Vow to fight forest holiday park on Shropshire border
Campaigners have vowed to fight plans for a "hugely destructive" holiday park development in secluded woodland on the Shropshire border.
The newly-formed Save Mortimer Forest group has accused the Forestry Commission of being willing to damage natural habitats for profit.
But the Forestry Commission has stuck by the plans, and hit back at the protest group for "scaremongering".
The controversial scheme met with mixed reaction from the start, and the campaign group has now come together to oppose the plans, which have been submitted to Herefordshire Council.
The group is made up of concerned residents both sides of the Shropshire/Herefordshire border, including conservationists, farmers, cyclists, and walkers.
Group spokesman Colin Richards, former head of conservation for Shropshire Council, 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."
If given the go-ahead, the plans will see the land handed over in a 125-year lease to Forest Holidays, which will pay the Forestry Commission an annual rent of £200,000.
The Forestry Commission claims the project will create 43 full-time equivalent jobs, and estimates another 47 for the local economy as a result of a tourism boost worth £2.4 million per year.
Mr Richards said the group's main concern was around the environmental impact it says the development will have.
He said: "Mortimer Forest - and this site in particular - is home to a lot of unusual and rare wildlife.
"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."
The claims have been refuted by the Forestry Commission. A spokeswoman said: "Our 40 years' experience of having well thought through, sensitive cabins in nine 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."
The organisation urged people with concerns to familiarise themselves with the proposals.
The spokeswoman added: "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."