• by

Countryside campaigners at CPRE Surrey have welcomed the decision by the Government not to proceed with sales of Forestry Commission land.

The Coalition’s climbdown was signalled last week by the Prime Minister’s comment in the House of Commons that he was not happy with the proposal, and then the subsequent statement by the Farming and Rural Affairs Minister that the sell-off scheme had been a mistake and would be withdrawn.

CPRE Surrey branch director Andy Smith said: “The Government’s decision is a massive relief to everyone. This was a fight that none of us wanted and I’m so pleased the Prime Minister saw sense in the end and realised what a catastrophic error the proposal had been. One wonders sometimes how politicians arrive at these barmy ideas! Flogging off important areas of woodland was never going to be accepted by conservationists or local communities, and the Government looked as if it had a death-wish in trying to impose such an obviously idiotic scheme on the general public. England’s forests are among our most precious countryside assets – they are vital as wildlife habitats and for people to enjoy. As a result they are greatly valued and cherished by the local communities.”

He added: “But we are not ‘out of the woods’ yet! We must be alert to the danger of any similar proposals coming up under other guises in the future. There was an assumption by many people that the countryside would be safer with this government than under its predecessor, but already we have seen several glaring examples of how this confidence was misplaced. I sincerely hope the Coalition won’t try something like this again, but if they do they should know that we will be ready for them the next time!”

Surrey woodland areas run by the Forestry Commission include sites at Ranmore, Highridge, Bury Hill and Redlands – in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Areas of Great Landscape Value – as well as East Horsley, Chiddingfold, Crooksbury and Alice Holt. CPRE national president Bill Bryson was one of the many public figures who spoke out against the proposed forest sell-off.