by Hen Anderson, Save Our Woods
Last week I attended the National Forestry Stakeholder Forum where DEFRA and the Forestry Commission outlined their plans for our Public Forests and their new management organisation, that will be evolved from Forest Enterprise, the part of the Forestry Commission that manages our public forests.
They also shared the results of a review of the functions of the Forestry Commission that aren’t a part of managing the public forest. You can read all about it from the horses mouth by clicking the links below. (Links will open pdfs):
There’s plenty to be happy about, the Forestry Commission and the DEFRA forestry team have been heroic and groundbreaking in their engagement with grassroots forest campaigners in this process. I’ve found it inspiring and have witnessed the growth of DEFRA’s public engagement, particularly through social media. That’s a great thing, as long as it has integrity.
Despite this however, there seems to have been a fundamental failure by Government to listen to the people that enabled this once in a century reform to occur.
Half a million people said that they wanted our forests to remain in public ownership and to be safe from the short term political whims of Ministers. Everyone agreed, forestry policy needs to reflect the lifetime of a tree not the short term lifetime of a Government. Sadly, after it was all going so well, it looks like there’s been a last minute power grab by Government.
The proposed governance structure of our public forest’s new management organisation will see a Board of Directors, whose Chair is appointed by and answerable to the Secretary of State. The ownership of our public forests will be in the hands of this Chair. Is this really what ‘placed in trust for the nation’ means? How does this match up to the recommendations of the Bishop of Liverpool’s Forestry Panel? Well, not at all actually. I wonder how the members of the Forestry Panel feel about that? Hopefully we’ll hear from them soon.
Arms length from Government? It’s pinky length at most. How is this protecting our public forests from the pressures of politics? Won’t this make our forests even more vulnerable to politics, asset squeezing and privatisation in the future? Our public forests provide hundreds of millions of pounds worth of public benefit, will this governance structure, full of DEFRA appointed Directors, be able to get Government to pay it’s due?
It’s desperately frustrating to have to be so negative about these most recent proposals. We have appreciated DEFRA trying to adopt a bottom-up approach in the working out of this new forestry policy and yet, out of nowhere we’ve got this. Where’s the vision? What happened DEFRA?
Is this political pressure from Ministers based on the current Government’s ideology? Is this just another example of why hundreds of thousands of us said we want our forests free from political interference? DEFRA, you might be there to do best by the Ministers, but the Ministers are there to do best by us.
We told you, in our tens of thousands, in our hundreds of thousands, what we wanted over, and over.. and over again. From October 2010 when the campaign’s journey began with the Public Bodies Bill where we forced you to throw out the forestry clauses in favour of a properly researched reform of forestry, through the sham consultation that we forced you to withdraw, through your plans to sell off our public forests that ended in Government’s first embarassing u-turn, through the Forestry Panel’s consultations, through independent research by forestry charities, academics and business’s and of course through our direct engagement with you. We have told you what we want. The Forestry Panel agreed with us.
What happened DEFRA?