Before the public depth of feeling became so apparent the coalition Government was planning to hold the consultation on the sale of the public forest estate from 27th October 2010 to 19th January 2011. I am not aware whether the first draft has now been altered for the anticipated release of the public consultation in late January. However the original, which was circulated to a small number of outside bodies, makes for some interesting reading.
In contrast to my original post, in which I speculated four models including a ‘no change’ option, there are five models put forward:
Model 1 Open market sale.
Model 2 Mixed transfer including targeted ownership
Model 3 Creation of a mutual of ‘not for profit’ organisation to run small or large parts of the estate.
Model 4 Retention of public ownership with private/voluntary sector management
Model 5 Private sector single or multiple joint ventures.
Model 1 Open market sale
An open market approach to the disposal of the public forest estate would consist of sale to the highest bidder for all Forestry Commission owner woodland and land based assets. Sale packages would be expected to appeal to a wide range of potential purchasers including investors, local authorities, local environmental or other charitable organisations, and organisations with experience in running large visitor attractions.
Indicative capital receipts to Government: £650 million over 10 years. Likely to time for completion up to 10 years. Likely cost of transition to Government approximately £30 million.
Model 2 Mixed transfer including targeted ownership
The targeted transfer of ownership of sensitive and locally important sites to interested bodies, with less ‘sensitive’ areas being sold on the open market (model 1). These targeted sales of transfer could, for example, include the sale of woodlands with particular community interest to local community groups, sale of SSSIs and other important sites for nature conservation to environmental or civic society organisations, sale of land within National Parks to a range of sympathetic owners who would manage toe land in close c-operation with the National Park Authority, transfer of management to a charitable body under a contract.
Indicative capital receipts to Government: £600 million over 10 years. Likely to time for completion up to 10 years. Likely cost of transition to Government approximately £30 million.
Model 3 Creation of a mutual of ‘not for profit’ organisation to run small or large parts of the estate
Creation of a new body outside the public sector to own and/or run the entire estate or a significant portion of it. The new body could be a ‘not for profit’ organisation (a limited company with charitable status) or could have a more commercial structure without the benefit of charitable status. This would give scope for the involvement of a wide range of public, commercial and civic society organisations who have an interest in the public forest estate.
The new body could be created with specific objectives, including the delivery of a wider range of public benefits, or being required to management to independently audited standard for woodland management, for example UKWAS. The new body could be created with various conditions over the way it conducts its affairs, such as being eligible for some types of grant. Current commitments such as existing contracts, partnerships, tenancies and staff could be transferred to the new organisation.
Likely capital receipts; £0. Likely time for setting up the new organisation and transferring land and management: 3 years. Possible cost of transition to Government: approximately £1.5 million.
Model 4 Retention of public ownership with private/voluntary sector management
In this model Government would retain the long-term land ownership. All or partial management would be contracted out to private businesses or civil society organisations on a long or short-term basis. The approach could vary between different sites, for example: less sensitive or commercial areas could be let on a long-term (e.g. 99 years), community woodlands near large populations could be let to environmental charities, large woodlands could be let to a forest management company or it with recreational interests to commercial recreation providers.
Indicative capital receipts to Government: £390 million over a number of years. Likely to time for completion up to 5 years. Likely cost of transition to Government approximately £50 million.
Model 5 Private sector single or multiple joint ventures
Based on partnerships between the Forestry Commission and one or more private sector partners or solely between private sector partners. Partners could be involved in different geographic areas of the public forest estate or in different activities. Examplesof partnerships: to plan and manage all the forests in an area of England, develop and manage a particular local woodland in partnership with local community group or local authority, develop wind turbines on the estate, run all the cafes or visitor centre shops, maintain and collect revenue from the car parks, harvest and sell all the timber, or to develop and run all the visitor facilities in a particular woodland.
This model could be structured in two ways: (1) private sector partners own the majority of a joint venture, therefore the organisation is outside the public sector and the Government does not retain overall control, or (2); private sector partners own less than 50% of the joint venture and therefore the Government retains overall control.
