Posts tagged ‘government’
The much heralded report by the Independent Panel on Forestry on the future of forestry in England was released this morning. It is anticipated that the Government will take until January 2013 to consider the Panel’s recommendations and that the suspension on sales of public forests will be extended until it publishes its response. Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for the Environment, will be issuing a written statement later this morning.
Here’s a quick summary of the central messages:
A woodland culture for the 21st century
- Urge society as a whole to value woodlands for the full range of benefits they bring. We call on Government to pioneer a new approach to valuing and rewarding the management, improvement and expansion of the woodland ecosystems for all the benefits they provide to people, nature and the green economy.
- Government and other woodland owners to give as many people as possible ready access to trees and woodlands for health and well-being benefits – this means planting more trees and woodlands closer to people and incentivising more access to existing woodlands.
- Ensure that land-use creates a coherent and resilient ecological network at a landscape scale, by integrating policy and delivery mechanisms for woods, trees and forests in line with the principles in the “Making Space for Nature” report, published by the Lawton Review.
- Urge Government, woodland owners and businesses to seize the opportunity provided by woodlands to grow our green economy, by strengthening the supply chain, and promoting the use of wood more widely across our society and economy. These and other actions should be set out in a Wood Industry Action Plan
Making the vision a reality – the role of our national forestry organisations
- Propose that the public forest estate should remain in public ownership, and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation. A Charter should be created for the English public forest estate, to be renewed every ten years. The Charter should specify the public benefit mission and statutory duties, and should be delivered through a group of Guardians, or Trustees, who will be accountable to Parliament. The Guardians will oversee the new public forest management organisation evolved from Forest Enterprise England urge Government to ensure that the new organisational landscape makes specific provision for international and cross-border arrangements, working closely with the devolved Parliaments on sustainable multi-benefit forestry implementation, research and in the international arena.
In the Introduction to the report the chair of the panel Bishop James Jones wrote some of the most eloquent words about our forests and woods that I have read in a long while:
Our forests and woods are nature’s playground for the adventurous, museum for the curious, hospital for the stressed, cathedral for the spiritual, and a livelihood for the entrepreneur. They are a microcosm of the cycle of life in which each and every part is dependent on the other; forests and woods are the benefactor of all, purifying the air that we breathe and distilling the water of life. In short, trees are for life.
Bishop James Jones, Chair, Independent Panel on Forestry. July 4th 2012
The ginger group Our Forests will be releasing a statement later today.
Other resources related to the IPF Report
December 8, 2011
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.
November 27, 2011
Tommorow a major report will be released: The State of the UK’s Forests, Woods and Trees: Perspectives from the forestry and woodland sector. It marks the International Year of Forests in 2011. The report was featured in the Independent Newspaper today.
The State of the UK’s Forests, Woods and Trees report was led by the Woodland Trust and written in collaboration with 19 other organisations across the forestry sector, including my own involvement on behalf of the Sylva Foundation. I wrote two perspective pieces:
- Reviving a wood culture in the UK
- Trees fit for the future
The report presents important evidence concerning the UK’s tree and forest resources. The contributing organisations hold, and indeed presented during the drafting of the report, many diverse viewpoints. The lead authors Sian Atkinson and Mike Townsend of the Woodland Trust did an excellent job in bringing these together and providing balanced viewpoints, explaining any differences in opinion where evident. It was heartening in fact to find that there was so much in common in the viewpoints of these 19 leading organisations, and the findings are an important contribution to the discussions still ongoing regarding the future of the Public Forest Estate in England (read more).
The report consists of six chapters, making the following key points:
1. Forest Cover in the UK
- The UK is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with 13 per cent woodland cover compared to around 37 per cent for European Union countries, and global forest cover of around 30 per cent.
- This has, however, increased from a low point of around 5 per cent a century ago. The majority of UK woodland is therefore relatively recent plantation. Ancient woodland covers 2.3 per cent of land area.
