People urged to speak out to save woods from cuts

People are urged to speak out if they want to permanently secure the region’s woodlands against cuts, a community group has warned.

Chair of the Friends of Thetford Forest, Anne Mason, encouraged people to write to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in a bid to secure the current budget allocated to the Forestry Commission.

This, she said, was currently under review, with the possibility of a reduction from �20 to �18m, but feared people believed the forest estate to now be safe following a report by an independent panel earlier this year.

Recommendations from the panel, which was set up when the government shelved a proposal to sell off large swathes of woodland earlier this year, included expanding and protecting the country’s woodland and increasing the Forestry Commission’s annual budget to �22m. These have not yet been adopted by the government, however, which is considering the proposals.

Mrs Mason spoke out following a visit by environment secretary David Heath, who met with the commission and Friends at Thetford Forest last week.

“We explained our concerns about the funding to the minister and that if it’s cut, which is being proposed at the moment, it might go down to �18m,” she said. “He did say he was determined to visit a forest at work before he made any decision and I think that was encouraging but we’re still encouraging the public to write to DEFRA to say ‘we want a fully-resourced public forest.”

She added that the Forestry Commission would not be able to provide a full service if funding was cut.

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“Walking trails couldn’t be maintained and things like toilets would have to close” she said. “They would have to close the car parks and there would be fewer litter collections - It would be public access that would suffer. The Forestry Commission does so much for the public, that’s why they deserve public money - we have to have a public forest estate in perpetuity.”