Indicative capital receipts to Government: low, although receipts may build over time. Likely time for completion up to 10 years. Likely cost of transition to Government approximately £50 million.
I think that when considering the potential outcome of the sale of English forests you need to look at what has already happened in Wales. The Welsh assembly wrote a strategy TAN8 that designated the forests of wales as being strategic search areas for windfarms. (The management of forestry commission land in wales is devolved to the welsh government.)
There was a public consultation on this strategy, it was the most commented on and strongly objected to strategy that WAG have ever produced.
The only modifications to the strategy was to say that they wish to expand the boundaries of each search area.
Contracts have already been signed with windfarm companies for all the major forests. These contracts allow the planning applications to include the right to quarry for stone and build cement factories on site as part of the construction process. The first planning applications are about to be sumitted to county councils.
The forestry comission states that WAG expects to earn £3.2 million per year from the 25 year leases.
The website informing people of these plans suggests that the turbines will be built in existing clearings in the forests and replanting will occur upto the base of each turbine. Thats rubbish. Trees and wind turbines are incompatible and you need substancial tracks through the forest to transport the components to each site. The developers targetting the local forest want 5 acres kept clear around the base of each of their turbines.
The threat of what the Government is doing is big and real. Gabriel is quite right that many private woodland owners do a very good job for the public – but remember that we already have 500,000 ha of unmanaged woodland in England before further fragmenting and in the process losing to management yet another chunk.
It is different being on FC land because we as English citizens actually own it – and the FC welcome reflects that respect shown to all people & visitors. The loss of that ownership is comparable to a new round of enclosures, stealing the last vestiges of the countryside from an urban amjority which will still be expected to pay yet more and more to support a countryside they have few rights in – ‘give me your money, now get off my land’. It will hit the less confident and less moblie countryside users hardest – the people who rely on good carparks, toilets and waymarked walks and cycle trails so they don’t have to be afraisd of getting lost – or, as Fiona Reynolds points out in a recent article – be afraid of getting shouted at by an angry farmer. The sale of FC land will probably more than reverse the access gains of the CROW Act.
There are two things we should be seeking:
First, put to bed forever the stupidity that the nations favourite forests will be sold by making them legally inalienable like NT land – how to choose ? Surely, in the Big Society by asking the people who use (and in reality already own) the woods.
Second, give FC a new remit which matches the extensive evidence collected last year so that we can get away from the stupidity of the ‘inefficient timber producer’ image that has stuck long past its sell by date. The Dutch Staatsbosbeheer is a good model – going further than current Fc activity in being a broad-based land manager for the Government, including nature reserves as well as woodland.
Fc is recognised in Government as a very effective deliverer – but not mainly of forestry, rather biodiversity, recreation & health and peri-urban regeneration. Whatever its size, all the pointers show very clearly that the Government is going to need at least some direct delivery capability for land management – the debate over selling the estate is a complete side issue and a potentially very damaging waste of Government time and energy when we are facing the challenges of climate change and a low carbon economy.
Hi Gabriel, I am having another go! I know you are trying to suggest that the strong feelings about the FC is in some ways misplaced and that people are being too alarmist. I have to say that I am one of those who is very alarmed by what I see and hear from government and I certainly do not have the confidence that you seem to have. I am happy to engage in debate. I know full well I do not have all the knowledge, but I have my own experiences and that includes keen observations on politics at national and local level.
I would like to begin with your comments about some of the views being expressed and where you refer to the House of Commons Research Paper and say “…..it does not misrepresent the intentions expressed officially by Defra and ministers.”
Let Jim Paice and the draft Consultation that you published speak for themselves.
I would like to start with direct quotes from Jim Paice in his appearance before a Lords Committee in Dec 2010.
