While local and national campaigns, from South West Surrey Save Our Woods at Alice Holt to HOOF in the Forest of Dean to 38 Degrees, have all been praised for forcing the government to overturn attempts to introduce legislation to sell off ALL our public forests, a look at the latest update to the House of Commons Library briefing paper on the forestry sale tells us that the campaign is not over yet. It also gives us the ideal opportunity to remind ourselves of some key facts.
The briefing paper is non-partisan and intended to support MPs in their parliamentary duties. It draws on research concerning both the public benefits and problems faced by the Forestry Commission and its management of the Public Forest Estate. It points out that:
- While the PFE only represents 18% of all woodland, it is much more accessible to the public than privately-owned woodland—44% of the accessible woodland in England is part of the estate.
- Over half of the population visits woodlands. Many expressed a strong emotional connection with trees and woodlands, and associated a wide range of benefits with them.
It also references the hugely detailed 2009 consultation on the Forestry Commission carried out for the Labour Government – something that the Coalition Government has almost completely ignored in its plans so far.
The changes in the briefing paper reflect key announcements made on:
- 11th Feb: the suspended sale of the 40,000 hectares of the PFE between 2011 and 2015
- 17th Feb: “following widespread criticism of the proposals, the Government halted the public consultation and removed the relevant clauses [that allowed the sale of up to 100% of the PFE] from the Public Bodies Bill.”
The briefing paper allows us to easily compare the previous government’s disposal record with the Coalition Government’s plans to make cuts to the Public Forest Estate. According to DEFRA estimates, between 1997 and 2010, 12,120 Hectares of PFE were sold (11,252 woodland and 868 other). During the same period, however, the Forestry Commission acquired 5,403 hectares of land, including at least 3,070 hectares of woodland. This is a net sale of 6,717 hectares in 13 years, or an average of 516 hectares a year.
The Coalition Government is able to sell approximately 40,000 hectares of land over the four year period 2011/12 to 2014/15 under existing legislation even without the need for the Public Bodies Bill. On a yearly basis, this is nearly TWENTY times what was sold per year between 1997 and 2010. These plans, as identified in the briefing note, are only “temporarily suspended.”
Your MP may be aware of the information in the briefing paper – make sure they know your views too. Write and let your MP know that the campaign to save our forests is alive and well, and that plans to sell off our woodland even under current legislation will be fought every step.