Conservatives Back-down on Public Forests Sell-off

Cast your minds back to early 2011 and you may recall the furore generated by the Government’s proposals to sell off the public forests. After more than half a million people publicly objected to the plans, the Government backed down, suspending the proposed sale, then setting up an advisory body to examine how best the public forest estate could be managed in future.

Eventually, several months late, the advisory body has reported and recommended that the public forests should not be sold off. In yet another U-turn, this key recommendation has been accepted by Ministers bringing to a close this extended period of uncertainty. The report goes on to say that woodlands could help “drive a sustainable economic revival”.

The Rt Rev James Jones, Head of the Independent Forest Panel, said in the report’s foreword “We need a new culture of thinking and action around wood and woodlands.” “[We need] a new way of valuing and managing the natural and social capital of our woodland resource, alongside the timber they contain.”

The report’s other recommendations included:

  • Measurably increasing the quantity and quality of access to public and privately owned woodlands;
  • Ensuring every child “has an element of woodland-based learning”;
  • Protecting current funding for woodland management and creation;
  • Increasing England’s woodland cover from 10% to 15% by 2060;
  • Creating a charter, and public forest estate should be “held in trust for the nation.”

This is great news.  Following the recent sale by Somerset County Council of Great Wood to the Forestry Commission, the announcement that the Forestry Commission’s lands are not to be sold off means that this community asset should remain safe and publicly accessible indefinitely.  I maintain that the sale of Great Wood by Somerset County Council in advance of this report and its acceptance by Government was a reckless act.  As recently as last week, many believed that the advisory body was about to rubber-stamp the national forests sell-off plans with the likely loss from public ownership of Great Wood, so Somerset County Council can have placed no assurance on the continued existence of the Forestry Commission when they agreed to sell.

It’s good that the Government has listened but it must be a cause for concern that the Government continually proposes new plans and policies and then has to back down in the face of near-universal criticism.  You’d think they could take soundings first before proposing such bonkers ideas.

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