Celebrities voice opposition to forests privatisation

Haycroft Wood, near Swyncombe, Oxfordshire, in England The state currently owns 18% of forests and woodland in England

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Several public figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dame Judi Dench, have urged the government not to sell off England's forests.

Nearly 90 signed a Save England's Forests letter claiming such a sale would be "misjudged and short-sighted".

It said a bill being debated by MPs would allow the sale of the entire public forest estate.

The government said its plans "will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests".

A public consultation begins later this week and a bill to enable the sale is due to go before the House of Lords.

The state currently owns 18% of forests and woodland in England; however, spending cuts could result in parts being sold off or given away.

The letter claimed that such a sale would be "misjudged and short-sighted".

The famous names who signed the letter include singer Annie Lennox, artist Tracey Emin, model Lily Cole, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, actor Richard E Grant and designer Dame Vivienne Westwood.

Consultation plea

The letter stated: "We are an island nation yet more people escape to the forest than to the seaside.

"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."

And it went on: "We, the undersigned, believe it unconscionable that future generations will no longer enjoy the guarantee of a public forest estate."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams is among the famous figures who signed the letter

The famous figures urged the government to suspend any significant sales "until the public has been fully consulted", adding that they expect leaders to "engage in real dialogue with communities throughout the country to create a sustainable future for our public woods and forests".

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has insisted there are no plans to sell nature reserves, adding that community groups and charities would play a greater role in protecting important habitats.

And, in a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We will consult on our proposals later this week and will invite interest from a wide range of potential private and civil society partners on a number of new ownership options and the means to secure public benefits. No decisions have been taken on any particular sites.

"We will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests. The Forestry Commission has and will play an important role in protecting and expanding the trees, woods and forests in England."

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