- Trees outside woodland are an important element of the UK’s landscape, with an estimated 123 million in Britain. The UK is particularly rich in ancient and veteran trees.
- Government is committed to maintaining total forest cover in the UK under international agreements. Recording forest loss is an issue: while new planting is accounted for in statistics, there is no comprehensive monitoring of forest loss, for example to development.
- Almost 30 per cent of UK woodland is managed by the state bodies, Forestry Commission in Britain and Forest Service Northern Ireland. The majority of the remainder is owned by individuals or businesses.
- Very few communities directly own or manage woodland, compared to some other European countries, but the number is growing, especially in Scotland, and there is increasing pressure for the public to have a stake in the UK’s forests. Ownership may not always be the issue: people may simply want to know regulation is fit for purpose to enable forests to deliver everything we require from them and to feel they have a genuine part in decision-making.
- Recent studies in England have shown a shift from farmers owning woods towards those interested in rural lifestyles. In 2000, 39 per cent of farms sold in Britain were bought by non-farmers.
3. Productivity and sustainable forest management
- The UK is the third largest net importer of forest products in the world, behind China and Japan. It currently imports most of its wood and wood products, and exports very little.
- Production of softwood is likely to peak in the next five to ten years, as the forests planted in the 20th century mature, and then to decline again. There is potential to increase production of hardwoods, as many broadleaved woods are not currently managed for wood production, but there are barriers: many of these woods are small, ownership is fragmented, and supply chains are not well-developed. Wood fuel is the main potential product.
- At the same time, demand for wood is likely to increase significantly in the UK in future, particularly for bio energy. This is seen as both an opportunity, to stimulate growth in forestry and related industries, and a threat, with new sectors such as bio energy competing with traditional markets for wood fibre.
- To make the most of the opportunity it is essential good standards of sustainable management are maintained. There may also be a need to address skills shortages within the sector.
- Forests, woods and trees are important for biodiversity: around a quarter of priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan are associated with woodland habitats.
- UK Government has international commitments on biodiversity, expressed through the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Biodiversity strategy is devolved, and following recent reviews at international level, country strategies are under review.
- Targets to maintain, restore and protect priority woodland habitats are generally not being met. In some cases, baseline information and monitoring is inadequate to assess whether they are or not.
- There are multiple challenges, from climate change and invasive species to changes in land use both within and outside woods. Monitoring shows changes in the ecological composition of woods that reflects this. Some species are increasing, but others show worrying declines.
5. Ecosystem services
- The concept of “ecosystem services” is increasingly gaining currency. It opens up avenues for placing value, including financial value, on the benefits provided by forests, woods and trees.
- Examples include improving air and water quality, helping to manage flooding, carbon sequestration, reducing urban heat island effect, thus helping adaptation to climate change; provision of timber, fuel and non-wood products such as fungi, fruit or nuts; places for recreation that also improve health and wellbeing.
- Ecosystem service benefits of forests, woods and trees are a strong rationale for increasing tree cover. The value of UK woodland for public access benefits alone is estimated to be £447 million a year, yet only 15 per cent of people have easy access to a wood of two hectares within 500m of home.
- Forests, woods and trees face environmental change at an unprecedented scale. Challenges include climate change, increasing pests and diseases, pollution, invasive species, inappropriate levels of grazing, and land-use change. There is clear evidence climate change is affecting aspects of the composition and function of woodland. Diseases such as Phytophthora ramorum and Acute Oak Decline are a serious threat to productivity and biodiversity of trees, woods and forests.
- Predicting the effects of single driver of change is complex, but the problem is compounded by the fact that there are multiple drivers, and these also interact with one another. Yet because of the long timescales involved in tree and forest growth, we need to find the most appropriate action now to enable them to survive and continue to deliver maximum benefits in future.
- It is broadly accepted that building resilience will require action within woods, and across whole landscapes, to reverse fragmentation, increase diversity, and reduce stresses.
