Forest sell-off 'U-turn' welcomed in Hampshire

Image caption,
The forest has been designated as a special area of conservation

Campaigners in Hampshire have hailed a government decision to ditch plans to sell off thousands of acres of state-owned woodland as "great news".

Ministers planned to transfer power from the Forestry Commission over the next 10 years.

But the move sparked protests from the public and naturalists and divided the New Forest's two Conservative MPs.

It is understood a new panel of experts will be set up to look at the future of forests across England.

'Ferocious reaction'

George Whitcher, a Unite representative at the Forestry Commission who lives in Lyndhurst, said: "I was quite surprised and obviously quite pleased to see there is a U-turn but still concerned about jobs and forest management.

"When I've been campaigning I've been surprised by the support."

Councillor Paul Buckley, speaking as a Waterlooville resident, said the fine print still needed to be assessed.

"It got people so angry because people felt the forest was theirs, it was owned by the taxpayer and if they were sold off, people were going to lose their ability to access them," he added.

Proposals included inviting charities to take on the ownership of "heritage forests", helping community groups buy or lease them and a £250m sale of leaseholds for commercially valuable forests to timber companies.

Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, chairman of the Verderer's Court - which protects and administers agriculture grazing of the landscape - said management did not need to be changed

"There's nothing wrong with the way the forest has been managed for over 100 years," he said.

New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne, who backed the idea, said: "I would prefer a much more local organisation focused exclusively on the needs of the forest [rather than the Forestry Commission].

"I've had a ferocious reaction..but I think lessons will have been learned."

Labour has described the plans as "environmental vandalism".

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