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Hundreds join Lake District’s forest rally

An estimated 500-600 people from all walks of life attended a rally organised by Save Lakeland’s Forests and Friends of the Lake District at Whinlatter Forest in Cumbria on Saturday.

Speakers at the event included Sir Chris Bonington, rock climber Leo Houlding, Keith Fitton from the Osprey Project, Lord Clark of Windermere, Jack Ellerby from Friends of the Lake District and local MPs Jamie Read and Tony Cunningham.

The rally had originally been planned as an attempt to prevent the sale of state-owned woodland in England. It turned into a celebration of the Government’s decision to abandon plans to sell off all the public forests.

However, the rally ended with a cautionary note despite the government U-turn brought about by a campaign that was one of the largest and most effective in living memory.

Proposals to sell off the 258,000 hectares managed by the Forestry Commission have attracted cross-party criticism, with ministers being accused of ‘environmental vandalism’, and an outcry from the general public.

Over half a million people signed a national online petition to save our forests while locally over 1,000 joined the Save Lakeland’s Forests Facebook groups, nearly 500 have been following SaveLDForests on Twitter and more than 1,500 took part in a rally at Grizedale.

Sir Chris Bonington warned of the importance of keeping up pressure as the separate plans to sell-off 15% of our public woodland under the Comprehensive Spending Review have only been suspended pending an independent review, and sell-offs could commence as soon as the autumn.

Lord Clark explained that the 15% of the Forestry Commission estate the Government was still planning to sell was expected to amount to 30-40% of the public woodland within the Lake District.  He said those under threat stretched right across Cumbria from the woods of Armathwaite in the East, to Blengdale in the West, and from Dodd in the north to Chapel House in the South.

Leo Houlding highlighted the importance of the forests for the younger generations and talked of the importance of extending the excellent facilities at Whinlatter and Grizedale to other forests, and not to ‘”pawn them off to private interest groups”.

He said, “The extent of this campaign, and the public vote of confidence in the Forestry Commission, should prompt it to improve the quality of its service, increase rights of access and ultimately not just be a tool of forest management, but a custodian and guardian of our public land”.

Jack Ellerby thanked the thousands of people that have backed the campaign, and pledged to continue the fight for the region’s woodland until assurances had been received that Lakeland’s public forests would be protected for future generations.

For more information visit www.savelakelandsforests.org.uk

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