Thetford: National Trust vows to protect forests in sell-off row

SUPPORT for the National Trust (NT) has been voiced by woodland users after the charity announced it would step in to protect publicly-owned forests - including Thetford Forest - in the face of the Government’s sell-off threat.

The Government is proposing measures to dispose of up to 100% of Englands Forestry Commission-owned land in a bid to save �250million.

Thetford town councillor Albert Paines, who has lived in the town for 46 years, said it was an appalling idea to sell the nation’s forests.

He said: “Terrible as this would be, if we were left in a position where someone else had to take over then the National Trust would be the best option. They already have a great reputation in caring for our heritage and ensuring buildings stay open to the public and I’m sure they could bring the same qualities to ensuring our forests remain open to the public as well.”

The grandfather of ten said years ago he spent many happy days roaming through Thetford Forest with his own family and would hate to see any risk to that right through a sell-off.

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The Government has come under fierce attack since announcing the plans last week.

Campaigners against the move fear Forestry Commission-owned land could see sections sold off to private operators and logging companies.

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In a statement released by the NT a spokesman said it was prepared to play its part in protecting forests and woodland.

She added: “For 116 years, the NT has helped to save the places the people of this country most value when their existence or access to them, has been threatened. If the Government is determined to pursue the course of action it has outlined and the public wish us to, we are ready to play our part in giving them a secure future. We are ready to step in.”

The Trust, which protects buildings, countryside and coastlines in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is considering a number of options to take over.

However, it is understood the costs involved could have major implications and is therefore hoping to enter into discussions with potential partner organisations.

Simon Evans, 38, a Thetford resident for ten years, who uses Thetford Forest regularly for running and mountain biking, said he was shocked the Government would risk the future of any woodland area for the sake of �250million.

“When we start selling of our forests we’re in trouble. We have a great environmental balance in the forest at the moment that ensures it is well looked after and allows a multitude of free healthy pursuits,” he said. “It’s successful, why would anyone want to risk that? But if they do cash in, I hope the National Trust step in.”

East of England MEP Richard Howitt, who has joined the Friends of Thetford Forest to fight the Government’s proposals, said: “The Government is floundering over this and has completely lost support on the issue. The NT is a wonderful organisation that has protected so much of our heritage, but that does not mean it is the best organisation to run our forests. The Forestry Commission is clearly best placed to do that and we should fight to make sure their excellent stewardship of our woodland areas continue.”

Other woodland areas in the region that could be see sections sold off include Rendlesham and Dunwich forests.

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