Read more posts about the public sell-off
Read more posts about the public sell-off

We are amidst a period of unrivalled public focus on England’s forests.

I understand that the Government will be announcing the public consultation on the public forest estate on Thursday 27th.

The Public Reform Bill is also due to be debated in the House of Lords this coming week.

Media interest is high at present.  Anne McIntosh MP, Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  Also featured was Sue Holden of the Woodland Trust.  The BBC Newsnight film is due to be broadcast on Monday 24th.

In the debate generally I have been disappointed that little mention so far has made of the impacts on timber sales from changes of ownership, as the UK’s timber industry is reliant on Forestry Commission sales.  Timber is the UK’s sixth largest import, with one million tonnes of hardwoods imported every year, let alone the softwood imports. We should be doing all we can to encourage more home-grown timber production.  Then there’s bioenergy too and the carbon benefits that come from sustainably managed forests.  This issue is about more than only ancient woodlands and dog walking.

Gabriel Hemery


  1. Another example of the problems faced by totally inadequate planning policies and environmental protection that I have also referred to before in the context of DEFRA leaving decisions on private woodland ownership to local authorities, please read this link – and this is about a local authority action. At the bottom the Woodland Trust adds the following: “…… previous research from the Trust which shows that 273 ancient woodlands covering 22 square miles (5740 hectares) in the South East have been under threat from destruction or degradation in the last decade. This figure includes over 40 across the whole of Sussex itself.”

    Have a look at the John Clegg site for woodland sales where recently anyway they had 69 acres (knelle woods) they stated as ancient woodland being parcelled up and sold off in 9 lots. Sorry Gabriel but there is so much wrong with environmental policy and the consequences of private ownership in this country that it leaves many of us in utter despair. Against this backdrop to propose selling off the Forestry Commission is to my mind an illustration of mind boggling idiocy.

  2. While there are a lot of people who will only see the debate in terms of public benefits e.g. walking and with a dog the discussion has had to be conducted in this ludicrous way because the government have not consulted, let alone openly, they have no mandate and they have acted largely in secret and when they have talked they let it be known they wanted to sell off a benign land management system that has been of considerable benefit – to people and the commercial timber industry. Your concern about imports (damage to foreign eco systems) the need for import substitution is absolutely legitimate but the governments own actions have driven the focus of the debate so far and I think people have had every right to react the way they have. We are talking about a public forest estate that is very small, is mainly in national ownership and means a great deal. Now, turning to commercial forestry. My own fear is that we give a red light to investors to develop forests that are like grain prairies and build “service businesses” that result in more damage to the environment and big profits for a few. I have previoulsy mentioned examples of willow and miscanthus that are being grown with big subsidies and they illustrate the point. I would favour major investments in new woodlands, I think we should be doing so in much of the upland areas for example. I have spoken to the Woodland Trust who have trials but are focusing their resources on trying to save what little lowland woodland we still have. But I along with many want to see woodlands created that will support diverse ecosystems and major biodiversity improvements and work for cimmunities and visitors. That picture could deliver major increases in timber and (local) jobs and public benefits rather than massive returns for a few investors (including overseas) who will if they can introduce management systems to minimise everything except profit and push government to provide the subsidies and tax incentives that will help feed those profits to the relatively few.

  3. you are absolutely right — timber is an important element in the debate. The forestry unions have long recognised this, making it an important point in their 1993 campaign, and in response to the current threat putting a model letter on the timber aspects on their website

    it includes this paragraph:
    “British forestry has developed over the last 90 years from a position where less than 5% of the country was afforested, to the current figure of 12% in England. Some 80% of this is already in private hands, and the combination of the public and private sector has allowed a major timber processing industry to develop, employing several thousand people. Without the continuity of timber supply from the public sector, which is also prepared to support the industry through difficult times, that valuable employment would be significantly less than it is today.”

    recognising the importance of continuity of supply and employment.

    I have reproduced the whole letter and an extract from your blog here:

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