A campaign group has launched to save the publicly owned area of Mortimer Forest from a major holiday park development.
Save Mortimer Forest is made up of committed locals from both sides of the Shropshire/Herefordshire border, from conservationists to third-generation farmers, from runners and cyclists to wildlife lovers and walkers.
Forest Holidays is planning to build 68 large-scale holiday houses, some with hot tubs, with an on-site shop, take-away food facilities, restaurant, bar and cycle hire facility, near the peaceful beauty spot of High Vinnalls in Herefordshire and close to the border with Shropshire.
The 50-hectare development will be sited on Forestry Commission land and is the only piece of land in the entirety of Mortimer Forest where the freehold is owned by the Forestry Commission.
Colin Richards, formerly Head of Conservation for Shropshire Council and a spokesperson for Save Mortimer Forest said:
“What at first sight appeared to be a development that could have some benefit to the Ludlow area, is likely in reality to be hugely destructive of the very environment which makes Ludlow, South Shropshire and North Herefordshire unique. We strongly oppose this huge development and believe it’s a bad deal for local people, wildlife and for the Forestry Commission. Wildlife habitat on publicly owned land will be destroyed in favour of a busy private holiday park. This is privatisation of our public forest by the back door.”
The Forestry Commission proposes to loan the publicly owned development site in Mortimer Forest, known as Juniper Hill, to Forest Holidays who are majority-owned by a private equity fund. The 125-year lease will see Forest Holidays pay the Forestry Commission an annual rent of just £200,000 per year, equivalent to around £3,000 per house and well under half the market rate for renting a two-bedroom house in the area. The £200,000 annual rent will not be reserved either for spending in Mortimer Forest or the local area.
Colin Richards added: “Mortimer Forest – and this site in particular – is home to a lot of unusual and rare wildlife including the internationally significant Long Haired Deer, a unique breed that has roamed this local area since the Ice Age. Protected species on the site include dormice, Great Crested Newts and 12 different species of bats, alongside declining bird species including the red listed marsh tit, song thrush, tree pipit, willow tit and wood warbler, all classed by the RSPB as globally threatened. The site is also home to amber listed birds such as bullfinch, dunnock, redstart and willow warbler all of which breed on the proposed development site. We urge all those who are concerned about the proposed destruction of habitat and the effective selling off of our public forests to join our campaign online, on twitter and Facebook at Save Mortimer Forest.”
A Forestry Commission spokesperson said: “Our 40 years’ experience of having well thought through, sensitive cabins in 9 of the nation’s forests prove they comfortably exist with people who live nearby. They do bring benefits to all visitors and the local economy. Surveys still show the wildlife around them continues to thrive.
“The forests are still public forests and are open to everyone. The cabin sites are a joint venture with the Forestry Commission who are still the landlord and can use the money they make to maintain and improve the forests.
“We ran a series of events where people talked to us about their concerns and heard about our experience from other forests. We will continue to listen and talk to local people and our planning application will have even more evidence and information. We believe when people are able to take the time to understand how these cabin sites really fit in to the forest they realise the scaremongering is untrue.”