CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to fight plans to sell off 230,000 acres of publicly-owned forests and woodland.

Ministers yesterday unveiled a controversial proposal to allow private companies to manage land currently owned by the Forestry Commission.

The Government has insisted it would allow communities continued access and greater involvement in their woodlands.

However, the plans throw into doubt the future of more than 50 forests and areas of woodland in the North-East and North Yorkshire.

Campaigners fear the proposal could see forests chopped down for their timber or damaged by woodland holiday parks.

The Forestry Commission has already been told to selloff 15 per cent of the nation’s public woodland to raise £100m, meaning almost 35,000 acres in the region could be sold to private companies.

The consultation launched could see the remaining 85 per cent handed over to charitable trusts, local councils, community groups or businesses.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said she hoped the publication of the details of the public consultation would prove many people’s fears unfounded.

“State control of forests dates back to the First World War, when needs were very different,” she said.

“There’s no reason for the Government to be in the business of timber production and forest management.”

Under the proposals, commercially valuable forests would be leased under 150- year leases, allowing the Government to impose conditions on timber companies to protect public access and maintain management standards.

However, environmental campaigner David Bellamy, who lives near Hamsterley Forest, County Durham, said the nation’s forests must be kept under public ownership.

“It is not theirs to sell off – it’s ours,” he said.

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, said the proposals could have grave implications for the future of the Forestry Commission owned land, including Guisborough Forest and Walkway.

Carol Atkinson, from Hamsterley Horse Riding Association, said she was prepared to demonstrate if necessary.

“People think Hamsterley is too big to stop public access, but if you sit back it could happen before you know it,” she said.