England’s largest environmental NGOs voice concern over new proposals for our public forests

10/09/2013

in News

We’re very happy to see that Wildlife and Countryside Link organisations are as concerned about the current proposals for our public forests as grassroots campaigners have been for many months now.

Here is a link to WCL’s response to the current public forest estate management organisation proposals, as signed by environmental NGO giants the National Trust, Ramblers, Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, CPRE, Friends of the Earth England, Plantlife, Mammal Society, BMC, Bat Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Campaign for National Parks and the Open Spaces Society:

Wildlife and Countryside Link red lines for the new Public Forest Estate management organisation

So far the proposals have missed people’s deep connection to our forests. A vital part of which, alongside forestry and access, is the diversity of habitats and abundance of wildlife that gives resilience to our landscape and that forms our precious public forest estate.  As a unique public asset the economics should serve those connections equally and not be the driving force of the new management organisation, which is currently how the proposals are being presented. Tony Whitbread, Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust puts it brilliantly in his blog post

“Many of the ecosystem services provided by forests are quantifiable, timber production is just one.  Many others are of such fundamental importance that they underpin all other values.  Forestry, as with any valuation from now on, must fully account for all these services.  Indeed forest management should be the natural cause célèbre for this new approach to valuation.  Only by doing so will we start to properly value forests – and foresters. 

Forest economics must therefore be fundamentally reformed to reflect full natural capital accounting.  The full range of public benefits must be properly accounted for, with a hefty contingency allowance for all the essential services which cannot be easily reflected in financial valuation.”

We know that the Forestry Commission understands this, that is why over half a million people demanded that the PFE remains in public ownership, managed by a properly funded Forestry Commission for the benefit of the people and wildlife.

So I ask again, where is it going wrong DEFRA?  Who is it in DEFRA that not only doesn’t understand the nature of our public forests but that is unaware if they don’t get this right many thousands of people in constituencies across England will turn on their MP’s and march through their forests?  That is not something I’d imagine this Government would want to go through again, especially in the run up to the 2015 election!

The Save Our Forests campaign that instigated this entire process back in 2011 wasn’t just online clicktivism, at it’s foundation was many thousands of people, in every constituency across England, rising up to protect their forests and the trusted public foresters that manage them on our behalf.

It should never be forgotten that our public forest estate was saved by the people, for the people.

 

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Roderick Leslie September 10, 2013 at 17:15

For me, the pivotal point in the whole process is the tedious issue of Governance: the body that actually holds the real power and this is where the greatest failure & divergence from the panel’s advice occurs: Defra is proposing a Board of management holding virtually all the power over the estate with a chair appointed by the Secretary of State and members through the public appointments process – which to all interents and purposes means by Defra officials. With more and more ‘quangocrats’ dependant on continuing paid appointments it will mean a Board with all the power completely in the power of Ministers/Defra officials. Charters, token Guardians & land ownership transferred to the management body will mean absolutely nothing. The Government statement gives some fairly strong pointers what this will mean – an intense interest in the money, and apparently a belief that the proposed arrangements will clear the way for renewed land sales. What is needed is a management Board with a balance that ensures it is the forests that come first in all their deliberations – it must not be vulnerable to party political or single interest takeover. The Secretary of State should most certainly have a voice – in fact, I’m happy for him to appoint the chair, but the seats must be appointed in such a way that the spread of people represent everyone with an interest in our national forests, and whilst individually representing different interests, as a Board work for the forests as a whole.

What underlies all this is that Defra seem to have completely missed the point: it is good they are talking to organised groups including SoW, Our Forests and the Forest Campaigns Network but I feel they think this has brought the ‘protest’ within the establishment ‘tent’. That is a serious mistake with potentially huge political consequences: the big issue over the public reaction to the sales proposal was that whilst 38 degrees and SoW facilitated the response they were primarily a lightening rod for hundreds of thousands of people who are not in organised groups (nor belonging to any one political grouping) , nor plan to be – unless the actual forest or forests they love and value as part of their lives is threatened – and any belief that squaring the organised groups will mean there is no resistance to forest sales – or the further erosion of Forestry Commission values by cash cuts or damaging money raising schemes – is a very dangerous mistake, more so in the run up to an election where the forest sales fiasco has the potential to be a political totem stretching way beyond the forests.

