Today (8/12/11) the Government appointed Independent Panel on Forestry has published its interim ‘Progress Report’ on its deliberations since being appointed in March following the Government’s forced U-turn on its plans to dispose of England’s public woods and forests.
Jonathon Porritt of Our Forests said,
“It’s good to see the Panel acknowledge openly what was obvious to anyone who looked at the figures – the Forestry Commission delivers very good value for money for all the public benefits it provides from the woods and forests of the public forest estate.
Defra’s own internal impacts study of the proposed disposal made that clear, but that fact didn’t suit the political agenda of the Government. This welcome acknowledgement by the Panel confirms it was politics not economics that drove the disposal proposal – there isn’t and never was a convincing financial case for disposing of our public woods and forests. Their benefits far outweigh their costs.
As an ‘interim report’, the Panel doesn’t put forward any concrete recommendations, but Our Forests is concerned at the apparent havering over the future role of the Forestry Commission. The majority of people who responded to the Panel and the hundreds of thousands more who forced the Government to halt its plans in the first place, see the Public Forest Estate and the Forestry Commission as indivisible. As far as most people are concerned, the Forestry Commission is part of ‘Big Society’ – accountable to local people, not the distant, detached ‘Quango’ ministers sought to caricature it as.
One immediate action that the Government must take in response to its own Panel’s report is to state unequivocally that no disposal of any public woodland will proceed until a final forward plan for the Public Forest Estate has been set out and accepted by the public.
Our Forests is producing its own future Vision and long-term strategy for our public woods and forests, as well as looking beyond those. This will be published shortly and made available for people’s input.”
Notes to editors
The ‘Independent Panel’ first met on 31st March. The same day, a group of individuals, all of whom had been actively challenging the Government’s disposal proposals, also met and agreed the urgent need to form a separate ‘ginger group’ to ensure the ‘Independent Panel’ focuses on key issues, considers crucial available evidence, and takes on-board grassroots views that are so signally missing from the Panel.
Along with the over half million people signing the 38 Degrees petition, we believe that there are unique values and benefits provided to society from having a national body of woodland and forest owned by and managed sustainably on behalf of the public.
Our Forests will also set-out a long-term vision for the future of England’s public woods and forests – but one that is genuinely ‘a people’s vision’ by engaging directly with ‘Big Society’ via our working partnership with 38 Degrees, as well as through the many local & grassroots groups with whom we are networked.
Individual members, in alphabetical order, are:
· Hen Anderson (Co-founder ‘Save Our Woods’, who also runs a smallholding and woodland on Exmoor)
· Richard Daniels (Chair of the grassroots campaigning group Hands off our Forest (HOOF) in the Forest of Dean)
· Dr Gabriel Hemery (chartered forester, co–founder and Chief Executive, the Sylva Foundation);
· Tony Juniper (independent environmental advisor, campaigner, writer and former Director of Friends of the Earth);
· Rod Leslie (former Chief Executive, Forest Enterprise);
· Robin Maynard (environmental campaign consultant);
· Jonathon Porritt (Founder Director Forum for the Future and former Chair of UK Sustainable Development Commission).
The Public Forest Estate (PFE)
Totalling 258,000 hectares, the PFE is the largest single landholding in England – its size, diversity and geographical spread are unique. The PFE’s 1500 individual woods and forests make up 18% of England’s total woods and forests – covering the spectrum from ancient semi-natural woodland to sustainably-managed plantations – and attract more visits each year than the seaside. The Government had been considering plans for the wholesale disposal of the entire Public Forest Estate out of public ownership and management.
Independent Panel on Forestry Policy in England