(Left to right) John Woodcock MP, Lord Clark of Windermere and Tim Farron MP tear up a copy of the Public Bodies bill. Photograph: Kim Pilling/PA
The Liberal Democrats' president Tim Farron publicly ripped apart a copy of the government's controversial bill to sell of England's forests at a rally in the heart of the Lake District today.
The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale joined Labour and Conservative opponents in denouncing the plan as some 1,500 protesters cheered amid gently falling snow in Grizedale forest.
He promised to vote against the proposal in the Commons on Wednesday and nodded when John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, called on ministers to "wake up and see how badly they have misjudged the issue".
Protesters jammed narrow country lanes in the remote valley to the reach the latest of the spreading wave of demonstrations against the sale or leasing of 258,000 hectares (638,000 acres) of wild land. In spite of grey and chilly weather, familiar in the winter fells, they chanted "save our trees" and roared approval as the MPs tore up the Public Bodies bill.
Children with placards reading "Save our Roots" and "Free the trees" joined the throng in the former gardens of Grizedale Hall, a Liverpool manufacturer's Victorian mansion, demolished in 1957. Its last role in political controversy was during the second world war, when its 40 rooms were denounced as too cushy and costly for their role as a Nazi officers' prisoner of war camp.
Lord Clark of Windermere, a schoolboy during the war whose first job was as a Forestry Commission labourer, told the rally: "This land is ours and we need to keep it as ours. I am so pleased that so many of you have taken time out today to come and tell the the government what you think of their proposals to give away and to sell our birthright."
Lord Clark, who served as a Labour cabinet minister before heading the Forestry Commission for a decade, said that access would be threatened by a plan which would not even save money for the hard-pressed Treasury. Even the quarter or so of the estate earmarked for charitable owners would require a subsidy approaching £55m a year, he said.
The broadcaster Eric Robson, who chairs Cumbria Tourism, warned that the potential effects on the Lake District's lifeblood of visitors were dire.
Some 40 forests in the national park, including the huge estates of Grizedale and Whinlatter, were "absolutely crucial" to the area's economy, he said.
"I knew we had a problem when I heard a forestry minister last week describe the place where we are today as 'Greezedale'," he said, to roars of approval. "This is one of the shoddiest pieces of work to come out of Whitehall for a very long time.
"It completely ignores the importance of forestry and the forestry estate for the heritage of the nation's wellbeing. It is also a sham. It is a sham that I believe working together we can put a stop to."
Before his speech, Woodcock sent out a quick post on Twitter: "Privilege to speak at the Grizedale rally today. Fantastic turnout. Tory-Lib Dem government have seriously misjudged this." He then told the rally: "Governments have to govern with the consent of the people, and on this issue you are making it very clear that they simply do not have that consent."
Protesters included Edwina Freeman from Bolton, who said: "We have two seats and a glade of trees here in memory of members of our family. The trees were planted with the idea that our future family could come and enjoy this area – but obviously if someone else takes over it's not ours anymore."
Martin Smyth, 41, from Barrow-in-Furness, said: "This is just the first step – things are only just getting started. They've got another thing coming if they think we're going to go away."
Mike Morton, from the new pressure group Save Lakeland Forests, which organised the rally, said: "Everyone's here, from sports people, farmers, bird-watchers, 'right-to-roam' activists, families – all united behind the same cause."
Monday, 31 January 2011
MPs on all sides back Lake District forest protest | Environment | guardian.co.uk