by Hen Anderson, Save Our Woods
Public Forest Estate – SECURED in public ownership (unclear if in perpetuity)
15% sales – STOPPED
Forestry Commission structure – given more freedom from Government (structure yet to be decided)
Funding – Huge concern
The Government has responded to the Forestry Panel report, however, I see this as a response to all those who made Government STOP and THINK about the future of England’s forests. There was a time before the Forestry Panel and that time was full of people in their places standing up to protect their forests and woodlands. It’s that national spirit of Woodland Culture that got Government to create the Forestry Panel and so it’s those people that this Government response should be directed to.
The Government response to the forestry panels report is a testament to the hard work of the forestry team at DEFRA, the Forestry Commission, Grassroots campaigns and other forest stakeholders (business and conservation). Small print of the response aside, this is a VICTORY for forest campaigners. The response allows for a direction of travel that is progressive and inclusive. What more can you ask for in these times of austerity?
Of course there’s not enough funding offered, of course the language used is designed to make the entire response difficult to pin down but there is a workable framework there. It shouldn’t be forgotten that this document wouldn’t exist if communities and campaigners hadn’t spoken out and then worked with Government for almost 2 years to develop this response.
It’s not perfect but it is a victory!
As much as us campaigners need it, this is not a time to take a rest from this past 2 years of hard slog. Now is the time to really help Government keep forests up the agenda so we can encourage them to find a slot for the required legislation to go through to implement these plans for England’s forests. We are still going to be working with the forestry team at DEFRA and with the Forestry Commission to make sure they don’t stray too far off the right road. We’re definitely not going away, I’m sure they’ll be pleased to know! I hope that all those forest stakeholders that have been on this journey will work together in this.
So is this response just to save votes or is it actually useful?
Well, it’s both. As I said above, I think it’s an incredible result considering where we were 2 years ago when they were dismissively going to flog off ‘up to all of’ our Public Forest Estate. It’s no longer just about the Public Forest Estate, privately owned woodlands are also a part of this.
The triple bottom line is the focus of the response, with the emphasis being the economic benefits of our woodlands, society coming in a close second and wildlife a firm last. I didn’t expect this to be different, no matter how much I’d love our forests to be focused on abundant biodiversity and social reconnection with nature, I’m fully aware of the need for our woods and forests to be financially sustainable too (this is why the PFE needs those conifer plantations). This is a delicate balance and one that needs us to be vigilant but open minded.
I was initially happy to see that Government wanted to have ‘Guardians’ oversee the governance of our forests but when I looked at it more closely it’s been watered down to something that will have little influence. Something for us to work on.
Of huge concern is what is going to happen to Forest Services. This is the part of the Forestry Commission that deals with, among other things, the woodland creation grants that many land owners and charities rely on to create their woodlands. It’s possible that soon, as a result of the triennial review, the functions of Forest Services will be merged into Natural England. The positive aspect of this is that the new independent Forestry Commission would potentially be able to go for woodland creation grants, the negatives are that funding could be taken from woodland creation and instead swallowed up by Natural England to spend on other projects. We will have to wait and see what happens when they present their results of the triennial review in March.
All in all I am very happy with the direction of the Government response. It’s a real achievement by people and communities and a very positive starting block for the future. Great job!