A rally is to be held to protest over Government plans to transfer public forests in the Lake District and other parts of England to the private sector.
Campaign group Save Lakeland’s Forests has accused ministers of trying to “pull the wool over people’s eyes” and said the proposals would be a disaster for public access and environmental protection.
It said nearly 40 public forests and woodlands in the Lakes such as Grizedale, Whinlatter and Ennerdale were under threat.
On Saturday, the National Trust said the plans to dispose of the country’s 258,000-hectare forest estate over the next decade in a £250 million sell-off was “a watershed moment in the history of the nation”.
The rally at Grizedale Forest in Cumbria will hear speeches from Lord Clark of Windermere, a former chairman of the Forestry Commission, broadcaster Eric Robson, and Jack Ellerby, from Friends of the Lake District.
Lord Clark said: “The Government is trying to convince people that this is not privatisation. The fact is that their plans would mean selling off vast swathes of our public forests, in places like the Lake District, on 150-year leases to the private sector.
“These proposals would lead to a serious reduction in access to our public forests and undermine the important environmental work that the Forestry Commission does on our behalf.”
Mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, who is also a supporter of the campaign, said: “Our public forests are already much smaller than those in most other countries and we need to preserve what we have for the benefit of everyone. I urge all those who value these wonderful green spaces to join the campaign to keep our forests in public ownership and public management.”
Save Lakeland’s Forests said the Government was suggesting some heritage woodlands could be taken over by other organisations or local communities while so-called “commercial” forests will be sold on long leases to the private sector. But it said the reality was that most public forests were a mixture of the two and would be under threat of being transferred to the private sector.
The Government proposals, which are out for consultation, detail measures to dispose of up to 100% of England’s public forest estate, which is currently managed by the Forestry Commission, over the next 10 years. They include the sale of leaseholds for commercially valuable forests to timber companies, measures to allow communities, charities and even local authorities to buy or lease woods and plans to transfer well-known “heritage” woods such as the New Forest into the hands of charities.