2 May 1997

Ramblers campaign to keep woodland access

RAMBLERS have called on the next government to bring an immediate halt to the sell-off of Forestry Commission land.

During a protest walk in Notts at the weekend, the Ramblers Association attacked the "chaotic, unplanned and cavalier" sale of forestry land. Since 1981, 133,146ha (329,000 acres) have been sold, returning £144.6 million to the Treasury.

Government wants the Forestry Commission to sell off a further 35,000ha (86,485 acres) by 2000. Pressure to comply is high as failure to meet an annual quota level results in the commission having to make up the financial shortfall.

The Ramblers Association is furious about the loss of access, saying the public were faced with a veil of secrecy surrounding the sell-off of woodland.

Paddy Tipping, Ramblers Association vice-chairman, said only 30 of 98 woods currently for sale had protected access agreements. "Such is the haste with which the government is trying to flog off our forests. There are an additional four woods where an agreement to protect access is still under consideration, but these woods are already for sale."

A Forestry Commission spokesman confirmed that 98 woods, covering 9495 ha (23,462 acres) were for sale. But access agreements would cover nearly 60% of the land, he said.

He admitted that no records were kept of whether or not access was maintained after a sale took place, but said that 10% of sales since 1991 had included access agreements. "Our efforts are to protect existing public access," the spokesman added.n