PRESSURE is growing for the Government to perform a U-turn on forestry job losses in the North East.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith will use a Commons debate today to urge ministers to stop job losses in Northumberland after the Government’s re-think on a mass sale of woodland.
Campaigners fighting to protect Chopwell Wood, near Gateshead, have also warned woodland will fall into neglect if redundancies go ahead.
The Commons debate comes after the Liberal Democrat MP visited the commission’s office in Rothbury, earmarked for closure.
Campaigners have also warned dozens of jobs are at risk with visitor centres at Kielder Castle and Hamsterley potentially closing as early as next year.
Fears for the jobs of many Commission recreation and education rangers have also been raised.
Ahead of the debate, Sir Alan said: “Under the Labour Government, the Forestry Commission was funding its losses by selling forest land and the redundancies that have already been announced for forest workers were also to be funded by the sale of forest land.
“Now the Government has halted the sales the redundancies will have to be reconsidered.”
He added: “An independent panel to advise on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England and on the role of the Forestry Commission in implementing policy has been set up under the Bishop of Liverpool, and it is very likely that the panel will recommend additional work on public access and biodiversity for which more staff will be needed.”
The Save Chopwell Wood Campaign claimed the commission’s Kielder district made a £2m profit but was facing “severe” cuts.
“The district is scheduled to lose 46 out of 105 staff – and since the 105 were not really enough anyway for such a large area what will happen to our woods and forests? The Save Chopwell Wood Campaign fear that our woodlands will fall into neglect as there will not be sufficient staff left to care for them,” it said.
And there was a warning David Cameron’s Big Society could suffer with volunteers needing support.
It added: “Since the Government agreed to have an independent review of forestry, any thought of reducing staff should wait until the results of that review have been published.
“The Save Chopwell Wood campaigners fail to understand how the country will save any money by putting so many people onto the dole and benefits.
“Our taxes will be paying people to sit at home, when we could have paid them to do a job they loved.”
The campaign has been established by the Chopwell Wood Horse Riding Association, North East Freeride Association and Friends of Chopwell Wood.
A Forestry Commission spokesman said: “All new sales of public forestry land in England were suspended from February 17. Decisions on the level of any future sales and the conditions to be attached to them will not be taken until advice from the independent panel has been received and considered.
“Forestry Commission England has just ended a period of staff consultation on how to meet our 25% budget reduction by 2015. Senior managers will meet trade unions to go through the responses and formulate next steps, which will in turn be presented to staff.
“Until we have done this we are unable to give detailed information about any office closures, redundancies or timescales.”
Pictured above right: Forestry Commission wildlife ranger Adam Fletcher installs an artificial osprey nesting platform in Kielder Water & Forest Park