East Suffolk: Concern over forests grading

A CONSERVATION group that champions an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on the Suffolk coast has questioned the Government’s grading of forests that could see public-owned woodland sold off.

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Unit promotes the AONB that stretches from Kessingland to Shotley, encompassing the Sandlings Forests at Rendlesham, Tunstall and Dunwich.

It is currently looking at the details of the Government’s consultation on Forestry Commission-owned land, published at the end of last month, which put a question mark over the future of UK’s forests.

Tunstall Forest has been designated as “heritage” – which means it is earmarked for charity ownership – while Rendlesham and Dunwich forests have been classified as “small commercial”, which could see the land sold to a commercial operator or handed over to a community group.

The Government is looking for potential new owners for the sites, but heritage forests will be subject to greater protection under trust or charity management.

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Nick Collinson, unit manager, said he could not understand the reasoning behind Rendlesham and Dunwich’s classifications.

“There’s an awful long way to go on the consultation and we are waiting to see how the various players involved react before we give our response,” he said.

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“But my initial, principal concern is why Rendlesham and Dunwich are ‘small commercial’ forests – I can’t see how that matches their definitions.

“Given they are in a nationally-protected landscape and considering the biodiversity and the public involvement and access, we would question why they are not ‘heritage forests’ as well.”

Mr Collinson said the unit was working with the Forestry Commission on conservation and biodiversity projects at the three woodlands and stressed the need for such work to continue.

“The fundamental thing is that ownership of forests must be outward-looking – and the Forestry Commission does that very well. We would be very happy for them to carry on.”

He added: “The money that would be raised by selling off land is a pittance compared to the public benefit and the public benefit at these three forests is huge. We don’t want to see that diminished.”

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths Unit champions an AONB that stretches over more than 150 square miles and works with 26 partner agencies, including the Forestry Commission, on conservation projects in forests, heathland and estuaries.

The consultation lasts until April. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that public access rights would be protected but it was time for the Government to “step back” from timber production and forest management.

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