by Rod Leslie
Rod originally left this as a comment on our post: England’s largest environmental NGOs voice concern over new proposals for our public forests Thanks to him for kindly agreeing to let us post it as an article.
‘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 [forestry] panel’s advice occurs: Defra is proposing a Board of management holding virtually all the power over the [public forest] estate with a chair appointed by the Secretary of State and members through the public appointments process – which to all intents 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.’
Retired head of policy at the Forestry Commission, Rod worked for the FC for over 35 years. In his time as a forester, he not only worked in Field management & Conservation policy but was also the commission’s Private forestry & Environment officer for the South and West of England. Rod is a keen ornithologist and expert on the critically endangered Nightjar. His book ‘Birds and Forestry‘ (co-authored with Mark Avery, ex-RSPB Conservation director), is acclaimed as a step toward sustainable forestry planning. Tackling the issues between forestry and nature conservation. Rod is a founder member of Our Forests!