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andrew gardiner October 18, 2013 at 12:23

Having led a delegation of Dean Forest District Councillors to the Houses of Lords and Parliament in January 2011, representing the people of the Dean (which eventually brought about the Independent Forestry Panel), i am deeply saddened that this most ancient forest is currently being used to create a precedent to privatise / capitalise / sell off 200 acres of key wildlife land (1300 recorded species including horseshoe bats and all underpinned by the food-chain from thousands of rare ant colonies). What is so criminal is that Government agencies – such as Natural England, Homes & Community Agency and my own District Council and the local MP Mark Harper ( accomplice with Caroline Spelman 2011 ref Public Bodies Bill) having destroyed hundreds of horseshoe bats and swallow habitats with heavy machinery in freezing conditions and have acted as judge and jury in planning applications – they are again preparing to move against these vulnerable little creatures and heritage buildings – again supported by Natural England, FODDC, Homes & Community Agency under the supervision of the police.
The disgusting aspect is the delineation of this land with a red line – irrespective that in 1994, £550,000 was spent in landscaping this nature reserve (until translocation and off-setting were dreamt up).
Finally, public woodlands in the Forest of Dean has greater links with our hard earned Forester rights – and these latter day robbing barons – have illegally enhanced the value of our land for greed and capitalisation. We halted these capitalising processes in 1981 by exempting these royal woodlands – and I will do everything in my power to halt the sale of our precious forests once again. I suggest we stop talking and wasting out time with the hypocrites and start tying yellow ribbons around every ancient tree in the Dean – the one single action they hated in 2011.
Andrew Gardiner

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L Jones-Cicily October 18, 2013 at 16:28

I completely agree with Andrew Gardiner’s comments. We must do everything we can to stop the councils from selling off the forests. Once these beautiful forests have been sold off, they will be gone forever.

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Mick Mack October 23, 2013 at 01:32

“What underlies all this is that Defra seem to have completely missed the point:”
Well it depends where you’re sitting Roderick. From DEFRA and the economic/political class they reperesent, this is the obvious, even necessary position to take and yes they have attempted to assimilate the energy and ‘disquiet’ of the natives. Giving MP’s a hard time at the next election is not going to save our woodlands. We need mass disobedience. The notion that one can present rational arguments to irrational people/bodies and expect a sensible answer is ludicrous and all this time and energy spent trying to dissuade them to do otherwise is not only self-delusional, but it negates ACTION – i.e. people doing the only thing that will stop government proposals and that is mass occupation and as we all know the context and significance of this is not only woodland, but can be applied across the whole public sector. They – the Government and the monied classes – are trying to steal and sell off all public ‘assets’. That’s the context in which we are operating and continuing on about how unreasonable DEFRA are being is missing the point. The youth will rally behind us, of that I am certain, but it has to be a planned and sustained defense. These issues are NON-NEGOTIABLE. The Government – and it will, rest-assured, be no different if Labour were to win the next election; it’s the economy that drives policy not the other way round – don’t care much about political mistakes, they care about carrying on their ethos and our believing that the old ways of preventing this is illusionary. There should be a sustained media campaign to make it absolutely clear that we want the public in their droves to come and defend forestry . We have to stand up to the bullying of the state, NOW!

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Roderick Leslie November 3, 2013 at 22:17

Thanks for the comments – I entirely agree. That the FC forests are where they are is the proof -against all the odds, the people who have managed them over the last 30 years did listen and achieved a probably unique degree of local responsiveness from a national organisation.

When I say Defra (and their Ministers) have missed the point it is precisely because they seem to believe they can ‘contain’ the ‘protest’ (actually overwhelming public opinion) by talking to the most visible & organised protestors – which is flattering, but none of us have any illusion that we are it – the strength, and where the increasingly closed world of politics and real people clash is at the level of each and every forest – nothing I say will stop people getting together and opposing the loss or damage of the individual forests they love – and direct action isn’t just about sitting in trees – many of the people who value and will protect their forests (and I’ve met many of them over the years) are bothy influential and skilled in the arts of law & Government – however Government might like to see this, it isn’t about either well intentioned but naïve greenies nor about the sort of direct protestors who can too easily be branded ‘criminal’. That is why I see no option but for the responsible politicians to get this right rather than go on pursuing their own aims which can only bring them ever increasing grief – that was the conclusion I reached for Fc during the Flow Country dispute – and absolutely nothing is different here.

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