The Open Spaces Society has responded to the Coalitions recent announcement, that the government is temporarily suspending the sale of 15 per cent of the public forestry estate, as ‘a tiptoe in the right direction’. The society calls for government to abandon its plans to sell off much of the rest of the English public forest estate.

In making its announcement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that the halt is merely ‘a technical change’, to review the sales criteria and 'increase the protection for access and public benefit'.

Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: ‘We have said that we are opposed to any sales of public forests and woods unless the prospective purchaser has signed an agreement, legally-binding in perpetuity, to protect the woodland, maintain and create new rights for walkers, riders and cyclists, convert any pre-existing permissive access into legal access, and welcome informal access, free of charge, at all times.

‘We have no evidence that the government intends to insist on such requirements.

‘The government should withdraw those clauses from the Public Bodies Bill, now in the House of Lords, which allow ministers radically to alter the Forestry Commission. Then there should be a long period of inclusive discussion and debate about the future of our forests and woods, which is not constrained by ministers already having decided what to do.

‘Today’s announcement allows for the first step in that process. We hope the government will have a complete rethink of its damaging proposals,’ says Kate.

See March Smallholder's Editor Welcome for more news and views on the proposed sell off! On sale now.