Five-year-old Faith Ball who lives in The Grizedale Forest makes her point at  the rally in Grizedale

Five-year-old Faith Ball who lives in The Grizedale Forest makes her point at the rally in Grizedale

More than a thousand people gathered in the Lake District on Sunday to show their opposition to coalition Government plans to sell off England’s forests and woodland.

Organisers estimate about 1,500 members of the public, including walkers, mountain bikers, horse riders and dog walkers joined the rally to hear speakers add their voice to the growing nationwide clamour for a rethink on the proposal to privatise Forestry Commission land.

Liberal Democrat president and Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron joined Barrow Labour MP John Woodcock and former Forestry Commission chairman Lord Clark of Windermere in ripping up copies of the Public Bodies Reform Bill at the event, organised by Save Lakeland’s Forests.

The bill, which is currently passing through Parliament, would allow the Secretary of State to sell off the whole of the publicly owned forestry estate without MPs approval.

The rally in Grizedale Forest follows a similar gathering in the Forest of Dean earlier this month. An online petition on the 38 Degrees website has attracted more than 300,000 signatures opposed to the forest sell-off.

Lord Clark told the rally: “I am so pleased that so many of you have taken time out today to come and tell the Government what you think of their proposals to give away and to sell our birthright. The great thing is that this land is ours and we need to keep it as ours.”

Lord Clark addresses the crowd

Lord Clark addresses the crowd

And broadcaster and journalist Eric Robson, who is chair of the Wainwright Society and Cumbria Tourism, said: “The sham is that they are going to have a consultation while at the same time the Government pushes on with two clauses in the Public Bodies Reform Bill which would dramatically change what happens. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

“If we’re going to have any sort of meaningful consultation at all the Government needs to abandon those clauses because otherwise it shows the Government has already made up its mind.”

In the Lake District nearly 40 public forests and woodlands such as Grizedale, Whinlatter and Ennerdale are under threat.  Much of the Forestry Commission land is given over to leisure pursuits such as walking, mountain biking and horse riding. Although areas designated open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act would retain access for walkers, the worry is that other users will be barred from the forests once they are in the hands of private owners.

Lord Clark read the message from BBC presenter Stuart Maconie, a member of the Wainwright Society, which said: “Some things are worth more than money. You cannot put a price on the joy and the riches that these beautiful, mysterious, verdant, secret, proud and historic places can bring.

Canine support for the campaign

Canine support for the campaign

“Freedoms hard won should not be relinquished without a fight. If they want that fight, they can have it.

“As G K Chesterton said: “Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget. That we are the people of England. And we have not spoken yet.”

Mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, who lives on the edge of the Lake District, has also pledged his support for the campaign against the forest sell-off.

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  4. Victory for campaigners as Government announces u-turn on forests
  5. Walkers and mountain bikers urged to join rally against sell-offs