MORE than 1,200 protesters turned up yesterday in the biggest rally yet in the North East against Government plans to sell off publicly-owned woodlands.
The event at Chopwell Wood in Gateshead was 20 minutes late in starting because of the number of people walking into the woodland and the delays for drivers who had to queue to park.
As protesters gathered, they were entertained by North East band Meze Mundo who played for free.
They then heard an hour of speeches against the £250m forests sell off by groups who use Chopwell Wood including horse riders, cyclists, walkers, runners, the Green Party, local MP Dave Anderson and local Gateshead councillor Michael McNestry.
Protesters were also invited to speak, including one man who had travelled from Oxford because his parents were from the Chopwell area. Around 2,000 Save Chopwell Wood ribbons were distributed with different sizes for lapels, dog collars, horse bridles and for tying around trees and to the doors, gates and fences of home in the area.
A thousand ribbons had been placed in local shops so a ribbon ring of protection could be created around the wood.
Yesterday’s event attracted a similar number of protesters as a previous protest in Grizedale Forest in the Lake District.
The Friends of Chopwell Wood were also the first group in the country to order a printed version of the 38 Degrees online Save Our Forest petition, which had reached more than 515,500 signatures by last night. Another 1,000 people signed the Chopwell printed version.
“The rally has been a huge success,” said Friends spokeswoman Liz Searle.
“People are coming from right across a mix of ages and backgrounds. They range from those who use woodlands for leisure, sport or wildlife, and those who are angry because they feel the Government is not listening.
“The general feeling is why is the Government doing this when the Forestry Commission is doing a good job?
“It is not costly and if the woodlands are sold off, it will end up costing more. It doesn’t make sense. The message is that these are our woodlands and forests and people don’t want to see them sold off.” Ms Searle said the announcement that the separate, proposed sale of 15% of publicly-owned woodlands as part of last year’s spending review has been put on hold while the sales criteria is examined, had failed to appease protesters.
She warned: “They are still planning sell offs and if the Government thought this latest announcement would appease people, they are mistaken.
“There will continue to be protests every weekend across the country.”
There will be further rallies at Whinlatter Forest in the Lake District on February 19 and at Hamsterley Forest in County Durham on February 26.