Mr Jim Paice MP: “We have to persuade the general public that a tree is just a very aged plant that, like any other plant, comes to the end of its life. That is the point at which you harvest it, hopefully use it sustainably, and replace it.”
Ancient trees are absolutely vital to biodiversity. There is a massive deficit of ancient trees in this country as a result of over harvesting. That is one of the reasons for biodiversity losses. We need not just dying trees but dead trees and lots of them. If this is the level of understanding of a Minister responsible for this issue then who on earth would have confidence in him? (By the way the Lords Committee seemed incapable of probing).
Mr Jim Paice MP: Part of our policy is clearly established: we wish to proceed with very substantial disposal of public forest estate, which could go to the extent of all of it…
The public forest estate, as acknowledged in the House of C Research is actually quite small . In percentage terms I estimate less than 2% of the woodland left in this country and that is already pitiful. Much of it is last remants of at least old if not really ancient woodland and the biodiversity value or even potential value is enormous, especially so given the small hectarage left. Even plantation land could be really valuable over time, regenerated and incorporated into landscape scale regeneration projects, or just available to wildlife – as well as being available to people. For all practical purposes I see nothing about the privately owned sector that comes anywhere near the protection and sustainability, management and access rights afforded by the FC or our conservation trusts and even emerging Community Land Trusts or possibly social enterprises. There is lots said about protections but in my personal experience the two are miles apart. We have quite a bit of ex FC (ancient) woodland in my area that was sold during the last Tory government and most of it is out of bounds with signs such as Keep Out Conservation Area – which really has more to do with pheasants, and managing for pheasants, which also means getting rid of “vermin”! Another local landowner, from a historic family, who would consider himself a relatively benign landowner is lacking in any understanding about biodiversity, frighteningly so, and certainly lacks sympathy when he feels it affects his forestry operations – he dreads anyone going on to his land and finding bats for example and I do not think for one minute he would hesitate to take out trees that had them if he thought they were in his way – if he could get away with it. He recently applied to put a paint balling operation onto one of his woods classed as a SINC. The Biodiversity Officer actually recommended the application was accepted but the Council for once was unhappy with the recommendation and threw it out – surprisingly I have to say.
I would not quibble that quite a bit is owned by shall we say “benign” owners but increasingly we are seeing large woods being broken up into small woods and sold off in tiny parcels to people who want to think they have “shoots” or their own private woods from which everyone else should be excluded. They have no knowledge and contribute nothing towards the woods.
Another factor in all of this, especially as land is broken into smaller parcels is that people will start to pick off parts of the woods to sell for development. They may deliberately degrade them. I have an aquaintance who has been chopping down trees for several years so he can get development planning permission. I have heard the following comment more times than I care to remember “This is my pension pot and nothing is going to get in the way of this”. All the time people are buying plots with the intention of selling them off to the highest bidder. This is completely wrong. In my village, not trees but a local landowner deliberately ploughed up land so that its grassland biodiversity value disappeared. Several buyers have bought agricultural land with the obvious and frequently declared intent to develop it. What this all boils down to is that the Planning System is worse than useless against determined and manipulative landowners and the level of attrition over the last 70 years or so has been enormous and nothing has arrested it. Any statements from government as we have had about “protections” are rubbish. They do not exist and they would never implement them.
What worries me further is that we start to see the commercialisation of woodlands in the way we have seen food produced. One can already see Willow crops and Miscanthus being grown in the same way as prairie wheat. Corporations are buying up lots of land ready for growing crops of one sort or another, so too are large wealthy landowners, and both could easily be foreign with absolutely no connection with our land or society – the absolute opposite of what we need. These will be agri businesses that will lobby government for tax breaks and greater freedom to operate so that they can increase the bottom line and make yet more millions for relatively few people. Governments who are incredibly nieve about environmental issues will simply concede. There will be little room for real biodiversity in their thinking and their “operations” will not want to have obstacles like dead and dying trees. Everything they do will be as close to the knuckle as possible and over it when they can get away with it.
