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Woodland sell-off threatens split in UK coalition

Government plans to sell off the England's woodlands look set to cause a major rift in the UK's ruling coalition, with Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron yesterday helping to tear up a copy of the controversial bill at a rally in the Lake District.

Around 1,500 protesters cheered as the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale joined with Labour opponents of the bill, as well those from the Conservative Party - the senior partner in the coalition with the Liberal Democrats - at the meeting in Grizedale forest.

Farron pledged to vote against the Public Bodies bill, which includes the proposal, when it is introduced to the House of Commons on Wednesday

Another local member, John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, demanded that ministers "wake up and see how badly they have misjudged the issue".

Protests have been organised around the country against the government proposals, which could see the sale or leasing of 100 per cent of land currently owned by the Forestry Commission, amounting to more than 258,000 hectares (638,000 acres).

The demos follow a call last week by environmental campaign group Greenpeace for a rethink of the Government's plans.

Also speaking at the rally, Lord Clark of Windermere, who served as a Labour cabinet minister under Tony Blair before becoming head of the Forestry Commission, claimed that the plan would not even save the Treasury money. Placing more than a quarter of publicly owned forestry land in the hands of charitable trusts would require a subsidy approaching £55 million a year, he said.

In a recent poll conducted by YouGov, 84 per cent of those questioned supported the forests being kept under public ownership.

Public consultation on the proposed legislation will be open until 21st April. To have your say, visit here.