(AFP) – Jan 23, 2011
LONDON — The Archbishop of Canterbury , singer Annie Lennox and actress Dame Judi Dench are among celebrities and public figures urging the government to scrap plans to sell off England's publicly-owned forests.
The proposed sale would be "misjudged and short-sighted" according to an open letter signed by nearly 90 well known people.
Other signatories include artist Tracey Emin, model Lily Cole, chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, novelist Julian Barnes, actress Gillian Anderson, broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell, actor Richard E Grant and designer Dame Vivienne Westwood.
The letter, published by the Save England's Forests campaign says a bill being debated in parliament would allow the government to sell the entire public forest estate to commercial interests on the open market.
Access to public woodland would become limited over time and its protection eroded, the letter says.
"We are an island nation yet more people escape to the forest than to the seaside," the celebrities say. in the document.
"Our forests nurture countless species of native plants and wildlife. We have relied on them since time immemorial yet we are only a heartbeat in their history...
"We, the undersigned, believe it unconscionable that future generations will no longer enjoy the guarantee of a public forest estate."
The letter urges the government to suspend any significant sales "until the public has been fully consulted".
The campaign was launched in response to the government's announcement last year that it was consulting on "new ownership options" for the public forest estate.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has insisted there are no plans to sell nature reserves and promised that community groups and charities would play a greater role in protecting important habitats.
The state currently owns 18% of forests and woodland in England.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) insists that access rights will not be lost. In a message on its website, it said: "The interest this has generated clearly shows that the public care about the country's forests.
"We do too and that is why protection will be in place for the many plants and species that call them home and for the public to continue to enjoy.
"We urge anyone with an interest in this issue to wait for the consultation to be published and see our plans in full."
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