It’s time to get the draft forestry legislation into the public domain for debate.


in National Forestry Stakeholder Forum, News


So, STILL no movement from Government to publish a new forestry bill for public and parliamentary scrutiny. What more incentive does this Government need to do the right thing? After kicking our forests into the long grass THREE years ago it looks like they plan to kick it again, this time right out the other side of the General Election.


Was there anything new?

In my last blog I asked whether or not there would be anything new to tell you all after last weeks National Forestry Stakeholder forum. We were given these ten core principles that should reflect what DEFRA and the Forestry Commission learned from their consultation on their Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement a year ago.

“We have reviewed our proposals in the light of the responses we received and have identified ten core principles underpinning our plans. These principles are that the new PFE management body should:

1. conserve and enhance the estate for the benefit of people, nature and the economy.

2. be publicly-owned and operationally independent of Government.

3. be underpinned by statute and have a Charter.

4. be managed by experts and have access to the best advice.

5. have commercial freedoms but will be required to protect the estate.

6. be able to buy and sell land, but any land sales must be for the benefit of the estate.

7. be a pioneer in natural capital accounting and payment for ecosystem services.

8. work closely with local communities, estate users and businesses. It will have consultation at its heart.

9. be an exemplar of sustainable forest management.

10. build on the strengths of Forest Enterprise England.

These principles are being used to inform the development of our legislative plans which include undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny. This process provides stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on draft provisions and allows the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee to take evidence from interested parties in preparing its report. Government reviews the draft legislation in light of the Committee’s report.” Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement ‘One Year On’

Whilst these principles read well, it’s ALL ABOUT THE DETAIL and, yet again, we have not been given any detail on the key issues. This is why it is important that we are given the opportunity to debate the proposed new forestry legislation this year through parliament.  We need to know what the proposed safeguards against privatisation and exploitation are.


Is it still all about politics and ambition?

Three years ago the public identified pretty quickly that the approx 250,000ha of publicly owned forest land in England were under threat from politics and ambition.  That’s why we called for the PFE to stay in public ownership, embed the public at the centre of decision making, have greater protection from exploitation and political whim and use this opportunity to place this unique set of forests at the heart of our natural landscape and the English woodland culture everyone agrees needs to be nurtured.

Since last year the fate of our public forests have been in the hands of those with no experience of working in forests or with communities but with plenty of experience in accounting, business, development and planning. Couple this with a Government that is set on building the economy through development and that is still so afraid of the forestry issue that it wont allow anything other than ‘happy legislation’ and what are we left with? Something to be confident in?

Well, yes, if the safeguards against exploitation and privatisation are strong enough, then why not? Forests are surely the most consulted upon habitat in the country now, Government knows everything they need to know to do the right thing to make this happy legislation.

This parliamentary session ends this month and by all accounts it’s very quiet in the world of new legislation passing through Government, so it would be welcome but surprising if they put the forestry bill on the agenda at the moment, it’s got the potential to stick out like a sore thumb. This means that we only have one parliamentary session left before the General Election. Our new forestry bill would have to mean ecstatic legislation for this Government to push it through in the run up to an election, especially if it’s a bill they see as founded on a u-turn.

As long as Government acts on what the public wants and keeps politics and ambition to a minimum in the creation of the new legislation and new management organisation, I don’t understand how it could all go wrong…

It’s time to get the draft forestry legislation into the public domain for debate.


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Clive February 12, 2014 at 09:09

We in the Suffolk Sandlings are urging all our followers to lobby hard to get this draft Bill openly scrutinised by placing it before Parliament. To achieve this the Bill needs to be included in legislative programme that will be announced in the next Queen’s speech. This letter has been issued to the PM. Copies have been sent to the DPM, our Constituency MP’s and the Secretary of State. It is time to build up pressure on the Government across all areas to bring some form of closure on this matter.

Roderick Leslie February 19, 2014 at 17:36

Despite there STILL being no legislation, the principles put forward are actually very good: translated honestly into law I for one would give them my full and enthusiastic support – what we all want really is within our grasp.

At the same time, FC are having discussions with Defra precisely along the lines of my suggestions in ‘All About the Money’: a hard contract to deliver the public goods that income can’t cover. I’m not even bothered by the suggestion that Fc might pay a ‘dividend’ back to the taxpayer if it achieved significant surpluses – as long as it was a real, businesslike dividend, not just a Treasury cash grab – and as long as it was within the Charter and the triple bottom line Defra are now signed up to.

But as Hen says – will it happen ? My guess is it’s easy to do the right thing when you aren’t intending to anything that may be cynical – so please prove me wrong, Defra. There is a real prize here: the only way out of this mess is to put it right. Defra will still be in shock from the string of defeats they’ve suffered and they are used to a conservation sector that, whatever you do, always come back for more. They might get a big surprise: almost universal support which would zoom the right legislation through Parliament and not only put this whole embarrassment behind them, but even put even immortalise Owen Paterson’s name as the politician who gave our much loved national forests the long term future we all want ! That would be a turn up indeed, but has a Department, government or even prime minister ever needed a win in Defra’s area more than today’s politicians in power ?

