FORMER SAS soldier and author Chris Ryan, for whom a North East woodland was a boyhood playground, is backing the forests sell-off resistance movement.
Mr Ryan, who is currently in the United States, has sent a message of support to the Friends of Chopwell Wood in Gateshead.
He grew up in Rowlands Gill, adjacent to Chopwell Wood.
On Sunday, the Friends helped organise the biggest protest rally so far in the North East against Government plans to sell publicly-owned forestry land.
More than 1,200 people gathered at Chopwell Wood for the event.
Mr Ryan said: “I grew up in Rowlands Gill – Chopwell Wood was my playground. I have many fond memories of going there.
“Without the Forestry Commission the woods might no longer exist, as they have protected it from development for many years.
“The proposals seem to be ludicrous. This so-called Government consultation seems one-sided, as it does not ask whether people are happy for the Forestry Commission to keep on managing our forests. Governments should carry out the will of the people, and it is obvious that the people do not want this.
“I believe that the forests and woods across England are safest kept in public hands for future generations.
“I wish every success to the campaign to keep Chopwell Wood in public ownership, so that everyone can continue to enjoy the freedom to explore this fantastic woodland.”
Mr Ryan was the only member of an eight-man SAS mission, Bravo Two Zero, to escape during the First Gulf War in 1991.
He has subsequently written a number of books, including The One That Got Away, his account of the Bravo Two Zero mission, and fiction bestsellers such as Strike Back and Firefight.
Dave Turnbull, area chairman of the Ramblers, who spoke at the Chopwell rally, said that while his family had walked and biked in the wood for many years, the potential damage of the sell-off was much wider
He said the Ramblers’ Northumbria area contained 28 forest and woodlands which were under threat because most were deemed to be commercial, and so could be sold to logging businesses.
He said: “This includes Kielder in Northumberland. Recently a Government spoke person described Kielder as purely commercial. Have they ever been there? No they haven’t .
“Of course it won’t be a problem because access will be maintained. This can just mean a gate will be left open.
“A wood can easily be made unwelcome for public access. Rides and paths can be left uncleared or blocked by fallen or felled trees, scrub left to take over rides, unfriendly signs erected and parking areas or lay-bys can be blocked off , or notices forbidding parking.
Mr Turnbull said of the Government consultation on its £250m sell-off plans: “It’s a confirmation that they are going to sell the woods, and it’s just a question of how, like been told you are going to be shot but you can choose where. It never asks the question if these woods should be sold at all.
“There is no way the majority of private owners are going to invest in expensive maintenance, and certainly they are not going to promote activities in the forests – as the Forestry Commission does – unless they are allowed to charge us to take part.
“With the Forestry Commission our access is free.
“The infrastructure to support recreational services is supported by the Forestry Commission commercial timber activities.”