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Peers fight for ‘people’s forest’

12 January 2011

by Ed Thornton

TWO bishops are backing a campaign to protect the Forest of Dean from being sold, after the Government announced plans to sell half of its forests by 2020.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, in whose diocese the Forest is situated, and the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, who has a house in the town of Ruardean, in the Forest of Dean, are supporting the Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) campaign, which is being led by Baroness Royall, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords.

On 18 January, Bishop Perham, with Lady Royall and Baroness Fritchie, will co-table an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill in the Lords calling for the Forest to be excluded from the part of the Bill allowing public forests to be sold to private companies and civil-society groups.

Bishop Perham said that the Forest had “at a fundamental level always belonged to the people . . . and anything that might lead to more restricted access for its in­habitants and for those who come to visit needs to be firmly resisted”.

At a demonstration in the Forest of Dean on Monday of last week, which was attended by about 3000 people, Bishop Hill said that, if the Bill remained unamended, “the like­lihood of individual parcels of the forest being sold off is very high in­deed. . . This will destroy the integ­rity and the wholeness of the Forest.”

Lady Royall told the rally that the minister responsible for forestry, Jim Paice, had told a parliamentary select committee that the Govern­ment wants “to proceed with very substantial disposal of the forest estate”.

“In a normal legislative process,” Lady Royall said, “the Government produces a Green Paper for consultation; then it often lays out detailed policy and a plan of action in a White Paper, before pub­lishing a Bill. In this case, we’ve got a Bill wending its way through Parlia­ment, to be followed by a White Paper, and then a consultation.

“What this topsy-turvy situation means is that, no matter what the White Paper may say, unless we amend the Public Bodies Bill, the Forest of Dean, along with all the other forests, could be sold.”

A spokesman for HOOF said that the campaign was sup­ported privately by the Archbishop of Canter­bury.

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