Whose Forest? Event at Coleford, Forest of Dean

05/07/2011

in Local Campaigns, News

Green guru Jonathon Porritt from Forum For The Future and Shadow Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon will on Saturday speak to the public at a free (donations welcome) event in the Forest of Dean reviewing the campaign against forest sell-offs so far, where it’s at now and discuss what we need to do to keep our woods in public ownership for the future.

The results of this event will also be submitted to the Independent Panel on Forestry, to feed into its April 2012 review to the Government. There will be workshops for all the family to answer the panel’s questions as part of its Call For Views, and children’s Make A Mural craft session, which will also be sent to the panel.

 

Click here for the full programme, but first an explanation:

 

SAVING OUR FOREST – THE STORY SO FAR…

 

We defenders of our public forests have come a long, long way together – but we still haven’t reached the end of the road.

Hands Off Our Forest started our campaign in early November 2010 to keep our Forest of Dean publicly owned and managed by the Forestry Commission – we collected more than 11,000 signatures on a petition, held a rally in sub-zero temperatures attended by 3,000 people, and wrote thousands of letters to the environment secretary Caroline Spelman and our MP (and Cabinet minister) Mark Harper – local schoolchildren, unprompted by HOOF, wrote 1,000 letters alone.

We made it crystal clear we firmly opposed the transfer of our woods to private firms or charities. Nationally, almost 600,000 people made the same stand via 38 Degrees’ petition, and more than a dozen grassroots campaigns sprang up – including the national Save Our Woods and Save England’s Forests, and other groups representing individual forests. We later joined together as the Forest Campaigns’ Network to present a united national voice.

On February 17, 2011, the Government announced it was scrapping the proposals, and would not try and change the law via the Public Bodies Bill to allow it to sell the entire public forest estate in England. “I’m sorry, we got this one wrong,” Caroline Spelman told Parliament. It was recently revealed that out of 7,007 responses to the Government’s public consultation, only seven respondents (0.1%) expressed their full backing for the privatisation plan.

We would have celebrated a complete victory if Mrs Spelman had assured us the Government no longer wanted to sell our woods and would ensure they remained public – but she didn’t. Instead she appointed an Independent Panel for Forestry to review the future of forestry in England, both public and private. Campaigners’ pleas for a panel seat fell on deaf ears. The dozen appointees will report back to the Government in April 2012.

The panel chose, after receiving a number of invites, to make the Forest of Dean its first visit. It came in June and 99% of the 200 people it met hammered home our message for public ownership. It is also giving the public until July 31 (not long!) to answer some questions which will be part of its review.

However, despite the same message being delivered again and again – that our Forest belongs to us and must not be viewed as a commodity to be sold or given away to private companies or charities – the panel has failed (so far) to officially acknowledge our call. Jonathon Porritt, HOOF chairman Rich Daniels, Hen Anderson from Save Our Woods, David Babbs from 38 Degrees and others have now formed a group Our Forests to monitor the panel, and ensure it listens to the public.

 

On Saturday July 9, from 11am to 5pm, the Coleford Festival of Words (in association with HOOF) presents at the Forest of Dean town’s Baptist Church (in Newland Street) a showcase of HOOF so far, delves into historical battles, examines land rights issues, and will culminate in a public discussion on what we do in the future so we can finally achieve a complete victory!

 

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