United Kingdom — A CAMPAIGN has been launched to protect a Lake District forest from coming under private ownership.
Fears are growing that Grizedale Forest will be sold after the government refused to rule out scrapping ownership of all forest and woodland managed by the Forestry Commission nationwide.
Former Satterthwaite parish councillor Paul Townsend has started an internet campaign urging people to sign a petition, amid fears public access and the continued protection of wildlife habitats would be affected in forests such as Grizedale and Whinlatter.
He is considering organising a protest rally at Grizedale next month.
Mr Townsends biggest concern is that public access to the popular forest will be jeopardised, with new owners only obliged to retain rights of way for walkers.
He said: New owners would not have to allow entry to mountain bikers or horse riders and they would be able to put up fences and close car parks to make it more difficult for walkers to gain access.
Mr Townsend said the Forestry Commission did a lot of work to maintain and improve habitats for a wide range of species, including ospreys, red squirrels and red kites.
Private owners would not have that obligation.
Lord Clark of Windermere, a former chairman of the Forestry Commission and now the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry, is backing the campaign.
He said: I do not believe any government has the right to sell off our public forests.
We hold these magnificent green spaces in trust for our children. Once theyve gone we will not get them back.
A Forestry Commission spokesman said the government was committed to selling 15 per cent of its estate, but added: The government has stated its intention to shift ownership and management out of state ownership and control.
That has the potential, depending on consultation, to cover all of the land the Forestry Commission currently manages.
Grizedale and Whinlatter Forests are in the top 10 Cumbria visitor attractions, bringing in almost half a million people each year between them.
Richard Greenwood, Cumbria Tourism development director, said: We have very significant concerns due to the extent of Forestry Commission land in the Lake District and the potential for this area to suffer more than a lot of other parts of the country due to the sheer size of their estate here.
A Friends of the Lake District spokeswoman said the organisation, which works to protect and enhance the national park, was fearful for the sale of public woodland.
The spokeswoman said the sale of Grizedale would threaten public access, future forest restoration, sustainable timber growth, the local economy and jeopardise local forestry jobs.