Against this sort of background I profess, that I want to see all of the public forest estate run by groups we can trust – and I want that land bank to be expanded, not least because of the terribly fragmented landscape we have. It does not have to be the FC and I would love to have a stake in a Community Land Trust or Social Enterprise, possibly a National Trust for Woodland or an expanded Woodland Trust. For that though we need government incentives to make it worthwhile. Governments though do not put real money into conservation, despite its enormous public service role, and yet it happily doles out tax breaks and planting incentives to any crook.
Mr Jim Paice MP: There is of course a huge interest in the private sector for amenity woodlands. We have seen over the past few years that a lot of small woodlands have been bought by private individuals who want to own prime, commonly semi-ancient, woodland of their own.
However, all the protections remain in place. We are not going to lose any woodland cover through any of these proposals.
I do not believe there are adequate protections and I do not believe a Conservative government will put what is needed in place. I object to publicly owned woodland being sold to private citizens and left to their tender mercies. At worst it must go to community trusts etc.
Mr Jim Paice MP: “We think, and this is one of our objectives in disposal, that there are ways of improving commercial returns and generating more returns from leisure and other, currently unprofitable, activities.”
I referred to much of this above. It would be better in the hands of responsible “trusts” even national ones etc with local connections. “Commercial returns” means, the government gets as much as it can for the land so that the “investor” raises his profit targets (same as happened to the terrible motorways services which at one time were much better) and then letting the Planning System take the strain and the government relaxing restrictions as investors complain that they cannot get a decent return on their capital investment. It means lots of tat and it means yet again the pitiful woodland we have left being turned into some kind of tatty commercial operation with lots of cars, buildings, and disturbance – and yet more degradation. The government/politicians want all of that because it gets money to spend on pet projects.
Once into the planning system there will be huge degradation of the forest estate as people try to exploit it for commercial purposes. Even SSSI’s are not safe let alone ancient woodland. The Woodland Trust and others have had to spend fortunes trying to stop ill conceived planning applications and Cllrs are a lottery with most of them totally ignorant of the issues and more interested in jobs and whatever gets them into power next time.
Why is it that everything has to be profitable for some individual. It nearly always results in tat and a much diminished environment. The countryside appeals to many and is best managed for its simple pleasures and biodiversity and not as some kind of mass marketing exercise and over use that profits few and destroys most of its value.
Mr Jim Paice MP: “Our arrangement with the Treasury, as the Secretary of State told the EFRA Select Committee, is that we can, over the period of this four-year spending review, keep up to £100 million of income from assets–not necessarily forestry assets, all DEFRA assets–with a possible 20% add-on to that. Within DEFRA, I am afraid that the answer is negative. I cannot say that it will all go back into forestry. It would be an incredibly large sum of money to put into forestry. You will appreciate that things like flood prevention, in particular, are also huge capital drains on the public purse. Some would have to go into that.”
So yet again we see what is happening. This is a cynical money grabbing exercise by the Treasury. Why are Ministers being represented? The government has no declared intent of using any income for conservation. For decades, government, on our behalf of course, and developers – corporate and individuals of one kind or another have degraded the landscape and made millions out of it. Almost nothing has gone towards stopping the pillaging and that is why we have ended up with such a degraded countryside. .Jim Paice is not even promising that 1penny of it will go directly into conservation and this is despite all the years of plundering. After all the damage that has been done and all the work for free or for virtually nothing that has been done by conservationists to try and head off the worst excesses of failed governments there is absolutely no intent to say, sorry, society got it wrong and we need to do something solid to rectify the damage. If they did that and offered Covil Society, Conservation Groups and Social Enterprises the means to take on this role then that to me is the solution.
I would like to turn to the 5 models you posted on your site. As a simple comment, if this government was so intent on being green, why did it come up with some of these models. Models 1, 2 would to me be totally unacceptable. Option 3 would be fine. Option 4 would need to be modified significantly because it allows for totally tatty commercialisation. 5.1 I am too suspicious of and 5.2 I do not think is practical. In essence I do not mind the private sector from being contracted to do work but not to own or set strategy or have control.
