees.

“If we do not grow new hedgerow trees, our distinctive English landscape will be very different – and less varied and poorer for wildlife – in future.”

The plan to sell-off parts of the country’s forests was met with almost universal outrage when it was unveiled.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested and signed petitions, amid a chorus of criticisms of the government’s approach.

At the time the Yorkshire Post revealed that thousands of sites of natural beauty could be under threat as private owners would have no legal requirement to preserve the nationally-important habitats.

A Yorkshire Post investigation has revealed there are more than 3,000 conservation and heritage sites in the region which could be placed in jeopardy if the sale of publicly-owned woodland was pushed through.

The panel is scheduled to publish its findings on Wednesday.