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Protesters rally over forests plans

More than 1,000 campaigners have attended a rally in the Lake District to oppose any transfer of the "birthright" of public forests to the private sector.

The protesters gathered in Grizedale Forest in Cumbria to cheer speakers who condemned the Government proposals to sell off land across England as an "absolute disgrace".

Protest organisers Save Lakeland's Forests say the sell-off of nearly 40 public forests and woodlands in the Lakes would be a disaster for public access and environmental protection.

The Government proposals, which are out for consultation, detail measures to dispose of up to 100% of England's public forest estate, which is currently managed by the Forestry Commission, over the next 10 years.

They include the sale of leaseholds for commercially-valuable forests to timber companies, measures to allow communities, charities and even local authorities to buy or lease woods and plans to transfer well-known "heritage" woods, such as the New Forest, into the hands of charities.

Lord Clark of Windermere, a former chairman of the Forestry Commission, told the crowd: " I am so pleased that so many of you have taken time out today to come and tell the the Government what you think of their proposals to give away and to sell our birthright. The great thing is that this land is ours and we need to keep it as ours.

"If this sell-off goes ahead, whether it is leasehold or freehold, it will actually cost us more money. The Government is proposing some of our forests to be given away to charities and then provide them with an annual subsidy to run the forests. We give £26 million a year to private forestry. That will probably double if we have to subsidise the charities."

He called on MPs to scrap clauses 17 and 18 of the Public Bodies Reform Bill, which he warned would enable some forests to be sold without any consultation.

Broadcaster and Cumbria Tourism and Wainwright Society chairman Eric Robson said: "I knew we had a problem when I heard a Forestry Minister last week describe the place where we are today as 'Greezedale'."

He called on the Government to abandon the clauses until the consultation was over.

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