And just finally I do not think despite the Mythbusters on the DEFRA website that Ministers have been misrepresented. In my experience we have been sold rubbish by glib politicians far too often and too many elements of these models are just the same old failed policies especially when it comes to the Planning System and the actions of land developers of any kind and Corporations too when it comes to biodiversity issues. We have lost too much to opportunists and I don’t want to see it happen again. I look forward to your own thoughts. Best wishes, Paul
Interesting comments Paul. I offer a few comments in return here but leave room for others to respond too.
As you rightly point out elsewhere, a consultation on the Public Forest Estate in England was carried out between 6 July 2009 to 28 September last year. I was one of the 2,239 respondents to the consultation. I do not see you listed as a respondent or your Foundation? Nevertheless it has to be regretted that the Government appears to have completely disregarded the outcome of that consultation. Moreover, as many respondents appreciated, the PFE is more than just land with trees on, and at 2% represents a significant public resource that should fulfill the public will. My own view was recorded in the collection of illustrative quotations that formed Part 3 of the report of the consultation outcome:
The proportion of publicly owned land in England is very low by comparison with countries around the world that have successful and highly regarded protected area programs that provide a range of recreational opportunities as well as refuge for wildlife i.e. Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, S. Africa etc. As the public body with the largest amount of publicly owned land, the FC are in a position to argue the case for developing a new and comprehensive protected area system in England, with the multiple uses and multiple benefits that it would bring, and especially providing an experience of wild nature that is rarely available in England now. An aim must also be to create the “ancient woodlands” of the future in England, increasing our woodland cover from the low end in Europe that it is at the moment. Dr Mark Fisher, West Yorkshire
I was at an EU presidency Conference in Brussels in November on restoration of large wild areas. I had a fascinating conversation with Bill Murphy from Ireland. Bill is a manager with Coillte, the state-owned forest enterprise company that itself owns over 445,000 hectares of land, about 7% of the land cover of Ireland. Coillte has a role in outdoor recreation, and Billy sees an opportunity in linking Nephin, one of their (publicly owned) forest areas with the adjacent (publicly owned) Ballycroy National Park, and with an area of (publicly owned) Bord Na Móna land (Irelands peat Board) which is spent bogland in need of reclamation. This will fulfil a vision of a large area of wilder landscape that people can enjoy walking in, camping out on trail walks, and experiencing a thrill of being immersed in nature that is gone from the overwhelmingly farmed landscapes in England, and its hard to see it happen here when we don’t have a significant public ownership that could make it a reality. Selling off the PFE pretty much closes the door on that option.
Thanks for your interesting comments Mark. It is normal for Governments to disregard the findings of their predecessors of course and so it’s no surprise in this case that the 2009 public consultation is no longer deemed relevant, despite the efforts of the many thousands of people who responded.
I was taken with your perspective concerning wild space and the implications for habitat fragmentation. As you rightly suggest, we have very little (perhaps no) real wilderness in Britain, yet we do have precious wilder areas. I am not convinced that the Forestry Commission in England (as we are not talking here of Wales or Scotland) have any particular relevance to these wild spaces. For example, the plantations (as they invariably are) are located at appropriate altitude to suit the necessary growing conditions of the species, and they are largely coniferous. Therefore I don’t believe that FC land is generally deep in the territory of the wilder areas of England. I can think of coniferous plantations on Dartmoor as examples: they tend to skirt reservoirs such as Burrator and Fernworthy and are therefore nowhere near the ‘wilderness’ of the peat hags and raven’s range around Fur Tor.
The reality is that it is these ‘commercial’ plantations that are most likely to be sold under whatever option is taken forward. The main question is surely the fate of our so called ‘heritage’ woodlands such as the Dean, New Forest, Sherwood and so on. Don’t forget also that over the next four years FC England will be disposing of 40,000 ha of woodlands in any case – whatever the outcome of the 2011 public consultation. These are likely to be the small fragmented woodlands that have low public values, including biodiversity, landscape or recreation.
