Ennerdale, where blanket spruce are being replaced as part of a 'rewilding' scheme

Ennerdale, where blanket spruce are being replaced as part of a 'rewilding' scheme

More than 30 years ago, Alfred Wainwright railed against what he saw as the ruination of one of his favourite Lakeland valleys by blanket afforestation.

The author’s pronouncements on Ennerdale were instrumental to a change of heart by the Government agency responsible for the planting of thousands of spruce in the dale, which lies on the route of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk.

But now, a proposed coalition Government sell-off of swathes of Forestry Commission land risks returning areas of the Lake District to that same blanket of dense, commercial forest, according to aficionados of the late guidebook writer.

The Wainwright Society today condemned the plans and warned the advances of the last 30 years could be lost.

A spokesperson for the society said: “Alfred Wainwright criticised the Forestry Commission because of its blanket afforestation of the Ennerdale valley in the western Lake District.

“His attack helped to change commission policy. In the intervening years the commission has actively promoted greater public access in mixed forests where a proportion of broadleaved trees are planted to encourage bio-diversity.

“In Ennerdale, the sitka spruce forests have been felled and the valley is being returned to its wild state.  Elsewhere, at Whinlatter and on the Dodd, mixed-age and species plantings have softened the impact of commercial afforestation on Lake District landscapes.”

Broadcaster and writer Eric Robson, chair of the society, added: “If the sales go ahead we’ll be turning the clock back to the bad old days.

“We’re being told by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman that these sales will encourage a radical new approach to forestry management and will embrace the concept of localism. In fact, this is a sale being driven by Treasury policy aimed at maximising the returns from the Forestry Commission sale.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman

“The fear is that rules on access and environmental protection will be waived or, at best, lightly applied to encourage the private sector to offer the best price. This could lead to a return to monoculture plantings and severely restricted access for groups such as walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.

“Still more worrying is that, at present, the Government is limited in how much of the Forestry Commission it can sell, but clauses buried in a piece of legislation soon to be considered by the House of Lords, The Public Bodies Reform Bill, would allow them to sell off all of the commission’s holdings.

“Huge tracts of the uplands could then be transferred to the private sector with little or no thought for the impact that would have on tourism, public access or the environment.”

The proposal to sell off up to half of the Forestry Commission’s land in England is proving hugely controversial for the coalition Government, with more than 160,000 supporters of a Save the Forests petition signing up on the 38 Degrees website.

A campaign has also been set up specifically to oppose the disposal of the Lake District’s forests. Save Lakeland’s Forests, launched by Paul Townsend, a former parish councillor, from Satterthwaite near Grizedale.

He said: “If the Government goes ahead with these plans we won’t have the same kind of access to these forests that we enjoy today.  New owners would not have to allow entry to mountain bikers or horse riders and they would be able to put up fences and close car parks to make it more difficult for walkers to gain access.

“The Forestry Commission also does a lot of work to maintain and improve habitats for a wide range of different species – including ospreys, red squirrels and red kites.  A new owner would not have an obligation to continue this valuable work.”

Lord Clark of Windermere, a former chairman of the Forestry Commission and who now chairs Parliament’s All Party Group on Forestry, is backing the campaign.

He said: “I do not believe any Government has the right to sell off our public forests. We hold these magnificent green spaces in trust for our children.  Once they’ve gone we will not get them back.”

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