Wildlife at risk from sell-off

THE chief executive of the largest wildlife charity in the region is urging Whitehall to think about wildlife when considering the proposed privatisation of woodlands.

Mike Pratt, of Northumberland Wildlife Trust, is concerned about the Government’s plans to break up and sell off Forestry Commission woodlands such as Kielder, many of which, according to outline plans, are seen as commercial plantations.

He said: “This is a massive oversimplification. In reality, the differentiation between wildlife-friendly ancient woodland and sterile spruce plantation does not exist, one continues into the other with wildlife and conservation going hand in hand with all forestry.”

Mike said Kielder Forest is the most important stronghold in northern England for the endangered red squirrel and their future survival depends on these forests being managed with them in mind.

Other wildlife treasures in the commercial parts of the forest include rare breeding birds such as crossbills, nightjars and raptors and the first pine martens recorded in the county were reported from a commercial forest area.

He fears there is a danger that these important plantation woods may be sold and cleared to create grouse moors or used for other purposes, to the detriment of red squirrels and other wildlife.

Mike said: “Just at a time when we and other conservation charities are talking about landscape scale projects with woodlands being the big connectors in the wildlife network, a proposal comes along threatening to fragment the public owned forests into private ownership.

“This would be a massive step back as sympathetic or complementary management of the sites could not be guaranteed. There is no real case for it being of economic benefit either so it is a case if it ain’t broken, don’t try and fix it.”

He added that if the shake-up does come about, the wildlife charity would work with new owners or partners to ensure the securing of wildlife and the implementation of conservation measures. It would even consider taking on long leases on some of the land.”