I am afraid your viewing of barren wastelands in the uplands like Fur Tor as “wilderness” has more to do with biblical reference than its has to do with a biophysical reality. In 1991, a panel appointed by the Countryside Commission, reviewed the National Parks of England and Wales. The view was that since their designation, there had been a significant loss and deterioration of some of the wilder habitats in the national parks due to intensification of land use. There was thus a need to restore semi-natural habitats generally, the panel recommending that:
“…[a major aim should be]… to restore and extend their wilder areas by encouraging a reversion to semi- natural vegetation based on low density grazing, especially in areas which have been ploughed or’ improved’ since the National Parks were set up”
The Panel went even further in Recommendation 6.3, where they proposed the following:
“A number of experimental schemes on a limited scale should be set up in the National Parks, where farming is withdrawn entirely and the natural succession of vegetation is allowed to take its course”
In the following year, Government endorsed this proposal for experimental ‘wilder areas’, and the Council for National Parks examined the recommendation as part of a wider range of options for enhancing the wilderness qualities of the Parks. Funding was secured for a Policy Officer who undertook a literature survey, detailed research in six of the national parks, and consultation meetings with National Park Authorities, statutory nature agencies and NGOs. The potential impacts of creating wilder areas on wildlife, public enjoyment, landscape and economic and social issues were investigated and Wild by Design, a report and recommendations on implementation, was published in October 1997.
In capturing the idea of a sense of wilderness, the report recognised that the main attributes of wilder areas were that there was a lack of obvious human management or intensive productive use. A distinction was then made between near-natural and semi-natural areas, where in the former natural processes were encouraged to maintain the diversity of habitats, and the vegetation was free to vary naturally with variations in the physical environment. In contrast, semi-natural habitats arose from agricultural or forestry use.
In terms of ‘creating’ wilder areas, two approaches were given:
• Promotion of the wilderness quality of an area while maintaining productive use, often accompanied by creating or enhancing semi- natural habitats
• Promotion of areas where ecological processes can be paramount – near- natural areas
It was noted that some of the perceived qualities of the semi-natural areas had been eroded by human activities, such as the enclosure of open land and the proliferation of fencing, intensification of use or improvement of the land, planting of non-native woodland, canalisation of water courses, and inappropriate physical developments. It could be possible to enhance the sense of wildness and improve the quality of experience by making changes to some of these, as well as beginning the process of ecological restoration.
On promotion of areas where ecological process could be paramount, it was noted that there were surprisingly few areas in England and Wales that had been left totally without management over long periods, and that the majority of places that had been left to develop naturally had done so incidentally because of their inaccessibility or low agricultural potential, or as a byproduct of their principal use. After giving some examples, which gave opportunity for study of this approach to wilder places, the report concluded that:
“The real challenge is to have the courage and commitment to leave minimal intervention areas on a much larger scale (landscapes of thousands of hectares) and over much longer time periods (hundreds of years)”
So much for such exhortation when the predominantly private ownership of Britain is resistant to give up anything to wild nature.
A report from the Land Use Policy Group in 2002, entitled New Wildwoods in Britain: The potential for developing new landscape-scale native woodlands, laid out the basis for creating extensive areas of native woodland that would form the modern equivalent of the original ‘wildwood’. The aim was to create new woods in the right places and in large enough scale to make a difference to our fragmented countryside. The report recognised the appeal and practicality of converting conifer plantations to initiate new wildwoods in the uplands. Selling off even those plantations thus reduces that possibility, as is shown by recent evidence of a change to private ownership of upland FC plantation.
