Members of the Forest Campaigns Network are disappointed and puzzled that the Queen’s Speech did not include a draft Forestry Bill.
The Government has squandered its final opportunity to introduce legislation to give lasting protection to the public woodlands of England, which are enjoyed by 40 million people annually. Our woodlands remain at risk from sell-off and other forms of disposal, including leasings and privatisation of forestry functions and amenities.
Despite acknowledging how much the public value their forests, the Government has reneged on its commitment to plan for a sustainable future for forestry.
The Government has had two years to put into motion the clear recommendations of the appointed Independent Panel for Forestry, which were welcomed by Defra, forest campaigners, conservation groups and forestry industry bodies. The FCN hopes the £900,000 spent on the Panel will not be wasted, and its advice will be followed and put into practice by the next Government.
For the immediate future, we call on the Government to adopt and fully resource the Forestry Commission’s Payment for Ecosystems Services model – a comprehensive audit of all the services the Forestry Commission provides for public, cultural and conservation benefits. We understand £22 million per annum is required from the Treasury, equating to approximately 38p annually per taxpayer, so the Forestry Commission can efficiently and effectively manage our public woodlands. It has also been acknowledged by Government that this £22 million annual funding produces a calculated return of more than £400 million in terms of health, environmental and other quantifiable benefits.
Currently the Forestry Commission’s wealth of expertise in woodland management, especially in combating tree disease, maintaining public amenities, education and training, is increasingly compromised by funding falling short by several million pounds per year. In comparison with other public spending, the amount required from the Treasury is miniscule.
This Government may have failed in its stated intention to pass a law to conserve forests for the benefit of people, nature and the economy – the least it can do is to shore up the Forestry Commission’s work to prevent the Public Forest Estate falling into rack and ruin.
The FCN hopes the next Government concludes the unfinished business of preserving and enhancing public forests as one of its first tasks following its formation in 2015.