Suffolk: Campaigners’ delight at forest u-turn

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to protect Suffolk’s forests last night welcomed a Government u-turn over controversial plans to sell off woodland.

They hailed “people power” as the winner after environment secretary Caroline Spelman admitted to MPs that “we got this one wrong.”

She called a halt to plans to off-load 258,000 hectares of woodland run by the Forestry Commission.

She also said the Government would remove clauses on forestry from the Public Bodies Bill and a new independent panel would be set up to consider forestry policy in England.

The proposals posed a threat to the Sandlings Forests of Rendlesham, Tunstall and Dunwich in east Suffolk and Thetford Forest Park, which spreads over the Suffolk-Norfolk border and includes Elveden Forest and Kings Forest.

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Last night campaigners said they were delighted with the announcement.

Janet Harber, who lives at Sudbourne, on the edge of Tunstall Forest, where she rides her horse several times a week, said: “It is a huge relief.

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“It is a victory for people power and horse power. The strength of feeling against the proposals was enormous. It is very welcome news. However we [horse riders] will continue to try and get our rights of access on a par with ramblers.”

Mike Moore, chairman of local mountain bike group TROG, who use Tunstall and Rendlesham forests, said they had opposed the sell off from the outset and were pleased with the announcement - although concerns still remained.

He said these included the fact that Forestry Commission jobs were still under threat and that there had been no mention of representatives of cyclists, horseriders or other users of the forests on the Government’s new panel.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey faced fierce criticism from forest users at a meeting at Rendlesham Community Centre last week.

Last night she welcomed the decision, saying: “I think this decision has shown that this Government does believe in consultation.”

Dr Coffey had planned to hold a second meeting for forest users but now the consultation process has been scrapped she said this had also been cancelled.

Elizabeth Barrett, chairman of the Camino Riders, which ride in forests across East Anglia including Kings Forest, said: “We are absolutely over the moon. We now need to try and get our access in forests turned from a permission basis to a right.”

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, whose constituency includes parts of Thetford Forest, said: “It’s very sensible because the feedback was not getting any better.

“One thing that came across in this consultation though is that forests don’t have much protection and I want to see something as valuable as Thetford Forest more secure in the future.”

Rosie Potter, secretary and treasurer of the King’s Forest Bowmen, a leading East Anglian archery group, said: “This means so much to us – to be able to go out locally because we all come from the area.”

Speaking yesterday Ms Spelman said she took full responsibility for the u-turn.

“I am doing so because it is quite clear from the early responses to the consultation that the public and many MPs are not happy with the proposals we set out,” she said.

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