The Forestry Commission was created by the government after the first World War to ensure Britain would have enough timber in any future wars. Unfortunately World War 2 came a little too soon as the new plantations were too young to be harvested. Of course, the Forestry Commission continued to manage our Forests to the benefit of the country, it’s environment, wildlife and society. The Commission manages 250,000 hectares of land which is enjoyed by walkers, mountain bike and horse riders, families and bird watchers to name but a few. In fact, it’s forests receive 40 million visits a year from all sectors of society
It now appears that this is now under threat as the government plan to sell up to all of the Forestry Commission estate.
The government has today released a consultation about selling some of the woodlands it owns to the private sector. As you can imagine this idea of loosing woodland to private individuals has not been received well by the public and local communities who use the Forests.
Under the plans some of the forests will be deemed as ‘heritage forests’ which will have all of their access rights preserved. It is proposed that these could be given to charitable trust to manage but no charities have yet been named who could fulfil such a large task. Local charitable organisation could also run their own local forest how they see fit, this fits in with the government’ s ‘big society’ idea. Some forests already have ‘friends of..’ organisations which are involved in the management of their local forest with the Forestry Commission.
So if some of the forests are to be given away the government will not generate any revenue from the sale and funds will be made available to organisations so it begs the question ‘Whats the point?’
Other woodlands, particularly commercial plantations, would be leased so that access is preserved and the government can still have some degree of control over the land. The government states it would therefore have an income form the lease of land but would, i presume, loose the revenue generated from timber sales. Then there is the issue of subsidies which are already paid to the private sector. Whilst the government may reduce it running cost of the Forestry Commission it is possible that the subsidies it pays out will increase.
Those against selling say that public access could be threatened and private land owners will try to prevent access to woodlands or will to the very least possible to maintain public access. There are also fears for the biodiversity of the land.
Jim Paice, Environment Minster, talking on Radio 4 this evening stated ” The consultation we announced this morning is based on the idea that we want to involve the public and the community much more in how our forests are owned and Managed. If we wanted to do this just for financial reasons we would have put the whole lot up for sale and taken the highest bidder.” He went on to confirm that access rights will be preserved in a written legal format or “there will be no deal.”
Campaign groups have been springing up across England to oppose the sale of their local public forests including Save Lakeland’s Forests, Hands off our Forests in the Forest of Dean, Save Thetford Forest and Save Cannock Chase.
Over 250,000 people have signed the online petition at 38degrees.org.uk
- DEFRA consultation
- Guardian | England’s forests: the time to act is now
- Telegraph | Forest sell-off: Some questions answered
- BBC News | Concern over plan for Forestry Commission forests