Consultation on the future of the Public Forest Estate in England

Consultation on the future of the Public Forest Estate in England

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has announced a consultation on the ownership and management of the 18% of England’s woodland currently run by the Forestry Commission. The consultation was announced on January 27, 2011 and will run for 12 weeks until 21 April 2011.

The response from the Landscape Institute will focus on:

  • Biodiversity – the government has clear responsibilities to protect and enhance biodiversity which it needs to uphold in our forests
  • Management – ensuring that forests are managed to ensure that the way in which a forest is managed has a huge impact on their long-term viability and ability to deliver benefits for communities.  
  • Accessibility – the public response to the government’s proposals illustrates just how much people value being able to spend time in our forests, and the huge loss they will feel if their access reduced or restricted
  • Investment – forests do not take care of themselves.  Without proper investment alien species can invade, disease spread, etc. etc. and the government needs to ensure that sufficient resources are available so that our forests can thrive in the future.

The Landscape Institute will be responding to this consultation, members are invited to send their responses to LI Policy and Public Affairs Officer Stephen Russell by 1 March.

The consultation can be found here: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-8D3G4M

What the press are saying

Defra’s consulation document states that no single ownership model for woodland is appropriate. Among its key proposals are that:

• Heritage and community forests that provide high public benefits will be protected by inviting new or existing charitable organisations to take on ownership or management.

• Opportunities will be created for community and civil society groups to buy or lease forests.

• Commercially valuable forests will be leased rather than sold to commercial operators, to ensure that public benefits are preserved.

However, there is widespread scepticism about these assurances. A leader in the Sunday Times said: “Sales over the period of the comprehensive spending review will bring in a modest £74.5m, a less than 0.01 per cent drop in the ocean of £889.1bn of government debt. The cost of running the Forestry Commission, about £15m a year, is tiny compared with the huge benefits it brings.”

And The Observer commented: “Campaigners also query the secretary of state’s commitment to the consultation. Legislation to give ministers the power to sell off all the land managed by the Forestry Commission is already going through parliament.”

More than 440,000 people have signed an online petition to oppose the sell-off. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times on 30 January showed 71 per cent are against the sale.

The executive director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management Nick Reeves OBE said: “Private companies will want a relaxation of planning regimes to enable them to create holiday parks, caravan sites and theme parks that could be to the detriment of biodiversity and wider environmental interests.”

Meanwhile prominent charities such as the National Trust and the RSPB are mounting their own campaigns and have collaborated to produce a set of principles on taking on responsibility for managing public land.

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