Today (8th December 2011) the Government-appointed Independent Panel on Forestry published its interim ‘Progress Report’ on its deliberations, since being appointed in March following the Government’s forced U-turn on its plans to dispose of England’s public woods and forests.
Jonathon Porritt of Our Forests said,
“It’s good to see the Panel acknowledge openly what was obvious to anyone who looked at the figures – the Forestry Commission delivers very good value for money for all the public benefits it provides from the woods and forests of the public forest estate.
Defra’s own internal impacts study of the proposed disposal made that clear, but that fact didn’t suit the political agenda of the Government. This welcome acknowledgement by the Panel confirms it was politics not economics that drove the disposal proposal – there isn’t and never was a convincing financial case for disposing of our public woods and forests. Their benefits far outweigh their costs.
As an ‘interim report’, the Panel doesn’t put forward any concrete recommendations, but Our Forests is concerned at the apparent havering over the future role of the Forestry Commission. The majority of people who responded to the Panel and the hundreds of thousands more who forced the Government to halt its plans in the first place, see the Public Forest Estate and the Forestry Commission as indivisible. As far as most people are concerned, the Forestry Commission is part of ‘Big Society’ – accountable to local people, not the distant, detached ‘Quango’ ministers sought to caricature it as.
One immediate action that the Government must take in response to its own Panel’s report is to state unequivocally that no disposal of any public woodland will proceed until a final forward plan for the Public Forest Estate has been set out and accepted by the public.”
Our Forests is producing its own future Vision and long-term strategy for our public woods and forests, as well as looking beyond those. This will be published shortly and made available for people’s input.
Read the press release on the Our Forests resources page
Do Our Forests see the Public Forest Estate and the Forestry Commission as indivisible? Surely the public benefits and public interest in forests should focus on the forests not on the Forestry Commission. The forests need to be managed and as any forester knows that often means balancing a very diverse and wide ranging set of objectives, constraints and demands. Does Our Forests assume that the only structure that can fulfill that role in public forests is the Forestry Commission?
I suggest that as part of your review you take a detailed look at some publicly owned and FC managed forests on the ground. I would also suggest you talk to FC foresters at the sharp end and ask them if they are really happy with the way their patch is managed.
The debate appears to have become firmly centred on the articulate middle class and their special interest groups. What about the rest of ‘the public’? May be you should be looking at how publicly owned forests could really provide the maximum public benefit – perhaps by selling off more of the timber producing tree farms and buying or planting more forests nearer where most of the ‘public’ live. Sales could also provide an endowment to spend more on properly managing, restoring and sustaining the real national forest estate treasures, the ancient forests (Dean, New Forest etc), ancient woodlands and the plantations on ancient woodland sites.
But perhaps it is easier stay popular and campaign for the status quo.
Excellent and well-made points Steele. Rest assured that Our Forests is not interested in the status quo. I want to keep our tinder dry at present while we are working on our vision but I agree with many of your sentiments. I would say that the future of the Forestry Commission is important and relevant to public interest. In relation to this, the writing seems to be boldly on the wall with changes going ahead in Wales in their merging of environmental and forestry governance.