INFLUENTIAL conservation bodies are alarmed about government proposals that could see part of the New Forest being sold into private ownership.

The Forestry Commission (FC) at Lyndhurst is staying tightlipped about the prospect of the sale.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman is expected this week to announce the sale of 150,000 hectares of FC land which could raise £250m.

But describing the New Forest as “a national treasure”, Official Verderer Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre said it was “completely different” from the rest of the FC’s land and “not like a block of commercial woodland that can be simply sold off”.

“We have a complex balance here which allows recreation, commoners’ rights and conservation to successfully co-exist, and if the management and upkeep of the forest’s 65,500 acres was to be taken away from the Forestry Commission, I am very worried that the system will be very seriously destabilised.

“The New Forest needs and deserves specialist management that is free from the commercial demands and pressures that privatisation would bring.”

New Forest Association secretary Michael Chilcott said: “In the forest we have a system of commoning and management that is unique in the whole of Europe.”

The Forestry Commission, which in the New Forest is headed by Deputy Surveyor Mike Seddon, manages the land and timber production, the wildlife and looks after recreation.

It works closely with the Verderers, Natural England and English Heritage.

Mr Chilcott said he could not see how that interaction would continue if the forest was sold, adding: “We will be talking to whoever we can talk to, to be better informed.

“I am sure we will be saying more as time goes on.”

New Forest District Council leader and National Park Authority member, Cllr Barry Rickman, said: “We would have to look hard at the implications for the forest and its residents, and the horses and cows.”