Everest summiteer Sir Chris Bonington: 'We need to preserve what we have for the benefit of everyone'

Everest summiteer Sir Chris Bonington: 'We need to preserve what we have for the benefit of everyone'

Britain’s elder statesman of mountaineering Sir Chris Bonington has joined the call for the coalition Government to abandon plans to sell off England’s publicly owned forests.

Cumbrian resident Sir Chris backed the Save Lakeland’s Forests group which said ministers were trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes over the proposals.

The campaigners said the sell-off of Forestry Commission land in the Lake District would be a disaster for environmental protection and for public access by walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.

Save Lakeland’s Forests said although the public consultation has only just started, legislation currently being debated in Parliament will give the Government the power to sell off all the public forests at any point in the future.  At present they cannot sell more than 15per cent, the group said.

Sir Chris Bonington 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.”

A rally will be held on Saturday in Grizedale Forest to voice opposition to the plans.

Lord Clark of Windermere, a former chairman of the Forestry Commission, 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 long 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.”

Speakers at Saturday’s event will include Lord Clark, broadcaster Eric Robson and Jack Ellerby from Friends of the Lake District.  Mr Ellerby said: “If you love woodlands and enjoy walking or riding in local Forestry Commission woods, now is the time to stand up and join the campaign to keep these woods in public hands and under public management.

“The Forestry Commission gives us free access to walk or run, orienteer, climb, cycle, horse ride, bird-watch, picnic and simply chill out in their woodlands. There are no guarantees that any public access, except to walk, will be kept after the woods are sold off.

“In the Lake District and Cumbria the Forestry Commission has restored hundreds of hectares of ancient and native woodlands, while many privately owned woodlands stand neglected and unmanaged.

“The Government is suggesting that 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.

“The reality is that most of the public forests – such as places like Grizedale and Whinlatter – are a mixture of the two.  Save Lakeland’s Forests fears these, and many other, forests will be under threat of being transferred to the private sector if the Government goes ahead with its plans.”

Eric Robson said: “It is clear that there is a huge amount of support for keeping these forests in public ownership and management. The Forestry Commission does a lot of vital work to maintain and improve access to the public and enhance wildlife habitats, which would be threatened if these forests are handed over to other companies and organisations.

“If it ain’t broke it’s simply foolish to try fixing it. We want to keep all of our public forests – not just some of them.  We do not support the Government selling these forests – whether that means selling them outright or selling them to the private sector on a long lease. The Government should keep its hands off our forests.”

There are nearly 40 forests and woodlands across the Lake District such as Grizedale, Whinlatter and Ennerdale.

The rally on 30 January will take place at 1pm next to the main car park in Grizedale Forest.

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