Campaigners turn out to save Thetford Forest

Campaigners hoping to save Thetford Forest from the hands of private owners have been boosted by the support of the region's Euro MP.

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the eastern region, arrived at the forest yesterday (Friday) to meet the Friends of Thetford Forest and gather as much support as possible for the cause.

Around 20 people turned out in the rain to highlight the issue which stems from a government proposal to sell off half of all Forestry Commission land.

Chair of the friends, Anne Mason, said a sale could mean vital knowledge and environmental management skills were lost forever.

She added: 'It's very heartening and encouraging to have this kind of support. We're waiting to hear when the government's public consultation will be and for how long.

'Once we know that we have to get every person in East Anglia to respond and hopefully they'll say they want the Forestry Commission to own our forest.'

At the end of last year users of Thetford Forest called on fellow woodland walkers, cyclists, horse riders, bird watchers and conservationists to sign a petition to protect the lowland pine forest. To date almost 150,000 people have done so.

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Mr Howitt said 2011 was the International Year of Forests but added: 'The government has put a 'for sale' sign over Norfolk's forests.

'I am deeply worried that in a short-sighted rush to save money the government will carry out an unforgivable act of environmental vandalism.

'Rather than asset-stripping our environment we need to secure the future of our national forests. Our forests play a vital role in combating climate change, enhancing biodiversity and providing healthy leisure activities. Let us protect them for the next generation.'