The Forest Campaigns Network (FCN) welcomes the Government’s response to the Forestry Panel’s recommendation for the future of our forests.
Over the past two years all those who care about and use our forests have strongly defended the maintenance of the Public Forest Estate (PFE) and the Government has listened.
We welcome the commitments given by Government:
- to keep the Public Forest Estate in public ownership
- to recognise the importance of our forest culture to the economy
- to confirm that forests and woodlands will not be sold and to formally rescind the suspended sale of 15% of the Public Forest Estate
- to engage stakeholders, communities, and those who spoke up for our forests, in designing how they are run in future
- to increase and improve public access to woodland, including private woodlands
- to increase tree cover and provide woodlands accessible to where people live
However, we do have concerns about the statement.
- We welcome the commitment by the Government to provide £3.5 million next year to make up the shortfall now that they have dropped their policy of selling off woodlands to fund the remainder of the PFE but would point out that this is not new money. It was already in the budget for 2013-14.
- We welcome the £2 million the government is providing to the Forestry Commission, but would point out that this is going to be stretched to cover the fight against plant diseases and implementing changes in the government statement, and only a small proportion of it will go to fund the Public Forest Estate.
- We are concerned that the money the Government has committed falls a long way short of the £22 million a year recommended by the Forestry Panel report. We believe this is the amount needed to ensure all can enjoy the standard of public benefits currently offered by our public forests – access, facilities, education – and to make sure our forests are protected.
- We note that the Government has also not yet committed funding beyond 2014.
- The concerns we expressed earlier in January about the impact of squeezing the funding provided to run the PFE have not been addressed. The cuts and their impact on the ground in our public forests are real and evident across the country. We see very little in the government statement to reassure us that our public forest will not deteriorate further. In the foreword to the Government Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement the Secretary of State says “… we need to look after this precious resource ….. Our most urgent priority is to protect what we have ….”
We welcome and agree with that sentiment, but are concerned that the shortfall in funding might mean that it will not be delivered in reality.
On organisational change
- The forest campaigns network has campaigned for over two years for our public forests to be run by a properly resourced Forestry Commission. It is disappointing that the government statement confirms the Forestry Panel report recommendation to split up the Forestry Commission into a number of different bodies and organisational arrangements. However we realise that the detail needs to be worked up over the coming weeks and months.
- We look forward to working with the Government, the Forestry Commission and others in developing the organisation to run the public forest estate developed from Forest Enterprise (the part of the Forestry Commission which currently runs it so well) – and in defining what it will do, how it will be funded and how stakeholders will have a voice.
- We are concerned that the Government appears to be intending to review the rest of the Government’s forestry functions and confirm the organisational arrangements after the triennial review of Natural England and Environment Agency, apparently without consultation. This appears to contradict the commitment of this Government to open government, and to working in partnership with and positively engaging community groups and those concerned about the future of our woods and forests.
On expanding woods and forests
- We welcome the commitment to increase England’s woodland cover, though disappointed that the ambition of 12% by 2060, rather than the 15% recommended by the Forestry Panel. We would remind the Government that in Europe average woodland cover is already 30%, so we have a long way to go.
As always we look forward to working with the Government, the Forestry Commission and others and to being fully engaged in developing the future of our forests that we have been campaigning to protect for over the last two years.
Notes to editors
- The Forest Campaigns Network (FCN) is a country-wide alliance of grassroots campaigns and forest user groups, formed on February 28th, 2011. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Government’s statement and response to the Forestry Panel report is available at http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/forestry/
- The triennial review of Natural England and the Environment Agency, it is now announced, is also to look at some of the work done by Forest Services http://www.defra.gov.uk/review-ea-ne/. The consultation launched in December 2012, closing 4 February, did not cover the review of the work of Forest Services.
The Forest Campaigns Network
Friends of the Lake District
Friends of Thetford Forest
Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF – Forest of Dean)
Keep Our Forests Public
One Voice – New Forest
Save Cannock Chase
Friends of Chopwell Wood
Save Delamere Forest
Save Lakelands Forests
Save Our Woods
Save Sandlings Forest
South West Surrey Save our Woods
Berkshire Save our Woods
Save Sherwood Forest