Summary of the report
Much evidence exists, and some of the policy is in place to support what is needed: an expansion of the forest resource, protection and restoration of its most valuable natural assets, re-invigoration of the economic woodland and forest sector, delivery of environmental and social benefits, and delivery of resilient, functional landscapes. The biggest challenge is to drive this policy into practice.
The report points to a number of needs to achieve the above:
- the need to recognise and enhance the diversity in form, function, and use of our woods.
- the need for joined-up thinking with supportive government policies that embed forests, woods and trees and enable collaboration within the sector.
- the need for public support and an awareness of the benefits of woodland and why its protection and expansion is essential. People’s connection with forests, exemplified by the strong emotional reaction to the threat of losing the public forest estate earlier in 2011 needs to be deepened to a real understanding of and support for forests, woods and trees as working landscapes and as crucial habitats for wildlife.
Contributing organisations to the State of UK’s Forests, Woods & Trees: Perspectives from the forestry and woodland sector
- Ancient Tree Forum
- Bat Conservation Trust
- Coed Cymru
- Community Woodland Association
- Campaign for National Parks
- Country Land and Business Association
- Forest Policy Group
- Forest Stewardship Council
- Institute of Chartered Foresters
- National Forest
- Reforesting Scotland
- Royal Forestry Society
- Scottish Wildlife Trust
- Small Woods Association
- Sylva Foundation
- Wildlife Trusts
- Woodland Trust
November 22, 2011
The minutes of the latest Our Forests ginger group meeting are now available. Key discussion points were as follows:
Current activities by the Independent Panel on Forestry
The Independent Panel on Forestry’s interim report is due out towards the end of November /early December. In January next year, there will be a major ‘Stakeholders Event’, and then some ‘Select Committee Hearings’ in January and February. Their intention is still to have the final report done by April.
Freedom of Information requests
We reviewed the responses from both Defra and the Forestry Commission to our Freedom of Information requests regarding the meetings earlier in the year between Defra and the Forestry Commission with representatives of various national NGOs. The response from the Forestry Commission was considered to be fairly useful. Defra’s response was wholly inadequate.
- We will pursue a formal complaint regarding Defra’s response as a manifest abuse of both the broad principles and the specific guidelines under the Freedom of Information Act. We will seek legal advice as to how best to set about this.
- We will press specifically for the minutes of the meetings with the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust to be made public under the Freedom of Information Act – given how important it is to ensure that those organisations (as members of the Independent Panel) are held to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.
Our Forests vision
We agreed to press on with the first draft of the Vision paper with a view to having this completed as soon as possible. We will then work together to secure agreement on a final draft by the end of November.
- Above all, we want to make sure that our Vision provides a compelling and accessible case for the maintenance and expansion of the Public Forest estate – seen through the three lenses of People (P), the Forests and woodlands themselves (F) and Economics (E) – PFE!
- Getting the Vision signed-off is one thing; getting it out there, to have as much impact on the work of the Independent Panel as possible is another! We agreed that we would develop a full-on distribution and outreach strategy for our Vision.
Why are we doing all this?
Hen was very keen that we should each provide a rather more interesting and personal account of why we are all involved in Our Forests! We haven’t really brought that to life yet, but some people will definitely want to know more why we’re doing all this as now and when the Vision starts to get out there. Hen will make sure we each produce a personal statement of some kind over the next few weeks.
October 7, 2011
No sooner had Our Forests sent out the press release and background briefing about the lack of any substantive response to questions under FOI and EIR procedures about the proposed disposal of our public woods and forests, than both Defra and the Forestry Commission sprang into life and sent in their replies. It challenges credulity that responses would have been received at all, were it not for our press release of 5th October, pointing out that the 40-day deadline as prescribed by the Information Commissioner’s Office expired on 3rd October and we were therefore logging a formal complaint.
Our Forests have now released the formal responses received from Defra and the Forestry Commission. These are published on the resources page (and below), along with Expressions of Interest from the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust towards specific woodlands. Also provided is a paper from the Forestry Commission outlining intended assett sales for 2010-11.
Perhaps the most extraordinary information to emerge is in this quote from Defra in their response:
“We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosure of information concerning government meetings and discussions about the future of England’s public forest estate. However, where incorrect assumptions are made or expectations raised through publication of discussions and views exchanged in earlier communications, government staff resources would need to be diverted to respond to any incorrect media stories and campaigning based on such stories. Given the ongoing heightened interest in forestry policy, there would be a clear risk of being drawn into a public debate on matters which are not government policy. Therefore we have concluded that in most of the circumstances for this case, the information relating to notes of meetings and discussions should be withheld.”
Defra response to Our Forests, 06 October 2011
Readers will be able to judge for themselves from the responses published here, in what has and has not been said, and from the mass of information already in the public domain, whether the Government and its departments acted responsibly in their misguided attempts to flog-off England’s public forests.
Our Forests will come back with a more detailed response, once that we have thoroughly digested and sought to unpick the minimal information that Defra and the Forestry Commission appear to have sent through, but our immediate reactions are:
- the delays on claimed grounds of “complexity & volume of information requested” do not compute with the paucity of the responses provided;
- the responses do not tell us much. Perhaps there is not much to tell? If so, that would suggest that the Government’s intention to dispose of all of the woods and forests that make up the public forest estate by one mechanism or another was set in motion with astonishingly little preparation;
- but the little information we have received does not convince us that this is the whole story. The period we requested details of meetings or discussions between officials and bodies (UK/overseas) as to the latter taking on any parts of the public forest estate was from 1st Jan 2010 – 29th July 2011. Defra acknowledges there were 6 meetings or discussions between: 20th Oct – 8th February, but does not provide information re: any prior to or post those six. The Forestry Commission refers to approaches made to all the NGOs specified (NT, RSPB, TWT, WT) in July 2010 as to taking on parts of the PFE- referring to these as relating to the “ongoing asset disposal programme” 2010/11. We take that to mean the initial 40k has (15% of PFE) that was possible to dispose of without requiring changes to the legislation i.e. via the introduction of the now dropped Public Bodies Bill. Although there do also appear to have been expressions of interest from some NGOs (NT) for sites not in that initial 40k has list;
- In August, the NGOs responded to the FC:
– National Trust provided a list of ‘sites of potential interest’ = 22 sites, of which 11 = leased by FC from NT as freeholder;
– The Woodland Trust is quoted as saying it was not interested;
– The Forestry Commission response includes a list bearing the Wildlife Trusts’ logo, which appears to identify around 170 sites. Many of these may be adjacent to or part of existing Wildlife Trust holdings, but that is not clear.
– The RSPB stated it was only interested in discussing the lease on one site, Rempstone, in Dorset.
- Were these the responses that led officials to record in the Impact Assessment cited in Our Forests’ background briefing that members of Wildlife Link had expressed an interest in acquiring c. 10,000 hectares of the public forest estate?
- By October 2010 and certainly January 2011 it was out in the media that the Government was up for disposing of as much of, if not all of the public forest estate. The public consultation on the disposal proposals was launched on 27th January 2011. According to notes of meetings from Defra, the Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman had meetings with the National Trust on 28th January 2011 and the Woodland Trust on 2nd February 2011. The Woodland Trust’s meeting was on the same day that David Cameron made the comment in the House of Commons that,
“I am, of course, listening to all the arguments that are being put on this matter. However, I ask whether there are organisations, such as the Woodland Trust and the National Trust that could do a better job than the Forestry Commission. I believe that there are.”
Prime Minister [i]
It is not clear from the minimal documentation supplied whether officials met with the Woodland Trust before or after the Prime Minister made that comment. But are we to believe that the Prime Minister had not been briefed on the situation as regards the attitudes of such key conservation bodies by officials and was simply shooting from the hip? The implication, accurate or otherwise, drawn from his comments by many people was that that he believed that both the National Trust and the Woodland Trust were indeed up for taking on more of the public forest estate than they had apparently expressed an interest in from those earlier approaches by the Forestry Commission back in August.
- The National Trust was quoted in The Guardian the day after the public consultation was launched as being, “…poised to offer to take over or buy much of the state-owned English woodland which the government is planning to sell off.
The initiative, says the trust’s director, Dame Fiona Reynolds, could protect in perpetuity not just large areas of “heritage” areas such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest, but other woodland expected to be offered for sale to communities and commercial enterprises in the biggest change in land ownership for more than 80 years.[ii]
(NB – Our Forests background briefing incorrectly dated this article as 23/1/11 i.e. before the announcement. That has now been corrected.)
However, an earlier article in the Daily Telegraph on 23rd October quoted a National Trust spokesman as saying, “Potentially this is an opportunity. It would depend on which 50 per cent of land they sold off, if it is valuable in terms of nature, conservation and landscape, or of high commercial value in terms of logging. We will take a fairly pragmatic approach and look at each sale on a case by case basis, making sure the land goes to the appropriate organisations for the right sites, making sure the public can continue to enjoy the land.” [iii]
- Defra FOI response to Our Forests 06Oct2011
- Forestry Commission FOI response to Our Forests 06Oct2011
- Forestry Commission proposed sales – Notifications List 2010-11
- National Trust – Expression of Interest
- WildlifeTrusts – Expression of Interest
- For more Our Forests background information and documents, see Resources
October 5, 2011
Government fails to meet deadline to answer questions on forests disposal proposals.
It is over three months since Our Forests sent in its submission seeking answers on the public forest disposal debacle, yet no final response has been provided, despite officials initially telling us, “we will be able to sort this out fairly quickly.”
On 29th July 2011, Our Forests submitted questions under both the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 seeking clarification on the Government’s ill-conceived plans to dispose of England’s public woods and forests.
Under the terms of those pieces of legislation, a response could have been expected no later than 20 working days following our submission – that would have been Monday, 5th September. However, officials extended the timeline on the grounds of the claimed ‘complexity’ of our questions to the maximum permissible of a further 20 days. That means we should have received an official response by Monday, 3rd October.
Nothing has been forthcoming and, therefore, Our Forests is putting in a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Jonathon Porritt, founder member of Our Forests commented,
“Our questions were straightforward. Earlier in the year, over half a million people rose up in protest at the Government’s proposals to dispose of all the public woods and forests managed by the Forestry Commission. We simply asked which organisations or other bodies the Government and its officials had met with to discuss taking on some of those public woods and forests. We also asked how much it costs the Forestry Commission to look after them as they currently do, delivering the wide range of benefits not just to the millions of people who visit the sites each year, but to society generally.
These are questions that seem unlikely to endanger national security. Perhaps the apparent reluctance to answer them reveals a fear that they would further expose the Government’s cavalier attitude to England’s natural assets, as well as call into question the judgement and motives of those organisations which might have been considering boosting their own land-holdings at the public’s expense?”
As well as the official submission to government, Our Forests wrote directly to a number of conservation bodies reported or alleged to have been in discussion with Government over taking on some of the public forest estate: The National Trust; RSPB; The Wildlife Trusts; The Woodland Trust. To their credit all of these organisations have responded, in contrast to the Government. However, their replies do not provide complete clarity or dispel some of the rumours and allegations that have been in circulation.
UPDATE 6 October
Government officials today responded to Our Forests’ embarrassing revelations regarding their failure to meet deadlines to respond to the Freedom Of Information requests. Their responses have also triggered some further comment from NGOs. Further information will be posted here soon.
OurForests background briefing FOIs (questions and responses to date) 07Oct2011 (corrected from 05 October version). See resources for more information.
For more Our Forests background information and documents, see Resources