By Mark Funnell, Head of Communications (Forestry Commission) and Tony Williamson, Forestry Team Leader (Defra)
The Government’s response to the Panel, new ministers in Defra, fresh outbreaks of pests and diseases, the party conference season – it’s been a hectic start to autumn for people in Government working on forestry.
But we’ve never once stopped being committed to engaging our partners and the wider public in developing the Government’s response. We know Save our Woods, the Woodland Trust and others wondered why it all went a bit quiet in September.
We needed to confirm which Minister would lead on forestry, then make sure he was happy with existing proposals for things like the National Stakeholder Forum, as well as fast-track a programme of woodland visits.
Not only does the new minister David Heath fully back the proposals on engagement, he and the Secretary of State Owen Paterson have got to grips with forestry issues very quickly.
At the Conservative Party Conference, for example, Owen Paterson said we need to be constantly vigilant for disease in our plants and trees. Mentioning the major concerns about Chalara dieback of Ash, he highlighted the rapid consultation which ends on 26 October, about introducing an emergency import ban on potentially diseased ash trees.
David Heath has made several forest visits in the last few weeks, looking, for example, at research on pests and diseases, management of the public forest estate, the challenges and opportunities for privately owned woodlands and the vital contribution of community groups.
So, where have we got to with the Government response?
Defra and the Forestry Commission are pulling out all the stops to address every recommendation made by the Panel. The dozens of meetings we’ve had over the summer and early autumn with a very wide spectrum of stakeholders have been invaluable in helping us to develop the response – including many of the campaign and community groups like Save our Woods and Hands off our Forest, who’ve willingly given up considerable time to help.
We are now gearing up for the National Forestry Stakeholder Forum meeting on 31 October that very deliberately involves this broad church of stakeholders, without whom the Government cannot begin to do justice to the Panel’s aspirations.
We also want to keep the dialogue going with the wider public, with a new e-survey going live next week, blogs with organisations such as Save our Woods and the Woodland Trust, an informal consultation on the level of woodland creation in the landscapes you know, and our dedicated correspondence channel firstname.lastname@example.org, which has received dozens of emails.
Everything that’s said, every response that’s made, every report back from a meeting – all of it goes to the team managing the Government’s response for the Minister, all of it helps us shape the response.
No firm decisions have yet been made on any of the Panel’s recommendations. So please keep your thoughts coming to us. And, as far as we are concerned, the Government response is just the end of the beginning, not a destination – the hard work starts next year to turn research and rhetoric into reality!