The Russian government has approved a controversial new Forest Code which, it claims, will make it easier for private investors to buy into state forests.

The code, which supersedes Soviet-era forestry laws restricting investors accessing the sector, allows tenants to purchase a lease for only 10 times the annual rental price after 15 years of renting forestland. Leases for less than a year and from 10-99 years will be available only at auction.

The government says the new rules will attract investments, leading to the construction of new roads, wood processing plants, and pulp and paper mills.

However, environmentalists have labelled the code “indiscriminate privatisation” which could lead to mass cutting of forests around cities, on riverbanks and lake shores, with the north-west region likely to be most affected.

Greenpeace claims the rules have been drawn up by a small circle of executives with almost no public discussion.

Some industry representatives have also expressed concern that the code will impose change too rapidly.