A vision for England’s woods and forests
Our Forests the ‘ginger group’ of leading environmentalists, professional foresters and grassroots campaigners set-up in the wake of the Government’s plans to ‘dispose’ of all the 1,500 woods that make up the Public Forest Estate, is publishing its vision for a future where all England’s woods and forests are recognised collectively as a vital strategic economic and social resource.
A Vision for England’s woods & forests:
– A new ‘Domesday Forest’ of more than 1 billion trees
– All our public woods distanced from the control of ‘Big Government’, and given full and lasting protection for ‘Big Society’
– A new, independent, publicly accountable body, ‘Forests for England’, with the resources and authority to lead on implementing this vision
Our Forests’ vision includes the ambitious but achievable proposal for creating a new ‘Domesday Forest’: an overall area of woodland on a scale unseen since the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 – when 15% of England’s land area was wooded, compared to under 10% currently. This would mean planting 1 billion trees across over half a million hectares by 2050 – equivalent to creating:
- 10 ‘new’ Forests of Dean
- a dozen additional Thetford Forests, and
- replicating the community woods of the Mersey Forest around a further 50 urban fringes.
“Creating a new Domesday Forest is an ambitious, but wholly achievable target, and one which meets the aspirations of the over half million people who came out across the country against the disposal plans. Getting all our woods working, so that they provide the wealth of renewable resources and rich variety of wildlife they are capable of supporting, is vital. Our vision is about creating real jobs, boosting rural economies, and improving the environment and well-being for communities across England.
Where ministers saw assets for stripping, we see a national strategic resource – critical for helping the country curb and adapt to climate change and even more importantly, for demonstrating the scale of sustained effort required. The benefits produced from delivering our vision are substantially greater than the costs. As it stands, the Public Forest Estate delivers goods and services worth £2 billion annually at a cost to each individual taxpayer of just 30p a year.”
Alongside planting ‘more trees’, Our Forests’ vision prioritises bringing the 60% of private woodlands that are currently neglected into active management – such that they provide maximum benefits to people, the economy and wildlife.
Robust leadership, long-term commitment and secure resourcing are required to deliver this vision. Our Forests believes the Forestry Commission offers the foundation and skill-base for such a new, more independent body; freed from short-term political meddling and more accountable to the public.
Our Forests vision is being launched at a critical time:
- The Independent Panel on Forestry is holding the first ‘hearing’ (13/1/12) following the launch of its Interim Progress Report and is beginning to shape more concrete recommendations to put to ministers in the spring.
- Yet even as those recommendations are being drafted, the Forestry Commission is being forced to make 25% cuts – staff are being laid off; including key posts managing our public woods and forests.
- Despite the halting of the Government’s wholesale disposal proposal, our public woods are not fully protected from disposal, and some are coming under the hammer.
To accompany its vision, Our Forests is putting 3 key demands to the Government:
- No sales of any public woods and forests until full and lasting protection is given to the Public Forest Estate overall.
- Stop the chopping of the Forestry Commission by stealth – the Independent Panel’s recommendations (due in spring 2012) will be academic if insufficient resources of staff and funds remain to put them into practice.
- Repeal the law that states our public woods and forests are ‘owned’ by the Secretary of State (currently, Caroline Spelman who led the disposal proposal).
“Ministers said their motivation behind their ill-conceived disposal proposal was to reduce the influence of ‘Big Government’ and to increase the involvement and influence of ‘Big Society’. Well, that’s what our vision proposes – get our public woods and forests out of the hands of distant, detached ministers only interested in short-term asset-stripping and protect them for everyone, for ever.
Contrary to ministers’ outdated views, many people and communities value the Forestry Commission as part of their local ‘Big Society’, and are willing as taxpayers to support it in looking after our woods and forests.”
Rich Daniels, Our Forests
Over the next few weeks and months, 38 Degrees will be sharing the vision paper from Our Forests among its members, to ask their views about the vision for the future of England’s woods and forests. As Our Forests’ ideas develop in the future, we’ll be drawing on the input from 38 Degrees members and their perspectives will help inform our proposal for the future of England’s woods and forests.