Forestry panel visits celebrated woodland project at Lawshall near Bury St Edmunds as it deliberates on final report

MEMBERS of an independent panel set up to look at the future of forestry visited a celebrated woodland project near Bury St Edmunds yesterday as they reach the final stages of a consultation and research exercise.

The Independent Panel on Forestry is due to submit its final report in June after it was tasked with looking at the issue following public outcry about Government proposals - swiftly shelved - to privatise Forestry Commission-owned land.

The panel produced a progress report in December, in which it confirmed a continuing role for the national public forest estate, arguing it delivers many benefits for people, nature and the economy. For its final report, the panel is discussing how these benefits can be secured for future generations and how more woodlands can be created and brought into management across England.

Panel members visited forestry sites around Thetford and Bury St Edmunds, including the Green Light Trust at Lawshall, where they were taken on a tour of the Golden Wood and saw how areas of new woodland had been created by the charity.

Nigel Hughes, co-founder of the trust, said he was delighted the panel had chosen to visit the site on its tour of the region.

“We are, in my opinion, the exemplar project in community engagement,” he said. He felt that cultural and community engagement was still “a blind spot” when it comes to policy on forests and hoped the visit would help redress that.

“We firmly believe we are part of nature and if we disconnect from nature, people and nature will be in trouble,” he said.

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“I was really delighted there was a public outcry (about forestry privatisation plans) because it meant to me that people really did value nature and actually intrinsically knew the benefits to us as a society. I think it’s great that the Government listened and made an independent panel and now certainly the early indications are the panel are really listening to the public.”

Panel member Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, said they had seen a number of private woodland owners and the projects they have got under way during their visit to the region.

“We had a pretty successful consultation with 40,000 responses last summer and autumn. We have had a lot of public meetings so I like to think we have picked up a lot of issues and concerns.” he said.

They needed to work to a long time horizon, he said, and one aspect which had come out was the wide range of benefits of forestry, from jobs and the economy to health and welfare.

They had done “an awful lot of listening” and were now just coming to the point of drawing up their recommendations, he said.

“One of the things we have wanted to do is to look at the multiple benefits,” he added.

The panel joined a discussion on woodland access and the public use of forests with local representative organisations including the Friends of Thetford Forest, East Anglian Forest Horse Riders, Save Sandlings Forest campaign, Local Access Forum and the Green Light Trust. It is the tenth area the panel has visited on its tour of the country.