Victory for woodland campaign

Forest
Saving the South's woodland Photo: ITV Meridian

Experts have called on the Government to keep swathes of woodland in the South in public hands.

The Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has pledged to keep more than 250, 000 hectares of woodland in public hands - more than a year after she was forced into a U-turn on a bid to privatise England's forests.

There was public outcry when it was suggested the Wareham Forest in Dorset, the New Forest in Hampshire and Duncton Hangar in Sussex should be transferred into the hands of communities, charities and even local authorities. In the Thames Valley, Charterfield Woods in Oxfordshire and Ashley Hill in Berkshire were also being considered as part of the sale.

The issue of public access became a huge one, with fears that while footpaths for walkers were protected by legislation, any greater access currently granted by the Forestry Commission - including for bicycles and horse riding - would go if the land went to private companies.

The Independent Panel on Forestry has concluded the estate should remain in public ownership as land held in trust for the nation.

The panel said the Government needs to value woodlands for all the benefits they provide for people, nature and the economy and to invest in the public forest estate to avoid having to sell off woods to balance the books.