Campaigners from Keep Our Forests Public warn woods under threat

SUSSEX people could be shut out of their woodlands if they are sold off by the Government, a new report warns.

Campaigners from Keep Our Forests Public (KOFP) have surveyed former Forestry Commission sites across the area to see how they have fared in private hands.

Among those analysed are woods in Maresfield, Danehill, Fletching and Nutley.

Six of the 31 woods were found to have physical barriers to access, five displayed excluding or inhibiting notices and six had blocked or non-existent entrances although people had legal right of access.

These three inaccessible categories added up to more than half of the former publicly-owned woods surveyed, warned KOFP.

It added that that some woods had become more or less incorporated into private grounds – sometimes as extensions of domestic space.

At Furnace Wood, Maresfield, the sole forest track is wholly fenced off, with clear “Private, no entry, no right of way” as is Oldlands Wood, also in Maresfield.

Funnells Wood at Nutley is a CROW Act open access wood, crossed by two public footpaths. Horse riders were once freely welcome but now they find locked gates.

KOFP was one of the forest campaign groups which helped force a Government climb-down on the sell-off of Forestry Commission land earlier this year.

It says it is now determined to ensure that ministers do not backtrack now public attention has switched away from the furore.

A KOFP spokesman said: “Our survey shows exactly what many would have expected – that our precious woodland heritage is not safe in private hands. It highlights the relevance of our campaign’s call for statutory public access to all England’s woodlands. Put simply, private owners can get away with whatever they want if nobody can see what they are doing, if people are prevented or discouraged from walking through these woods.