Pledge over Thetford Forest

A government minister has guaranteed that access to Thetford Forest would remain unchanged despite plans to sell off large parts of the nation's woodlands.

A major consultation on the future of England's publicly owned forests was announced last week and the government warned that 'status quo is not an option'.

Campaigners have reacted angrily to plans to sell off areas such as Thetford to raise up to �250m and are urging people to get involved in the 12-week consultation.

But forests minister Jim Paice – who is also a Cambridgeshire MP – claimed there had been a lot of 'scaremongering' about the proposals.

'People will see we are not talking about wholesale privatisation,' he said. 'I can guarantee the people of Norfolk that we will ensure, whether it is by lease or transfer to a charitable trust, that all the public benefits will be maintained.'

Labour Euro MP Richard Howitt is backing the Friends of Thetford Forest to campaign against the proposals, joining a nationwide campaign alongside Dame Judi Dench, Bill Bryson and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Mr Howitt said: 'It isn't just Thetford Forest which is threatened but Forestry Commission sites at Bacton Woods too, and a total of more than 13,225 hectares of land across Norfolk as a whole. We have to force the government to accept that keeping Forestry Commission ownership means keeping public forests in public control. There are 12 weeks to save our forests so my message to local people is please don't leave it to someone else.'

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An online petition started by campaign group 38 Degrees already had more than 250,000 signatures and the number continued to grow after the announcement.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks until April 21.

You can see the consultation document on websites www.forestry.gov.uk or www.defra.gov.uk People can also call 0845 3673787 or e-mail publicconsultation@forestry.gsi.gov.uk