From the TUC

Forest of protests

06 Jan 2011, by in Environment, Public services

Government plans to privatise our forests have ignited protests across the UK.  In the Forest of Dean, Mark Harper the Conservative MP asks that we ignore the clear statements of intent by ministers to sell-off the forest estate and to trust that it will be all right in the end!

The Forest of Dean is a unique place. A community live and work in a forest. It has few statutory protections or even designated public footpaths. Its ancient customs and rights are largely unwritten and protected only by the remit of its public ownership and stewardship of the Forestry Commission.

The Forestry Commission looks after a million hectares of land, and sustainably harvests 5 million tonnes of wood every year from Britain’s public forests (just under half of domestic production). The income from timber helps offset the costs of managing the forests in our care.  No wonder it’s seen as ripe for privatisation.  The 38 degrees website has produced a list of them on Google Maps.

Forest privatisation is the Coalition’s intention in the Public Bodies Bill going through Parliament now. We are asked to trust in a White Paper that will set out a range of options for the future of the forests. None of them will adequately safeguard the Forest of Dean as it is now. All of them signal the end of publicly owned and managed forests.

It will be 50 ways to leave your lover when we haven’t even fallen out! ‘None of the above’ will not be on the list and such an option will only be achieved by amending the Public Bodies Bill now.

The Government’s approach is based upon the premise that public ownership of our woodlands is bad – despite all the evidence to the contrary.

It remains unclear how the government will determine which options for which forests will be applied. The break-up of the national estate will mean that the more profitable forests will be sold leaving the rest even more dependent upon subsidy or even more at risk from measures to cut costs.

Even Mark Harper realises that talking about privatising the Forest is political suicide so instead we are presented with the option of a transfer to a community interest body or a ‘not-for-profit’ business. But these will still have to cover their costs. Not-for-profit is also Not-for-loss. The only way to balance the books will be more commercial activities, big hikes in fees and charges alongside cuts in woodland management.

Unions at the Forestry Commission (Unite, PCS, Prospect and the GMB), representing its 3,240 employees in all grades, are fundamentally opposed to the Government’s plans. Under this Government, there has been a cynical distortion of social enterprise and co-operative values to privatise public services. Once transferred out of public ownership there is no way back. As we are witnessing in the NHS, many of these bodies seem set-up to fail. When they do, the next inevitable step is into corporate ownership.

In the Forest of Dean we have witnessed Conservative statements that would make George Orwell proud. Tory Council leader, Peter Amos said: “It doesn’t matter who owns it as long as it stays in public ownership.” The MP says that the Government has no plans to sell-off the forest but simply change its ownership!

The people of the Forest of Dean want to keep it that way.

5 Responses to Forest of protests

  1. Beatrice Greenfield
    Jan 7th 2011, 10:52 am

    the forests and ancient woodlands are our heritage. They were there before William the Conqueror and the Romans. We have all played in the woods, especially Robin Hood and his Merry Men. As children we founght against the Sherrif of Nottingham now we must fight against David Cameron and his Big Society. As we grew up we learnt to listen to the sounds of the birds in the trees, look for insects, and scurry after small animals; all in the woods. With no woodlands our children will never know this. We are fighting all over the world against the destruction of the tropical rainforests as they are the lungs of the earth and are full of a biodiversity that has not been disvcovered yet. Here, in Britain, it is happening on our doorsteps and we cannot afford to leave it to someone else. That someone else is our own government who does not seem to care about the lives of its inhabitants, the way they live and the biodiversity that we have. It only cares about profit. We do not need to sell off our forests; they will not realise that much money but it will create profit for Tory cronies. We held a mass tresspass on Kinder Scout; are we now having to do that with every forest and ancient woodland in Britain? If we have to we will

  2. Tokyo Gaijin
    Jan 7th 2011, 2:47 pm

    ” The Forestry Commission…harvests 5 million tonnes of wood every year from Britain’s public forests (just under half of domestic production)” So timber production is a legitimate role of a publicly owned body ? I wonder what the effect of this distortion is on the private producers – who pay taxes and provide real jobs.
    “The Government’s approach is based upon the premise that public ownership of our woodlands is bad – despite all the evidence to the contrary.” Where is your evidence ? or do we just take your word for it.
    “Unions at the Forestry Commission (Unite, PCS, Prospect and the GMB), representing its 3,240 employees in all grades, are fundamentally opposed to the Government’s plans” Of course they are, can’t have change can we.
    “…privatise public services” how can harvesting timber be described as a public service ?

  3. Dawn Jobling
    Jan 10th 2011, 12:08 pm

    I am furious and disgusted that the government is going to sly this bill through as quickly as possible, but not suprised. They know that there will be hell to pay, as this is shear greed and stupidity and theft, and a near sighted decision to “make money toward the countrys debt” which will have horrendous implications well into our childrens future.
    The cowards would rather sell our heritage to the highest bidder, than to tackle the banks blatent disregard with respect to the agreement to stop paying the £8million + bonuses.
    I cried as I read in a tiny column in the Mirror yesterday, to think that we may have no ancient woodlands, no bluebell glades, no biodiversity, or the already endangered plantlife.
    The thoughts of boring, uniform pine trees, artificially planted, with only the smell of pine, rather than the beautiful warm earthy smells from the mixed species forest floors.

    Australia sold off the primordial forests of Tasmania to huge logging companies, who were only interested in the eucalyptus trees, and have laid waste to trees thousands of years old. Leaving a scorched landscape and decimated the population of indiginous specious such as the Tasmanian Devil, only found there. The same story in Canadas primodial forests, sold by the Government to oil companies who level the swamp areas they grow in to take the oil from the soil and sand.
    I cried myself to sleep last night thinking about how, once these beautiful places in our country are gone, they are gone forever, as its been proven that many of the trees that are found in our ancient woods and forest, do not flourish as well, when artificially re planted.
    We need to stop this underhanded theft, and will be looking for anything I can do to take action and stop this.
    “I think that I will never see…..”

  4. Tokyo Gaijin
    Jan 11th 2011, 8:20 am

    @ Dawn Jobling
    You could have saved yourself all those negative emotions with a bit of research.
    Two thirds of the Forestry Commission land lies within National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. All of these areas are anyway managed and funded by public bodies (National Park Authorities, AONB boards, Natural England) and protected by law.
    The Forestry Commission regulates almost all commercial forestry in the UK, this is from their website – ” We have powers to prevent loss of tree cover and ensure that new forests and related operations don’t harm the environment. Owners, including our own forest managers, may have to apply to us for a felling licence, agree with us a longer term design plan, or in some cases seek our consent before starting any work. Our powers include investigating suspected illegal felling, insisting on replanting, or seeking other remediation”. Private logging companies anyway have an interest in managing their resource well, this regulation adds another layer of protection on top of that.
    So the end result of the government action will be that the commercial logging operations of the Forestry Commission will be sold to private companies. This is a good result, there is no reason for a publicly owned body to be the major producer of timber in the UK. The ancient woodlands, bluebell glades etc will continue to exist.

  5. Forestry Commission Plans | Woods and Forest
    Jan 27th 2011, 9:31 pm

    […] consultation document for the sell off is now out.  Protests against the proposals were growing even before and seem to be mainly local groups that have […]