This is the sorry story of Threestoneburn Forest in the Northumberland national park. The Forest was sold by the FC to a grouse moor owner (personal wealth £124m) who applied to fell all the trees so that he could expand his already large area of grouse moorland. He had already done this before with the purchase in 1999 of Wooler Common and Commonburn Forestry Plantations from the FC.
Objections came from the threat to existing woodland species such as red squirrels, roe deer, badgers, crossbills and the breeding pair of goshawks, and of other woodland breeding species such as merlin, sparrowhawk, buzzard, song thrush, long-eared owl, siskin, coal tit, and woodcock, plus immense disturbance to the otters in a riparian corridor, and the alder and juniper associated with it. What this argued for was a rention of woodland cover on this site for the wild nature that it supported.
Looking at the context, this was woodland in a vast sea of moorland. It is a measure of our lack of internal analysis about upland landscape use and conservation that the clear felling and conversion to grouse moor will bring about a resumption of the wholesale slaughter by gamekeepers of foxes, corvids (crows, magpies, jackdaws and rooks), and mustelids (stoats and weasels, but any pine marten are unlikely to be safe either, even though they are protected species). Thus deforestation would leave the woodland creatures with nowhere to go, but presages the slaughter of so much else. This was a change of land use that should not have been contemplated, and would not have been if Threestoneburn Forest had not been sold off by the FC.
Spelman was ingenuous or ill-informed when she said:
“The role of the commission will remain central to controlling tree felling and replanting. We have no intention of diluting the existing safeguards, including those involving replanting and the protection of biodiversity, in the future”
We should not be selling off the public forest estate when there is a strong likelihood that in the uplands, it will end up in deforestation. Short-sighted commentators – even the Woodland Trust – only see the plantation conifers on this land, and regard it as being no loss, but they haven’t thought it through. It is the loss of land in which the public will should have a major influence that is at issue here. Given the remit, the FC could have retained ownership of Threestoneburn Forest and turned it into the native woodland that is so missing from our upland areas.
While the question creates a focus unfortunately I think is too narrow. If we are going to have successive governments look at FC land as a potential pot of money then lets get it off them – but not hand over to private owners. The real problem is is that we have a broken political system where complete ignorance about human responsibility for the planet is absent and where the only determinant for them is getting elected next time. If we cannot change that then we would be better off taking the land out of government ownership and vesting it in a National Woodland Trust – after all we are talking only 2% of present day woodland! I do not believe private ownership is a solution. Some private owners not looking for a profit can be good – no arguement but the devastation already inflicted on our landscape by private owners exploiting what we have is immense and the government options for private ownership would simply make matters worse. Corporate owners will only want to exploit and they will get the rules changed when they feel they cannot get a big enough cut. They will also get what they can out of the existing Planning System which is weak. Biodiversity and people will be furthest from their mind and we already have a country with the lowest woodland in Europe and the 3rd highest population density in the world.
Thanks for your comments Paul. Yes the question is deliberatly narrow and I set out to ask the fundamental question that Government will not be asking in its forthcoming public consultation.
It’s interesting that you mention a ‘National Woodland Trust’ yet I am very unsure what the Government is presenting in this option. I disagree about private owners ‘inflicting’ ‘devastating’ impacts on our landscape. Much of the landscape terrors you probably refer to (e.g. 1930-60s in our uplands) were planted,owned and managed by the Forestry Commission but not exclusively so. Don’t forget that the vast majority of the wonderful semi-natural woodlands in England are currently, and have always been, in private hands.
I am not suggesting that I support the sell-off, as I have been careful to be neutral here. However, I do think that the private woodland owner is often vilified wrongly.
Note: the State owns 18% of woodlands in England. Britain is the second least wooded country in Europe (after the Republic of Ireland 9.7%), although England at 8.6% (according to 2010 statistics) has just less woodland cover than the Republic of Ireland.
Nice to have seen this now, I did hear about it at the time and how there was no option for the forests to remain public. I find it amazing that the Government didn’t realise there would be a depth of public feeling about this issue. Just how detached are politicians from the rest of the human race?