We joined the celebrations on Saturday 26 March at Portesham village hall, near Dorchester in Dorset, for the handover of Blackdown Woods from the Forestry Commission to Dorset County Council.
The 117 hectares of woodland surround the Hardy monument (‘Kiss me Hardy’ of Trafalgar fame) on the Dorset Ridgeway in the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty west of Dorchester.
The society campaigned last year for the woods to remain in public ownership when the Forestry Commission threatened to sell them in three lots to a private bidder. Fortunately Dorset County Council at the eleventh hour raised sufficient funds to buy the woods.
Addressing the gathering, our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, said: ‘We are overjoyed that the woods are to remain in public ownership. Public access to this lovely area will be secure and Dorset County Council will manage the woods so as to protect their natural beauty and richness of wildlife in this spectacular Dorset landscape.
‘We believe that our woods and forests need to be in public ownership to ensure that people can enjoy them, for all kinds of recreation. A private landowner can too easily revoke permissive rights, put up “keep out” signs and charge people to enter. We are fortunate here that Dorset County Council was able, albeit with difficulty, to raise the money to buy the woods.
‘However, if the government’s plans to flog off the forestry estate had gone ahead as threatened earlier this year, local authorities throughout England could not have raised the money to buy the countless woods and forests which would have gone on the market—particularly in the current climate. Much public access and opportunities for quiet enjoyment would have been lost.
‘We are relieved that the government did a U-turn on privatising the public forest estate so that it will remain in public ownership— but we must continue to be vigilant as the threat could return.
‘We congratulate Dorset County Council and the organisations who contributed funds—Natural England, West Dorset District Council and the Patsy Wood Trust—on securing Blackdown Woods for the nation,’ Kate concluded.