Celebrities call on re think of forest sell offs.
Westcountry chefs, entertainers, business gurus and adventurers have all thrown their weight behind a growing campaign to halt a sale of the nation's public forest estate.
Beauty spots such as Cardinham Woods in Cornwall and Haldon Forest Park's 3,500 acres of woodland near Exeter could face an uncertain future as the Government consults on "new ownership options".
Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes are among the celebrities to sign a letter drawn up by a new group, Save England's Forests.
Green entrepreneur Sir Tim Smit, model Lily Cole, comedian Sue Perkins and Transition Network founder Rob Hopkins have been joined by national luminaries such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Bill Bryson, author and president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Almost 90 prominent figures signed a letter claiming that such a sale would be "misjudged and short-sighted".
It is the latest in a growing movement which has already seen an online petition on the campaigning website 38 degrees gather a massive 171,000 "signatures" against the plans.
The long list of concerned celebrities, politicians, media figures and others said a bill being debated in Parliament would allow the Government to sell the entire public forest estate to commercial interests on the open market. It also expressed fears that, over time, access to currently public woodland would become limited and its protection eroded.
The campaigners wrote: "We are an island nation yet more people escape to the forest than to the seaside. Our forests nurture countless species of native plants and wildlife. We have relied on them since time immemorial yet we are only a heartbeat in their history.
"We, the undersigned, believe it unconscionable that future generations will no longer enjoy the guarantee of a public forest estate."
They urged the Government to suspend any significant sales "until the public has been fully consulted".
"We expect our leaders to engage in real dialogue with communities throughout the country to create a sustainable future for our public woods and forests," the letter added.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has insisted there are no plans to sell nature reserves and promised that community groups and charities would play a greater role in protecting important habitats.
The state currently owns 18 per cent of forests and woodland in England, but spending cuts could result in them being sold off or given away.
Ms Spelman reassured critics of the plans that not a single tree could be felled without a licence from Defra.
The department has also assured the public that access rights will not be lost. In a message on its website, it said: "The interest this has generated clearly shows that the public care about the country's forests. We do too and that is why protection will be in place for the many plants and species that call them home and for the public to continue to enjoy."
UK government confirms forest sell-off plans | Environment | The Guardian