The National Trust has vowed to “play its part” in protecting England’s publicly-owned ancient woodlands, as the threat of a £250 million Government sell-off looms.
The charity described plans to dispose of the country’s 258,000 hectare forest estate over the next decade as “a watershed moment in the history of the nation”.
It put out a rallying call for the public’s urgent support to ensure “heritage forests” such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest are preserved for future generations.
“For 116 years, we have helped to save the places the people of this country most value when their existence, or access to them, has been threatened,” said the Trust.
“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 It is therefore essential and urgent that everyone who cares for these special places now make their voices heard over what should happen to them.”
The Trust, which protects buildings, countryside and coastlines in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is considering a number of options, including buying or taking over England’s public forest estate.
However, it is understood the costs involved could have major implications and is therefore hoping to enter into discussions with potential partner organisations.
The Trust said: “As the future of our great forests and woodlands is under threat, we want to know what the nation wants to see happen and are ready to discuss the future of these places. We are, as a matter of urgency, ready to enter a dialogue with all who care for them – local groups, NGOs, conservationists, other forest users and individuals – as to how their future can be preserved for future generations.”
News of the plans has caused widespread consternation, with fears rife that well-loved woodlands could come under threat from golf courses and holiday parks or be cut down for timber, and that the public would lose access to forests.
The Government has already announced plans to sell 15% of the public estate, with the hope that the sales will raise £100 million to help balance Defra’s books. Currently, 18% of England’s forests are publicly owned.