ONE of Britain’s oldest conservation groups has called for the New Forest to be spared from a massive sale of Forestry Commission land.

The 144-year-old New Forest Association (NFA) says decades of management expertise will be lost if the Forest is included in the sale.

The Forestry Commission manages 145 square miles of woods and heathland in the district, plus paths, cycle tracks and 134 rural car parks.

But many of its holdings across the UK could be privatised in a bid to raise millions to curb Britain’s budget deficit.

NFA chairman William Ziegler said: “I acknowledge that the country’s finances are in a mess and cuts are unavoidable, but the New Forest is a special case due to its unique conservation value and cultural heritage.

“These are qualities which, if lost, could not be reinstated once the funds start flowing again.”

Mr Ziegler said he was worried about the impact on commoners – villagers with the right to let their animals roam the Forest.

He said: “The delicate balance between commoning, conservation, recreation and commercial forestry is easily disturbed and it is vital that whatever management expertise has been gained over the years is retained for the benefit of the New Forest and the nation.

“To achieve this there is only one viable option – an adequately funded Forestry Commission.”

Mr Ziegler is the latest New Forest figure to call for the area to be made exempt from the proposed sell-off.

Graham Ferris, chairman of the Commoners’ Defence Association, has cited the Forestry Commission’s “unique role” in the management of the area. Official Verderer Oliver Crosthwaite- Eyre has described the Forest as a national treasure.

“The Forest needs specialist management that is free from the commercial demands and pressures that privatisation would bring,” said Mr Crosthwaite-Eyre.

Founded in 1919, the commission comes under the Department for Environ-ment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

A Defra spokesman said the department was preparing to launch a consultation exercise on the future of forestry land across the country.

He said no decisions would be taken until all the responses had been received and analysed.