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Threat to forests in Suffolk 'is not over'

PUBLISHED: 15:45 17 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:58 17 March 2011

A CAMPAIGN group is warning that forest users must remain vigilant in protecting Suffolk's woodlands - despite the Government's U-turn on sell-off plans.

Save Sandlings Forests said there remained a threat to Forestry Commission-owned land as the Government looks make millions of pounds worth of savings.

There was a huge public outcry when ministers announced plans to invite commercial operators and community groups to take over the running of forests earlier this year.

Consultation on the plans was pulled last month and the Government said an independent panel of experts would instead be asked to look at the future of forests.

But Clive Coles, one of the founders of Save Sandlings Forests, which is concerned with the woodlands at Rendlesham, Dunwich and Tunstall, said the future of public forests was still unclear.

Plans to sell 15% of the pubilc estate are still being worked up by the Government while there are proposals to cut the Forestry Commission workforce.

“The big thing is the staff issue at the Forestry Commission,” said Mr Coles.

“If the Government gets rid of the staff who look after the estate, it will increase the pressure to get rid of the estate. It will be a domino effect.

“There is now going to be a ‘secret’ consultation taking place and the fear is that an ongoing programmme of privatisation will go ahead unchallenged.”

Mr Coles, an orienteering enthusiast from Bredfield, near Woodbridge, said the group was encouraging people to write to their MPs to ensure rights of forest users were protected.

He added there was concern that the independent panel would involve “experts with an agenda” and would exclude the many user groups who enjoy the forests.

Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said the Forestry Commission’s budget had to be reduced to deal with the major deficit left behind by the previous Government.

She added she was “confident” the forestry panel would be wide-ranging in its views and representation.

Mr Coles said the campaign’ group was hoping to build up support for the forests.

For more information go to www.savesandlingsforest.co.uk.

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