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The Department for the Environment is due to publish a consultation this week setting out plans to privatise forests.

The controversial plan has been attacked by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a host of celebrities including Judi Dench, Bill Bryson and Richard Briers.

More than 170,000 members of the public have signed a petition against the sale, and according to polls the majority of people are against it.

However ministers are remaining firm in their determination to sell off at least some of the 620,000 acres owned by the Forestry Commission.

In an effort to "minimise the damage", environmental groups are now focusing on persuading the Government to sell off as small a proportion as possible.

They are also trying to ensure safeguards are put in place to protect ancient forest and make sure woods are not converted into golf courses or closed off to the public.

The Woodlands Trust wants a guarantee that the 20,000 hectares of ancient woodland currently owned by the Forestry Commission is not lost.

The commission is in the process of restoring much of the broadleaf woodland such as oak, beech ash and lime, by chopping down confiers that were planted for timber during the Second World War.

It is feared if sales go ahead without any protection for ancient woodland in place, these areas will return to commercial timber or felled to make way for development.

“Before we put up the for sale sign lets make sure that the all ancient woodland is fully restored and put in place effective legislation to protect ancients woodland now and in the future,” said a spokesman for the Woodlands Trust.

The Government has already said it will sell off 15 per cent of the estate and is expected to increase this number.

However it is hoped that there will be suggestions in the consultation on how to protect ancient woodland and maintain 'public benefits'.

:: Global efforts to protect the world’s rainforests, backed by Prince Charles, are in danger of making the situation worse for indigenous people.

The United Nations has drawn up a scheme known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) that will pay poor countries not to chop down trees.

However a new report said at the moment the programme is in danger of being driven from ‘top down’, meaning that governments will receive payments to stop destruction but poor people living in forests will receive nothing and not be allowed to continue using the forests for food.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut