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Early Day Motion in Parliament concerning the future of England’s public forests

June 27, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

An Early Day Motion (or EDM) has been tabled by Caroline Lucas MP today at UK parliament, calling for a debate on the future of England’s public forests based on the grass roots statement co-ordinated by Our Forests.

The EDM can be accessed here.

The statement from grass roots organisations concerned about the future of England’s piblic forests says:

“We believe that public ownership of the Public Forest Estate must be secured, through new legislation. The rich cultural, historical and natural diversity of our forests and woods, and full access to them, is best protected under the continued stewardship of the Forestry Commission, fully resourced to sustainably manage and expand our multi-purpose Public Forest Estate now and in the future.”

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Public ready to rise up again if Government fails them over public woods & forests

June 27, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Our Forests

The Independent Panel on Forestry is due to publish its report and recommendations to Government on the future of our public woods and forests (the Public Forest Estate), the Forestry Commission and England’s woodland and forestry policy in general on Wednesday, 4th July.

Our Forests has been in contact with many of those groups who share our concerns and who have signed up to the following public statement, which has today been put to Government and sent out to all 171 Members of Parliament that have public woods and forests within their constituencies:

“We believe that public ownership of the Public Forest Estate must be secured, through new legislation. The rich cultural, historical and natural diversity of our forests and woods, and full access to them, is best protected under the continued stewardship of the Forestry Commission, fully resourced to sustainably manage and expand our multi-purpose Public Forest Estate now and in the future.”

This statement has been fully endorsed by the following grassroot campaigns:


The Our Forests ginger group recently conducted a national survey together with 38 Degrees. Just under 90% of those responding said they would campaign against the Government if their concerns about and hopes for England’s public woods and forests are not met. Read the Survey summary.

Rich Daniels, Our Forests member and chair of Hands Off Our Forest said:

”It would seem political suicide to do so, but the evidence on record from Parliament is that the Government could put significant areas of public woods and forests back on the market. If they go against the public will on this issue, they can expect a conflagration in constituencies across England. It would be unwise for Government to think that the sale of any significant part of OUR public Forests and woods would pass without reigniting the flames of protest in the hearts of people and forest communities across England. The prospect of any our public woods and forests being threatened again after we have fought so hard to protect them will be met with even more determined campaigning.”

Our Forests press release 27 June 2012Read the full press release

Our Forests 38 Degrees survey results summaryRead the Survey summary.

Read more about Our Forests

National survey confirms public support for our forests

June 27, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Our Forests

Our Forests was formed to ensure that the public’s concerns and aspirations for our woods and forests are taken into account by the Government-appointed Independent Panel on Forestry, to persuade the NGO community to adopt a more proactive stance on the issue in line with the public’s concern, and to put forward a positive Vision for all of England’s woods and forests. We published a Vision in January 2012.

To explore whether that Vision accorded with what people who are passionate about forests and woods want for the future, the group engaged with members of 38 Degrees via a focus group and through conducting a robust on-line survey that yielded statistically significant results. These activities harnessed the considerable reach and experience of 38 Degrees in bringing together a wide cross-section of people to take action on issues that matter to them (534,000 people signed up to 38 Degrees on-line petition to ‘Save Our Forests!’ ).

Headline results

  • Just under 90% of those surveyed (1,292 respondents – including people from across the UK,
    but predominantly England) are ready to campaign against the Government if their concerns
    about and hopes for their public woods and forests are not met.
  • Over 98% want to see an end to short-termist political interference with our public woods and
  • Nearly 90% felt that our public woods and forests merited Government (i.e. public taxpayer)
  • 65% of people were prepared to contribute a minimum of £5.00 (33% from £5.00 – £10.00) to
    more than £10.00 (32%) per year as taxpayers (current settlement granted to Public Forest
    Estate amounts to c. 30p per taxpayer per annum).
  • 91% felt the Forestry Commission was ‘needed to look after our woods and forests’.
  • 86% of those surveyed support Our Forests’ Vision for ‘one billion more trees’.
  • 87% of people supported a doubling of England’s overall tree-cover from 10% to 20% over next
    50 years.

Our Forests 38 Degrees survey results summary

Read a summary of the Our Forests 38 Degrees survey

Public attitudes to trees and wood – survey results

February 18, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Q7 When were you last in a woodland?

I conducted a small online survey concerning public attitudes to trees and wood over the Christmas period (December 2011 – January 2012). I collected 83 responses to the survey, which I designed using Survey Monkey. I am the first to admit that the survey had some shortcomings in design, in that my lack of understanding of social sciences and in questionnaire design, probably led to some curious phrasing.  Nonetheless I think that the results make for interesting reading.

My intention was to explore some of the deeper public attitudes to forestry as an industry; what people perceive it to be about, its importance and power. I also asked questions relating to the importance and prominence of wood in people’s lives today.

The questions emerged from some of my personal everyday experiences as a forester in talking and working with members of the public. For instance I have held conversations with a number of people who have felt that trees should never be cut down in any circumstances, and that it is quite possible for wood to be harvested from trees that have died naturally. Question 10 confirms that this view does exist although it is held by a rare minority. Clearly this is a view that demonstrates a disconnection from the realities of the amount and importance of timber in our everyday lives (Q5 & Q6), and that the needs of modern society could never be amassed from unmanaged forests alone. It is also, perhaps, prejudiced by a view that forests cannot be managed sustainably and that forestry is a powerful and harmful industry (Q9).

I explored in Question 8 what activities people thought ‘forestry’ concerned. I was very surprised that 23% of respondents thought that it had little or no relevance to green energy. Within the sector, the emerging opportunities for wood heat and energy are driving forestry policies and seen as the economic saviour for struggling woodland owners. Yet externally it is seen as irrelevant by many. Quite a large proportion of respondents also thought that forestry was not particularly relevant to flood management (e.g. planting trees in water catchments, reducing bank erosion) or climate change (e.g. reducing heating/cooling needs in cities, providing habitat for displaced species). The examples here are my own and were not included in the survey. A lack of appreciation by respondents for the diverse benefits arising from sustainable forest management is the main message here.

I also wanted to explore a fundamental area that I have written about before on this blog and spoken about publicly; namely the concept that cutting down trees is seen as a bad thing, even though wood is commonplace for all of us in modern society (e.g. The Art & Joy of Wood).  I have drawn comparisons between farming animals for meat (shrink-wrapped supermarket meat and the idea that it was once part of a living animal), and forestry and the concept that we surround ourselves with wood in our homes and workplaces yet object to the concept of felling a tree for its wood. I have referred to this using the term nature deficit disorder. I am not sure that I have been successful in teasing out any data on this here so I may need to return to this area in the future.

Gabriel Hemery

Summary results for the 10 questions

Question 1: In what country do you live?

The majority of respondents (77%) were from the UK.

Q1 In what country do you live?

Percentage of respondents from different countries (N=83)

Question 2: Are you male or female?

There was a fairly even split between the number of respondents being male (58%)  and female (42%).

Q2 Are you male or female?

Percentage of respondents male or female (N=83)

Question 3: What category is your age?

Most respondents were aged between 50-59 (N=24), followed by those between 40-49 (N=20). Only 3 respondents were 29 years of age or less. 17 respondents were over 60 years of age.

Q3 Age category

Number of respondents in different age categories (N=83)

Question 4: Have you ever worked in any of the following professions or consider yourself an expert in any of the following subjects?

53% (N-44) of respondents did not consider themselves to be experts or to have relevant professional experience in a number of related subjects. Among those who did consider themselves experts, 16% cited forestry, followed by 6% in arboriculture. No respondents cited wood technology experience.

Q4 Non-expert or relevant professional experience?

Number of respondents with relevant professional experience (N=83)

Question 5: How important do you think wood is to modern life?

88% of respondents believed that wood is very important to modern life; the remaining 18% believing it is quite important.

Q5 Importance of wood to modern life?

Respondents' answers to the importance of wood to modern life (N=83)

Question 6: How much wood is there in your life?

This question explored the presence of wood in people’s homes and workplaces. Very few respondents had woodchip boilers at their workplace (N=2) or home (N=4). Most respondents recognised the importance of paper and furniture. Some additional responses to this question included: rustic use in properties, timber-framed roofing, wooden beehives, guitars, carvings, cooking fuel and packaging materials.

Q6 How much wood is there in your life?

Multiple category answers to "How much wood is there in your life?" (N=83)

Question 7: When were you last in a woodland?

The majority of respondents (47%) had last visited a woodland within a week. Two respondents had never visited a woodland. One respondent added that they lived in a wood.

Q7 When were you last in a woodland?

When were you last in a woodland? (N=83)

Question 8: How strongly do you think the following activities are part of Forestry?

This question provoked some complaints from respondents in that Forestry was not defined. Indeed it was not defined but this was deliberate as I was seeking to explore what people believed forestry was about. The activities thought to be least part of forestry were landscape design, followed by flood management and green energy.

I explored these data further by filtering responses from experts and non-experts (Question 4). Of the 18 respondents who cited flood management as being rarely or never part of forestry, 10 were experts. Of the 19 respondents (23%) who cited green energy as being rarely or never part of forestry, 8 were experts.

Nine respondents (3 were experts) cited climate change as being rarely (N=5) or never (N=4)  part of forestry.

Q8 How strongly do you think the following activities are part of Forestry?

Scores for how strongly respondents thought the following activities are part of Forestry. (1) NEVER, (2) RARELY, (3) USUALLY, (4) ALWAYS

Question 9: How strongly to you agree with the following statements about Forestry?

In line with Q8 some respondents complained about the lack of a definition for Forestry. The strongest disagreement concerned the statement that Forestry only concerns timber production. The statement that Forestry is a powerful industry was most contentious, in terms of similarity of responses (15 didn’t agree/17 totally agreed).

I explored further the question concerning whether respondents considered forestry to be an Environmentally Sustainable Industry. There were no significant differences in the responses from Non-experts and Experts (Q4) with both categories having 10 respondents answering Partially, and 2 and 1 respectively answering Don’t agree.

