I LOVE the public forests as much as anyone else, having walked with my children in Hay Wood and the iconic Arden Forest. I want the forests to be safeguarded for them in the future.
I am concerned that local people have been misled by national media statements about public forests, following the publication of a consultation document by DEFRA on January 27.
We are consulting over three months on the following: The heritage forests will not be sold but transferred at no cost to a charitable trust like the National Trust or the Woodland Trust and the Government will provide the running costs for them, as we do now for the Forestry Commission.
Commercial forests like Kielder will be on long-term leases with conditions regarding public access attached to them. Whatever happens, as Secretary of State for DEFRA, I have to resolve the Forestry Commission’s conflict of interest where it is both the regulator and the largest player in the timber market.
Small non-commercial woods may be bought by community groups or charities but, if not, they will remain in public ownership. All types of forest will receive enhanced protection for public access and other benefits through an amendment that I will bring to the Public Bodies Bill. We will restore Plantations on Ancient Woodland sites (PAWS) to the woodlands they originally were.
Inaccurate press speculation has swirled about because until the consultation was officially launched, I was not in a position to lay out our proposals in full. I hope constituents will read the consultation for themselves, and be reassured that public access and biodiversity protections will absolutely remain. Visit www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/index.htm.