Labour MPs join forests campaign walk

MORE than 100 ramblers, horse-riders and cyclists gathered in one of England’s largest forests yesterday to call for an end to the threat of the Government’s controversial woodland sell-off.

Shadow Environment Secretary and Wakefield MP Mary Creagh joined scores of supporters who had descended on the 8,500-acre Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire to urge Ministers to abandon any future sale of publicly-owned woodland.

The event was organised by the Labour MP for York Central, Hugh Bayley, who was inundated with more than 400 objections to the Government’s plans for the sell-off before they were abandoned last month.

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But My Bayley, who is a staunch campaigner to prevent the privatisation of forests, warned that the fight to keep publicly-owned woodland was not over.

An independent expert panel chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool James Jones is looking into future forestry policy and is due to report back in the autumn.

Among the proposals still under consideration by the Government are the disposal of 15 per cent of the nation’s public forest estate.

Mr Bayley said: “I am very pleased that the ‘Big Society’ spoke about the selling off of our public forests and I am glad the Government was forced to listen.

“The Government’s climbdown was a victory for people power. However, the campaign is not over.

“It is important for the panel to take account of the views of environmental and countryside campaigners, Forestry Commission unions and members of the public.

“I hope the panel will recommend that public forests remain public. We must keep the pressure up, so that the Government knows the strength of opposition to forest privatisation.”

Ministers were forced into a humiliating u-turn last month after a massive public outcry forced them to scrap proposals to offload the public forest estate to companies, communities and charities.

The plans would have led to the sale of the vast majority of 638,000 acres of woodland overseen by the Forestry Commission to raise up to £250m to counter the national deficit.

But during a House of Commons address, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman made a startlingly frank admission that the Government had “got this one wrong”.