Today sees the launch of a new ‘ginger group’ Our Forests with the aim of ensuring …
a People’s Vision for the Future of England’s Woods and Forests
Our Forests has been formed to enable the views of the more than half a million people who signed the 38 Degrees petition against the Government’s reprehensible plans to sell-off the Public Forest Estate in England to be fully understood and taken into account by the Coalition Government and by the Independent Panel on Forestry Policy in England.
I am one of seven founding members of Our Forests:
- Hen Anderson (Co-founder ‘Save Our Woods’, also runs a smallholding and woodland on Exmoor)
- Richard Daniels (Chair of grassroots campaigning group Hands off our Forest (HOOF) in the Forest of Dean)
- Dr Gabriel Hemery (chartered forester, co–founder and Chief Executive of the Sylva Foundation);
- Tony Juniper (environmental consultant and formerly Director of Friends of the Earth;
- Rod Leslie (former chief executive, Forest Enterprise);
- Robin Maynard (previously Head of Communications, Forestry Commission);
- Jonathon Porritt (Founder Director Forum for the Future and former Chair of UK Sustainable Development Commission).
The ‘Independent Panel’ (read more), charged with reporting to Government in Spring 2012, is chaired by the highly respected Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones, and includes senior figures from national bodies, representing conservation, recreation and forestry interests. However, there are real concerns over how restricted and compromised the Panel will be by:
- its terms of reference;
- the role some of the national conservation bodies appeared to play during the national outcry against the sell-off plans;
- the absence of any genuine grassroots representation on the panel.
Our Forests is therefore putting a set of questions to the panel members concerning their core principles and their readiness to deliver on public expectations. The questions are underpinned by the findings from the extensive public consultation exercise on the future of the Public Forest Estate in England (concluded in September 2009), as well as reflecting the concerns of the public so clearly expressed in the 38 Degrees petition. The questions are:
Do panel members support the principle and recognise the value of there being a Public Forest Estate – i.e. a substantial body of woodland and forest managed on behalf of the Nation to deliver a multiple range of public benefits?
What is the formal position of individual panel members regarding the Government’s earlier disposal plans and any future plans to reduce the area of woodlands under public ownership?
What are the views of individual panel members on Defra’s decision to push through these current cuts ahead of any recommendations that the Panel will make?
Jonathon Porritt, one of the founders of Our Forests, issued the following challenge:
“The Independent Panel should not be starting its work with a blank sheet of paper. Hundreds of thousands of people and many campaign groups have already given a very clear steer as to the direction of forestry policy in England. The Panel has an extraordinary opportunity to amplify those views and to provide the Government with unambiguous advice as to the critical importance of protecting the Public Forest Estate.”
The 2009 public consultation (see resources), largely ignored by the current Coalition Government, found ‘strong resistance’ to any disposal policy and that ‘the overwhelming majority of respondents indicated a desire for the public forest estate to increase in size’. Yet throughout the national grassroots campaign against the 20010/11 disposal plans, it was unclear whether the major conservation bodies were opposed to the Government’s plans or prepared to go along with them (see Jonathon Porritt’s blog entry of February 2011).
Despite the Government’s apparent U-turn on the disposal of the Public Forest Estate and the setting-up of the ‘Independent Panel on Forestry Policy’, Defra is forging ahead with 25% cuts in the staff that look after the Public Forest Estate. This pre-emptive strike undermines the panel’s role and effectiveness – as well as the capacity of the Forestry Commission to deliver multi-purpose forestry.
Our Forests will seek answers to these questions, and will continue to monitor the work of the ‘Independent Panel’ and make interventions as necessary to ensure the public’s concerns and those of grassroots organisations are not by-passed by the Government.
Later in the year, Our Forests will work with 38 Degrees to fashion a People’s Vision for the Future of England’s Woodlands and Forests, which will be submitted to the Independent Panel as a critical input into its own deliberations.
Make sure that you subscribe to this blog (see below to Follow me) or my Twitter, and keep an eye on the websites of other Our Forests members, to keep up-to-date with activities of Our Forests.