The Public Forest Estate (PFE) is the largest single landholding owned by the state in England. As we near the time when we will be asked our views about selling the public forest estate off to ‘Big Society’, it may be a good time to ask – what is it and what benefits does it provide for you and me?
The PFE – facts and figures:
- managed by Forestry Commission England.
- covers 258,000 hectares (ha) of land, equivalent to 2% of the total land area of England.
- by region: North East England 61,700 ha; North West England 28,000 ha; Yorkshire and the Humber 21,800 ha; East Midlands 19,600 ha; West Midlands 13,500 ha; South West England 36,900 ha; South East England 49,600 ha; East England 26,400 ha; and, London 300 ha.
- represents 18% of England’s woodland.
- woodland scale ranges from Kielder Forest Park covering 60,000 ha, to small woods of less than 10 ha.
- 202,000ha of the PFE is wooded habitat, and 56,000 non-wooded habitat.
- a total of 1,500 sites.
The PFE – public benefits:
- provides a significant proportion of all the goods and services from England’s woods and forests.
- the remaining non-forested areas are composed of open habitats, such as heathland, upland mires and open space, including as part of wooded green space around urban areas, as well as other non-wooded land use types such as car parks.
- woodland habitat comprises over 151,000 hectares of conifers and more than 66,000 hectares of broadleaved woodland, with 53,213 hectares of ancient woodland.
- the largest producer of home-grown timber in England with 1.4 million tonnes per annum or 60% of current production (this represents less than 5% of wood consumption in England which as a nation is dependent upon imports).
- 26% of the estate is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), 98% of which are in “favourable” or “recovering” condition.
- 45% of the PFE sits within nationally important landscapes (national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty).
- stores about 129 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e): in the trees (48MtCO2e); and in the soil (81MtCO2e).
- harvested timber and wood-fuel also have the potential to substitute for 1-2 MtCO2 per year through reduced fossil fuel emissions as a consequence of its use.
- trees are one of the most cost-effective solutions for an expensive problem like climate change.
- The Forestry Commission is the largest single provider of countryside leisure visits in England with over 40 million visits per year.
- More than 50% of the population live within 10 km of a Forestry Commission managed wood or forest.
- The PFE is FSC certified. In 2009, 343,000 hectares, or 30 % of all England’s woods, were certified with 199,000 hectares, or 58% of this being on the public forest estate.
What does the PFE cost the taxpayer?
- Total net operating cost to Government about £15 million.
- Equivalent to about £60 per hectare per year.
- Costs every taxpayer a little under 30 pence per year (according to Caroline Lucas).
- £49m or 71% of gross operating expenditure in 2010/11 is expected to be covered by income from the estate including timber sales and recreation.
- An average of £26,711,200 per year was paid out in grants to private woodland owners over five years (2006-10) by Forestry Commission and Natural England.