SEVEN out of Oxfordshire’s eight Government forests could be sold under controversial plans.

The Government has included 321 hectares of land, the equivalent to around 400 football pitches, among sites it could sell to the highest bidder.

These are Queen Wood, Cowleaze and College Wood near Watlington; Burnt Platt, Greyhone and Ipsden Woods, near Nettlebed and Crowsley Park near Henley.

Only 136 hectares at Bernwood near Waterperry are not classed as “commercial” by the Government, which is consulting on the proposals.

The UK estate currently brings in £60m a year from wood sales.

The national plans was criticised by Little Wittenham based Sylva Group, which campaigns on woodlands issues, and is backed by Oxfordshire entrepreneur Sir Martin Wood.

Chief executive Dr Gabriel Hemery said: “Two thirds of all the woodlands in England are potentially not being managed, and worse still, possibly moribund.

“Timber is Britain’s sixth largest import. We could help the nation’s finances hugely by managing woodlands properly.

“There are some good news stories, but our worry is the Forestry Commission, with all its expertise and experience, will be weakened.”

Dr Gabriel said forests were being hit by more pests and disease and the group was concerned whether private firms could manage this effectively.

He was also concerned that cash from the sale was not going back into woodlands.

Despite the potential sale or woodland, a group of West Oxfordshire residents has urged communities to follow their example and buy land themselves.

The Shipton-under-Wychwood Wild Garden and Wood Company raised £70,000 to buy land at Shipton Court open it to the public.

Company chairman Mike Watson said: “The place is so close to the hearts of so many of us that we decided to buy it when we heard it was for sale.

“And the previous owner, who also loved it deeply, was keen to save it for the community.”

Director Jeremy Huntingford said: “It’s incredible what the villages of Shipton and Milton came up with, without being particularly rich.”

Cash has gone on gates and tree surgery and further funds are being sought to work on ponds and a canal. Some 200 members are paying an annual fee of at least £20 to support the group, a registered charity.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “Once we have listened to people’s views, and the views of Parliament, we will reach a final decision on the classification of each woodland and set this out in Government’s final response to the consultation.”

The consultation runs to April 21.

Visit or write to Public Forest Estate Consultation co-ordinator, Forestry Commission England, 620 Bristol Business Park, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1EJ.