On the first anniversary of the Government climb-down on plans to sell England's public forests, campaigners in the Lake District have issued a new warning about threats to the woods.
Groups Save Lakeland's Forests and Friends of the Lake District say that 'swingeing' cuts are undermining the Forestry Commission and threatening the future of the forests that hundreds of thousands of people recently fought hard to preserve.
The key issue is funding, they say.
One of the areas that is being hit hardest, they claim, is the Forestry Commission's wildlife work, with a cut of one in five wildlife rangers across the country. In the Northern region, which includes the Lake District and Kielder Forest, the number of wildlife rangers has been cut from 16 to 13.
Lord Clark of Windermere, a former Chair of the Forestry Commission who was at the forefront of the campaign against the sell off plans last year, said:
'The Forestry Commission's wildlife rangers do invaluable work to improve the biodiversity of our public forests. In the Lake District and Kielder that includes projects that have seen the return of ospreys and red kites, as well as the ongoing battle to save our native red squirrels.'
'We showed last year that the Forestry Commission was costing just 30p for every taxpayer. That is a small price for preserving and enhancing these magnificent green spaces for people to enjoy today and for the benefit of future generations.'
Another concern raised by local activists is the impact of the cuts on the Forestry Commission's ability to stop damaging tree diseases spreading across the country and doing untold damage to forests and woodlands. Foresters in Cumbria are currently fighting to prevent the spread of a disease that affects larch trees.
The campaign groups are also concerned that the Forestry Commission is closing down its education services across most of the country, including the north of England. In the past these services have provided important opportunities for young people to get outdoors and learn about the natural environment.
The Forestry Panel which was set up by the Government to look at the future of the country's forests is due to visit the Lake District on 7 March, shortly before finalising their report to Ministers. One of the issues they will be considering is whether the Forestry Commission should be given more freedom to raise money commercially and by charitable donations.
Jack Ellerby from Friends of the Lake District will be one of the people meeting the panel on their visit. He said:
'We know from their Interim Report that the Forestry Panel has a very good grasp of the wide ranging values everyone places on the public forests. From saving Red Squirrels in Northern England to reducing the devastating impacts of new tree diseases, we look to the Panel to show how to rejuvenate the fortunes of the Forestry Commission in managing these national treasures.'
'Stable core Government funding along the lines of the British Waterways - Canal and Rivers Trust, who look after the nation's canal system, and a more flexible, independent trading structure would offer a new way forward economically.'
Last year the Coalition Government abandoned the consultation on selling off the public forests after a massive public outcry that brought together a wide range of people including mountain bikers, hikers and wildlife enthusiasts. However in a climate of sustained public spending cuts the long term future of England's publicly owned forest is still very much in doubt.