Woodland sell-off could cut jobs and increase costs

Government plans to abolish the UK Forestry Commission and sell English woodlands to the highest bidder could mean 150 job losses in plant health research at its Edinburgh headquarters.

The move could also cost more than it will make because Government grants are likely to go to the new landowners. A Forestry Commission representative said: "We are losing staff through voluntary redundancy and early retirement to reduce our spending and help the Government reduce the deficit. We have to reduce costs by 25 per cent (£12m) over four years." Wales and Scotland are funded by devolved governments and are outside the cuts.

Many parcels of land have been sold off in recent years and it has been revealed that new landowners are claiming assistance from funds such as the English Woodland Grant Scheme for as much as they originally paid for the woodlands they bought.

The Forestry Commission representative added: "Bits are sold off because they don't contribute greatly to our strategic objectives. Private woodland owners can get grants from the commission to help with replanting, restocking and management."

The Government will launch a public consultation on the future of public forests in England in "the near future". More than 130,000 people have signed a petition opposing the plans.

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