HANDS Off Our Forest, the umbrella organisation group formed to ensure the Forest of Dean remains in public ownership and management, is calling on the Government to follow expert recommendations and provide funding for the future management of our Forest. HOOF also wants to alert supporters to the fact that “we’re not out of the woods yet!”
HOOF considers that we Foresters have won two rounds of the battle to keep our Forest public – signalled by the Government’s U-turn on sales and the panel’s positive report which upholds the principles of public management and ownership. But it’s now time for Round 3, which we still need to win to secure the future of the Forest of Dean in public hands.
The Government’s official response to the July 2012 Independent Panel Report, commissioned by the former environment secretary Caroline Spelman, is due to be published later this month (January 2013), and HOOF is gearing up for action once again in order to respond to it.
HOOF welcomed the panel’s report and Mrs Spelman’s confirmation that our Forest would remain in public ownership. HOOF also largely welcomed the panel’s proposals for an evolved Forestry Commission which would enable the management of the Dean and other public forests by a public body removed from governmental interference and with more community involvement.
However, the report did not mention our own Forest’s peculiar rights and customs and how they would be protected and enshrined in any future legislation and Charter; HOOF also raised concerns about how the proposed new model and future management structure would be funded, and called for the costs of creating and maintaining the new structure to be covered and properly resourced from the public purse. It has been estimated that £20 million would be required annually to pay for the upkeep of the public forest estates under the new proposed structure.
HOOF spent the latter half of 2012 lobbying ministers, including meeting with the new Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, the Forestry minister David Heath, and the Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper, as well as joining Defra and Forestry Commission research teams on site visits to the Forest of Dean, on these various points. While the representatives of HOOF and other grassroots forest campaign groups who attended the same meetings have detected a supportive response from all regarding the panel report’s recommendations, HOOF has had no positive feedback regarding the issue of funding.
HOOF chair Rich Daniels said: “The bottom line is the money. Despite the Forestry Commission and the Public Forest Estate providing outstanding value, anything with a cost attached is in serious jeopardy of not being taken forward. If there is a failure of government to safeguard our Forest and its management, we may have to protest all over again!”
Whatever the future outcome on the Forestry Commission’s structure decided by the Government, HOOF, working alongside the Forest Campaigns’ Network (FCN), will press for sufficient funding to be made available to ensure delivery of the various benefits identified in the Panel’s report.
HOOF also continues, with the FCN, to press for new legislation to protect the public woodlands in perpetuity from being sold off.
*Photopgraphs copywrite Hands Off Our Forest*