Hands off our forests
Our case against Coalition plans for forest privatisation should consider the evidence that the private sector failed properly to manage our woodland resources before the Forestry Commission was created in 1919. Jim Pratt MBE, a retired Forestry Commission worker, writes here about the “strong precedent for assuming it will not do so in the future.”
“There was a huge demand for timber during WW1, not least for those fighting in the trenches requiring strong, secure timberwork. Large numbers of Merchant Seamen were lost then to German submarines transporting timber because we did not have the resources to provide it ourselves.”
“A similar demand arose during WW2, and here 30,000 merchant seamen paid for our lack of resources with their lives. The Forestry Commission had been poised for closure in the 1920’s, but common sense prevailed then and an organisation which has been an exemplar to the rest of the world developed. It responded to the urgent need to begin to restore our forest cover, and produced another bold plan in 1943 for the future post-war development.”
In 1943, the Forestry Commission reported:
- “Up to the beginning of the last war the United Kingdom (including Ireland) had no Forest Policy. About 97 per cent, of the 3 million acres of woodlands were privately owned and managed as their owners thought best.
- During the 1914-18 War woodlands made an effective contribution to victory. By substituting home-grown for imported timber substantial economies in shipping were affected.
- As the result of this experience, and after due enquiry, a Forest Policy was approved which included a programme of State Afforestation and the maintenance of existing woodlands in a productive state.
“The plan revealed the dismal failings of the private woodland owners to re-stock after 1914-18, and emphasised the need for a single, competent Forest Authority. It is typical of the vision and courage of the report’s authors, and enabled the FC to become the responsive, forward-thinking and resilient organisation it is today. The progress with private woodlands has been disappointing. ”
“Replanting since the last war has been inadequate and the general level of silviculture has not improved. This is a damming indictment of an ‘industry’ more interested in sport than in resource. Equally, it is a comment on the incapacity of the private sector to make long-term investments in a period of significant recession.”
“I was posted as a junior forester to Thetford Chase in 1965. At that time, there were about 15 beats, each of which was staffed by at least two foresters and about 30 workers. I had occasion to return to the forest last November with a Chinese student I am mentoring, to develop some new ways of conducting research into a major forest disease. The beats have all been amalgamated, and the total staff are probably fewer for the whole area than they were for a single beat in 1965. Yet the forest is more productive, achieves a much wider range of objectives, and is very much better run now than it was then. This could not have been achieved without efficient, intelligent management by professionals who know their stuff.”
“These people are typical of the staff throughout the Forestry Commission. I have travelled widely overseas, and I have no doubt that this forest is as good as they come. I cannot see the private sector achieving anything like that quality.”
“If you are particularly exercised by the threat to the Forest of Dean, may I direct you to p217 of John Perlin’s A Forest Journey: a salutary review of what happens to societies which do not manage their natural resources prudently.”