The future of the region’s woodland could become clearer next week with the publication of a much-anticipated report – amid calls for its authors to be “ambitious” in their findings.

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The Independent Forestry Panel is set to release its results on Wednesday which could guide policy on woodland in England, if adopted.

The Campaign for Rural England (CPRE) however has challenged the panel not to hold back and urged the government to take “prompt” and “positive” action.

The organisation said it had five aspirations for the future which included extra protection for important woodland; ideas on where to create a second national forest; an increase in woodland cover across England, particularly close to where people live; greater access to private woodlands; and the planting of more trees in the wider countryside.

CPRE’s head of campaigns, Ben Stafford, added: “Ahead of their recommendations, we want the panel to remember the profound public anger and ensure they set out a clear vision for both strong protection and future extension of England’s woods and forests.

“The government will need to embrace the proposals the panel makes, and take swift action to secure a better future for England’s Public Forest Estate and the country’s woodlands more widely.”

The panel, chaired by the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, was set up 15 months ago to consider the future of England’s forests and woods following a fierce backlash from the public which forced the government to shelve plans to privatise Forestry Commission-owned land.

It produced a progress report in December in which it confirmed a continuing role for the national public forest estate, arguing it delivered many benefits for people, nature and the economy.

For its final report, the panel is discussing how these benefits can be secured for future generations and how more woodlands can be created and brought into management across England.

Among those to submit its views to the Forestry Panel was the Friends of Thetford Forest (FOTF), which has persistently campaigned for the continuation of Forestry Commission management.

Chairman Anne Mason said: “What we’re concerned about is that, whatever the Independent Panel recommends, to date we’ve not garnered from the government that they will implement those recommendations.

“What friends would like to see is a fully-recoursed Forestry Commission and a Public Forest Estate to be held in perpetuity forever more – we’d like to see all threats removed.

“We’re a group with 16 years experience in partnership with the Forestry Commission and we’ve got this in-depth knowledge of our forest.”

Currently the Forestry Commission oversees 18,106 hectares (44,740 acres) of freehold land and 6,120 hectares (15,122 acres) of leasehold land in Norfolk and Suffolk.

rebecca.gough@archant.co.uk

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