From the TUC

Carry on up the forest

27 Jan 2011, by in Environment

In response to public pressure, the Coalition’s consultation on its plans to sell England’s woodlands has excluded from the asset sale between 50,000 and 80,000 hectares of forests of  “national historical, biodiversity or cultural significance, like the New Forest and the Forest of Dean.”  This still leaves 120,000 hectares open to bids from “commercial interests”. One poll showed 84% opposition to a sell-off. But, they carry on ragardless.

 Introducing the Coalition’s consultation, the Environment Secretary says, “I grew up a stone’s throw from Hatfield Forest, brought up my own children on the outer reaches of Shakespeare’s immortal Arden Forest, and understand fully the emotional attachment we have to our forests. I am determined to protect and enhance them for future generations and I believe this consultation sets out new and better ways of doing that.”

All public forests should remain just that. In 2009 the commission conducted a detailed study of the long-term role of public forests that concluded public ownership was essential in supporting the forestry estate.

Nevertheless, the Coalition proposes to break up the Forestry Commission, replacing it with a “mixed model” approach. Four principles will guide its decisions:

  • protect and enhance biodiversity to contribute to a network of wildlife corridors across England;
  • maintain public access for recreation and leisure;
  • ensure the continuing role of the woodlands in climate change mitigation and adaptation; and
  • protect nationally important landscapes. 

First thoughts are, the missing principles – maximising profits from sales, securing the interests of a dedicated and skilled workforce, securing the Forestry Commission’s international reputation, a thorough climate change impact assessment. 

The Consultation suggests three options for disposal of the forests: 

  • Charities to take on the heritage forests
  • Community groups for smaller woodlands
  • Commercial operators for the large scale “commercially valuable” assets. Commercial forests will be set out in a “prospectus”, with 150 year leases on offer and with consideration of any “development value and sporting rights”. 

The other choice, of course, is that all public forests should remain just that.

The lack of joined up thinking with the UK’s climate change strategy remains one of the most worrying  aspects of the Coalition’s proposals. Aside from our concerns to secure decent working conditions for 1,200 staff in England now facing a period of great uncertainty, this initiative needs a thorough climate change impact assessment?  Apparently, there could be impacts if new owners were to adopt different forst management practices to those currently adopted. 

Our forests capture around 15 million tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to a clutch of fossil fuel power stations. Yet the UK has much less forest cover than most EU nations. There is a clear need for more woodlands, to maximise their capacity to absorb and store CO2. And woodlands are a cost-effective way to abate CO2 emissions, as the Committee on Climate Change has recognised.

3 Responses to Carry on up the forest

  1. Imogen Radford
    Jan 27th 2011, 1:11 pm

    The government has bowed to pressure, but by putting forward a proposal to seek to divide those who want to keep public forests in public ownership (84% of the recent poll Philip refers to said this, while 75% are specifically against the sell-off).

    All public forests should be kept in public ownership, and handing over up to 80,000 ha of Heritage Forest to charitable trusts is an extremely retrograde step. The Forestry Commission runs public forests for public benefit across the three key areas recognised under international forest stewardship guidelines — economic, social and environmental.

    Only by keeping the Forestry Commission’s public forests together can all of these benefits be fully realised.

    Sales of timber is used to fund management of the forests, including for biodiversity, climate change and all the other public benefits.

    Charitable trusts do not have the funds to run such an enormous area of forest — they will have to have enormous grants from government — possibly more in total than the £15 million a year it currently costs to run the whole of the public forest estate!

    All of the transfers, sales and leasing proposals for the public forests matter — those campaigning to keep Forest public, to save our forests, will be putting these arguments very strongly in the coming weeks.

    And we mustn’t forget that, whatever this consultation says, the public bodies bill (even if amended to put in some kind of protections of the access or environment as hinted at by Caroline Spelman) is likely to be enacted in such a way that a very free rein is given to ministers to make these or more different changes to the Forestry Commission in the future.

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  3. Imogen Radford
    Jan 28th 2011, 10:52 am

    Here are some responses to the consultation from the unions and other campaigners. The main thing that everyone is saying is that the consultation does not give people the option to say that they want the public forests to be publicly run, which is what we all want, and that people should think it through carefully before responding. No doubt more detailed responses will come out shortly and from all of the unions and campaigners involved.

    TUC
    http://www.tuc.org.uk/social/tuc-19055-f0.cfm

    Forestry Commission trade unions
    http://www.fctu.org.uk/SaveOurForests/index.asp (see new tabs for more on the campaign)

    PCS
    http://saveourforests.co.uk/2011/01/27/defra-forestry-consultation/

    PCS
    http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/index.cfm/id/2026A782-319A-49D6-98BCB545553890D7

    one of the many campaign websites
    http://saveourwoods.co.uk/opinion/consultation-day-dawns-in-the-woods/