Fair Oak resident Robert Byrne has written to prime minster David Cameron asking him to intercede in plans which could see Stoke Park wood sold off to a private company.
Local walkers and nature lovers throughout the UK have been left reeling by news that the government plans to privatise the Forestry Commission who manage the 244 acres of well loved community woodland located at the heart of Bishopstoke and Fair Oak.
The government currently subsidises the Forestry Commission by £30 million a year. However under EU rules state monopolies and government subsidies are not allowed which means publically funded businesses like the Royal Mail and the Forestry Commission have to go open tender with the possibility that British woodland heritage sites could end up being owned by private foreign companies.
The government are also keen to cut funding to public bodies in order to slash the budget deficit.
Forestry Commission sites will be disposed of in two tranches. The identity of the sites to be sold in the first tranche in 2011 – 2012 has already been decided by The Department for Environment, but details have yet to be published. DEFRA are able to sell off 15% of the Forestry Commission without legislation but the remaining 85% will be disposed of after a consultation which was launched last week.
Guarantees of access will depend on the outcome of the consultation.
Campaigners fear the wide-scale forest sell-off will see them shut out of some woods and that private owners will not allow the public full access
The woodland Trust says it is particularly concerned about the fate of England’s ancient woodland. Although Government say they will be protected the Trust says
“We have grave doubts about this in practice.”
Robert Byrne has made a short video film about Stoke Park Wood which has had almost 3000 views on YouTube – he has emailed a link to David Cameron, Eastleigh’s MP Chris Huhne and council leader Keith House so they can see exactly what is at stake
Mr Byrne told Eastleigh News:
“It’s exactly the small patches of woodland like Stoke Park, Creech Wood – which are important perhaps only to local residents – that could slip through the safety net and end up with only the barest and most restricted public access, with logging activities increased.”
The government will offer ‘First refusal’ to charitable trusts and local government bodies prepared to buy or lease local woods in order to ensure they remain in the public domain.
However hedge end councillor Keith Day has written on a BBC blog ‘Henleys Hustings’ that support from local government to preserve the New Forest was in his opinion, ‘not likely’.
Local activist Matthew ‘Save Sid’ Myatt who led a well publicised campaign to try and prevent the council from felling a protected tree on Leigh Road Rec reacted angrily to news of the sell-off saying:
“We are not the owners of the woods we are just trustees entrusted to protect them for future generations – once they are gone they can never be replaced”