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Fears over the future of Somerset forests
Generic woodland
Somerset groups fear woodland could be sold to private investors

Government plans to review Forestry Commission woodland have sparked fears among community groups in Somerset.

Although DEFRA has said it won't allow valued woodland to be sold off for development, there are concerns about public access and biodiversity.

The Woodland Trust has also said planning systems trump felling licences which can leave woodland unprotected.

Although community groups can take over woodland, they say this is too costly and they lack the necessary expertise.

'Money and expertise'

Leticia Kelly, chair of the Friends of the Quantocks, said: "If a private investor were to buy the land he would replant it with conifers only to get a better return on his money.

"Also in one of the areas of the forest called Ranscombe the Forestry Commission has public facilities like picnic areas and lavatories. Which private owner would be providing that? I doubt that would happen."

The government is looking for community groups to take over woodlands but the Friends of the Quantocks believe this is unlikely.

"It would be wonderful if we could but I doubt it because the Forestry Commission are so experienced and it takes so much money and expertise to manage. It's a large area of woodland, Great Wood, the word says it all."

Meanwhile, the Woodland Trust, a charity which aims to conserve woodland, has said smaller woodlands could be at risk.

Planning development

Dr Hilary Allison, policy director at the Woodland Trust said it was concerned about smaller sites which have no designation, like Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status.

"While there are things such as felling licences which control the amount of felling which you can do, if a site was put forward for some sort of planning development and the planning authority approved that, the planning systems trump the forestry legislation and therefore development can happen."

As a result of this, the charity said it was already trying to prevent development on ancient woodland sites.

A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said: "Regulations remain in force regardless of who owns woodland.

"These include controls around cutting down trees through the felling regulations, any replanting conditions attached to a felling licence, planning permission, Public Rights of Way and access on foot dedicated under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act."




SEE ALSO
Campaign opposes Forest sell-off
10 Nov 10 |  People & Places


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