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Selling off the national forests is a milestone in the race to the right in UK politics. All it will do is create tax breaks for the super rich and restrict public access.

Forest of Dean

Although both the Thatcher and Major governments attempted to privatise the Forestry Commission, they had to abandon their plans after conservation groups mounted serious opposition.

But after Blair and Brown's less than subtle lurch to the right, this madness will seem an inevitable next step to many Conservatives searching for a way to use the present financial hysteria to claw back still more of the working-class advances of the post-war period up to 1980.

The UK's forests are being managed to a higher environmental standard at present than ever before. Biodiversity and climate change are major management issues and, although some money is still raised from motor rally stages and the leasing of some forests for hunting, profit is not currently the driving force.

Public access at its present level will not survive privatisation. Although access may be legally guaranteed in many areas, others will fall victim to the hunting and shooting barbarity that is commonplace throughout private woodland.

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s private forestry was a huge tax break for those paying tax at the highest levels. There was, during this time, mass planting of Sitka spruce in areas of fragile, environmentally sensitive uplands throughout the UK. This is widely seen by environmentalists as an ecological disaster.

The main effect of the present plans will again be to create tax avoidance opportunities for the super rich, who will bypass inheritance and capital gains tax as well as reducing regular income tax liability. This is likely to reduce the government's overall income and will quickly negate the capital raised from the original sale.

The Forestry Commission is running a public consultation on the future ownership and management of the national forest, a form can be filled in or downloaded online at: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-8D3G4M

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