U-turn on forests as public wins the day

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PLANS to sell-off huge swathes of Forestry Commission land have been halted after pressure from the public.

A consultation was under way on proposals to sell off 85 per cent of the land across the UK, which includes sections in north Northumberland like Kielder, Harwood Forest and Thrunton Woods.

But last week the Government made a U-turn on the proposals.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spellman announced that an independent panel of experts will examine forestry policy in England and report back to her in the autumn.

Despite the breakthrough there are still concerns about forests in north Northumberland being in the 15 per cent that the Government still plans to sell.

Rothbury and Coquetdale councillor Steven Bridgett said: “Woodlands and forests in the Rothbury and Coquetdale area could still fall in to the categories to go.

“But despite the fact that 15 per cent of the forestry estate could still be sold off, they have listened to what the public have said and I am pleased that the estate will stay in the public’s hands.

“It is just a shame that the Forestry Commission office in Rothbury has to go when we could be keeping the majority of our forests.”

Caroline Spellman told the Commons: “If there is one clear message from this experience, it is that people cherish their forests and woodlands and the benefits they bring.

“My first priority throughout this period of debate has been securing a sustainable future for our woodlands and forests.

“On many occasions in the House last autumn, Ministers gave assurances that our aim in all of this has been to do more to maintain and enhance the public benefits delivered by forestry – from recreational access to wildlife protection; from tackling climate change to sustaining a wide range of small businesses.

“That is why my ambition to provide a better future for our forests is undiminished.”