So the stick: forestry will go on coming up time and time again right up to the election if the sales fiasco isn’t put to bed: it came up in Chris Huhne’s article earlier this week about flooding and the cuts to EA and it will go on coming up and it will grow. Compared to the £1 billion at least already lost to the floods, and with far higher political penalties (just like the sales, political cost even outstripping the cash cost) surely this has to be a no brainer assuming anyone out there is still in charge and switched on ?

Mick Mack February 24, 2014 at 15:22

Please don’t be so naive. There is not a chance in hell that DEFRA are going to do anything other than what big business/Landowners/ conservative donors want especially as economically/politically the global context in which such decisions are being considered are becoming more unfavourable NOT favourable. The worst thing SOW/Forest Comms can do is swan round spreading the illusion that the capitalist class will do anything other than serve their own interests. Stop collaborating with these people; you are becoming their lackeys; they are assimilating your good intent and doing what they want. They have 350 years and more of obfuscation and deceit, do you really expect that you can convince them to do what you want. Get real people and start mounting a proper fight. If you want to keep access to public land. OCCUPY!

Hen February 24, 2014 at 21:17

Thanks for your comment Mick. I don’t accept that any of those involved this past three years in ensuring that there is a grassroots eye and input on the decision making for the future of our PFE are naive, swanning around or Government lackeys. If we hadn’t pushed ourselves into the room, keeping the pressure up while the wider public had moved on to the many other issues hitting our environment, we would be looking at a very different set of options for the PFE today and there would definitely not be the option of a grassroots position at our PFE’s heart. I don’t think it’s fair that you seem to dismiss the achievement of those people from forest campaign groups around England who have dedicated many hours everyday alongside running jobs and families, spent their own hard earned money to make sure there was representation at meetings around the country and sacrificed more than you would believe to keep grassroots involved in the discussion to minimise the impact of the greed and ambitions of those who want to exploit our forests. I am blown away by friends in the forest campaign groups and the selfless way they have fought against one of the most anti-nature/anti-public service governments there has been in a long time. Believe me when I say it’s not been easy going head to head with them but we have more than stood our ground and the results so far show that.

I will be happy to see and support any new campaign that is for the good of our public forests, I’ll keep a look out for you on twitter!

All the best Mick,

Alan Spidy March 2, 2014 at 19:36

You are absolutely right Hen – for the first time we have the opportunity to get grassroots involvement at the heart of the PFE and this is down to the sustained effort of all those involved with the FCN and the knowledge that when push comes to shove there is huge support out there for the public’s forests. Much better to be influencing things from nearer the centre than shouting from the outside. I’m not naive enough to think ordinary people have any great power compared to those landowners and national organisations who have the resources to pour into bending the ears of policy makers. They have had their own way – unquestioned by many of us – for years. Now – perhaps – things will subtly change, in the PFE at least. Big responsibility for those of us pushing for community involvement to be at the heart of the PFE. We have to deliver too. Let’s see what the draft legislation proposes – we’re not going to get any further forward without it and the easiest thing of all for the politicians is to find excuses to sideline it until everyone loses interest.

Roderick Leslie March 4, 2014 at 10:30

Actually, there are days, I admit, when I feel as Mick does – and there is a rather important grain of truth in what he’s saying because the backstop of the whole forest sales issue is whether a new private owner would actually be able to enjoy his new purchase undisturbed – and I don’t think it’d be the swampies and occupy campaigners who’d stop him – rather, it would be the far more dangerous dog walkers of middle England, the political force which actually made the government U turn. There is also the issue of reputation: most people have forgotten what happened over the Flow Country where Terry Wogan and other celebs tax affairs ended up all over the front pages. Who exactly is going to stand up and be the figurehead for stealing the nations forests ?

However, I’m far less pessimistic about the influence of the people against the sales in all this: what we most importantly have NOT done is roll over and accept what the government have put forward, despite numerous deadlines, this is our firm and unmoveable position etc etc – in contrast to the NGOs who believed it was all going to happen because the Government said so. In my view the words on the page now are the right ones: it is a question of turning them into detail that doesn’t try and twist them into something else and then turn them into law and a hard contract for resources.

The Forests are not alone in this: the government is having a hard time on a range of other issues affecting our countryside including onshore wind, HS2, fracking and, of course GM, which Owen tells us we are ‘wicked’ to oppose. The idea that a rather marginal vote at a General Election gives you a mandate to do a whole load of things you never even mentioned in your manifesto is, thankfully, wearing a little thin.

Owen Adams May 15, 2014 at 22:43

Mick should try visiting the Forest of Dean if he hasn’t already and tune into the spirit of the people there. No way will we EVER let our Forest be taken from us, and as for occupying our Forest, yes we do, about 30,000 of us. I think we have shown them that. Government are well aware of how close we are to our Forest as are people to all forests across the country, and they have realised it’s better to talk to us than not.

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