Q9 How strongly to you agree with the following statements about Forestry?

Counts for strength of view on statements about forestry (N=82)

Question 10: Which of the following statements about tree felling do you agree with?

Most respondents agreed with the statement that Trees can be cut down if they are replaced with new tree(s). One respondent answered that Trees should never be cut down, and 2 respondents answered that Trees should not be cut down in my country.

Q10 Which of the following statements about tree felling do you agree with?

Counts for agreement about statements concerning tree felling (N=82)

A vision for England’s woods and forests

Our Forests vision

Our Forests the ‘ginger group’ of leading environmentalists, professional foresters and grassroots campaigners set-up in the wake of the Government’s plans to ‘dispose’ of all the 1,500 woods that make up the Public Forest Estate, is publishing its vision for a future where all England’s woods and forests are recognised collectively as a vital strategic economic and social resource.

A Vision for England’s woods & forests:

 –       A new ‘Domesday Forest’ of more than 1 billion trees

 –       All our  public woods  distanced from the control of ‘Big Government’, and given full and lasting protection for ‘Big Society’

 –       A new, independent, publicly accountable body, ‘Forests for England’, with the resources and authority to lead on implementing this vision

Our Forests
vision includes the ambitious but achievable proposal for creating a new ‘Domesday Forest’: an overall area of woodland on a scale unseen since the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 – when 15% of England’s land area was wooded, compared to under 10% currently. This would mean planting 1 billion trees across over half a million hectares by 2050 – equivalent to creating:

  • 10 ‘new’ Forests of Dean
  • a dozen additional Thetford Forests, and
  • replicating the community woods of the Mersey Forest around a further 50 urban fringes.

“Creating a new Domesday Forest is an ambitious, but wholly achievable target, and one which meets the aspirations of the over half million people who came out across the country against the disposal plans. Getting all our woods working, so that they provide the wealth of renewable resources and rich variety of wildlife they are capable of supporting, is vital. Our vision is about creating real jobs, boosting rural economies, and improving the environment and well-being for communities across England.

Where ministers saw assets for stripping, we see a national strategic resource – critical for helping the country curb and adapt to climate change and even more importantly, for demonstrating the scale of sustained effort required. The benefits produced from delivering our vision are substantially greater than the costs. As it stands, the Public Forest Estate delivers goods and services worth £2 billion annually at a cost to each individual taxpayer of just 30p a year.”

Gabriel Hemery

Alongside planting ‘more trees’, Our Forests vision prioritises bringing the 60% of private woodlands that are currently neglected into active management – such that they provide maximum benefits to people, the economy and wildlife.

Robust leadership, long-term commitment and secure resourcing are required to deliver this vision. Our Forests believes the Forestry Commission offers the foundation and skill-base for such a new, more independent body; freed from short-term political meddling and more accountable to the public.

Our Forests vision is being launched at a critical time:

  • The Independent Panel on Forestry is holding the first ‘hearing’ (13/1/12) following the launch of its Interim Progress Report and is beginning to shape more concrete recommendations to put to ministers in the spring.
  • Yet even as those recommendations are being drafted, the Forestry Commission is being forced to make 25% cuts – staff are being laid off; including key posts managing our public woods and forests.
  • Despite the halting of the Government’s wholesale disposal proposal, our public woods are not fully protected from disposal, and some are coming under the hammer.

To accompany its vision, Our Forests is putting 3 key demands to the Government:

  1. No sales of any public woods and forests until full and lasting protection is given to the Public Forest Estate overall.
  2. Stop the chopping of the Forestry Commission by stealth – the Independent Panel’s recommendations (due in spring 2012) will be academic if insufficient resources of staff and funds remain to put them into practice.
  3. Repeal the law that states our public woods and forests are ‘owned’ by the Secretary of State (currently, Caroline Spelman who led the disposal proposal).

“Ministers said their motivation behind their ill-conceived disposal proposal was to reduce the influence of ‘Big Government’ and to increase the involvement and influence of ‘Big Society’.  Well, that’s what our vision proposes – get our public woods and forests out of the hands of distant, detached ministers only interested in short-term asset-stripping and protect them for everyone, for ever.

Contrary to ministers’ outdated views, many people and communities value the Forestry Commission as part of their local ‘Big Society’, and are willing as taxpayers to support it in looking after our woods and forests.”

Rich Daniels, Our Forests

Over the next few weeks and months, 38 Degrees will be sharing the vision paper from Our Forests among its members, to ask their views about the vision for the future of England’s woods and forests. As Our Forests’ ideas develop in the future, we’ll be drawing on the input from 38 Degrees members and their perspectives will help inform our proposal for the future of England’s woods and forests.

Our Forests vision

Our Forests vision for the future of England's woods and forests

Our Forests press statement re: Independent Panel on Forestry Progress Report

December 8, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Our Forests

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.

Gabriel Hemery

Read the press release on the Our Forests resources page

Read more about Our Forests

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