Our Forests! Full Launch Press Release

16/06/2011

in Our Forests!

OurForests!

a people’s vision for the future of England’s woods and forests

 


Thursday 16 June 2011, for immediate release

Today sees the launch of a new ‘ginger-group’,
Our Forests [1].
Our Forests
has been formed to ensure that the views of the more than half a million people who signed the 38 Degrees Save Our Forests petition against the Government’s reprehensible plans to sell-off or otherwise dispose of the Public Forest Estate in England[2] are fully understood and taken into account by the Coalition Government and by the ‘Independent Panel on Forestry Policy in England’ [3].

The ‘Independent Panel’, hastily convened after Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, was forced to withdraw her proposals, is chaired by the highly-respected Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, and includes senior figures from national bodies, representing conservation, recreation and forestry interests. However, there are real concerns over how restricted and compromised the Panel will be:

  • by its terms of reference;
  • by the role some of the national conservation bodies appeared to play during the national outcry against the sell-off plans;
  • by the absence of any genuine grassroots representation on the panel.


Our Forests
is therefore putting a set of questions directly to individual panel members concerning their core principles and their readiness to deliver on public expectations. The questions are underpinned by the findings from the extensive public consultation exercise on the future of the Public Forest Estate in England concluded in September 2009 [4], as well as reflecting the concerns of the public so clearly expressed in the 38 Degrees petition.

Jonathon Porritt,
one of the founders of Our Forests, issued the following challenge:
“The Independent Panel should not be starting its work with a blank sheet of paper. Hundreds of thousands of people and many campaign groups have already given a very clear steer as to the direction of forestry policy in England. The Panel has an extraordinary opportunity to amplify those views and to provide the Government with unambiguous advice as to the critical importance of protecting the Public Forest Estate.”


That 2009 public consultation found ‘strong resistance’ to any disposal policy and that ‘the overwhelming majority of respondents indicated a desire for the public forest estate to increase in size’. Yet throughout the national grassroots campaign against the disposal plans, it was unclear whether the major conservation bodies were opposed to the Government’s plans or prepared to go along with them
[5].

As
Hen Anderson of the grassroots group, Save Our Woods commented:
“We must expand and keep our woods and forests publicly-owned and sustainably-managed by a properly resourced body of experts, fully accountable to the public. Unfortunately, not one member of the Independent Panel was a part of the
Save Our Forests campaign. Not one of them tried to stop the Government pushing through the Public Bodies Bill that would have allowed it to sell off the entire Public Forest Estate behind closed doors. It was the public that fought so hard and forced the Government U-turn on the forest sell-off. If the Independent Panel is to win the trust of the hundreds of thousands of people who stood up for their local woods and forests, it must be seen to take on-board and champion their concerns.”

Despite the Government’s apparent public U-turn on the disposal of the Public Forest Estate and the setting-up of the ‘Independent Panel on Forestry Policy’, behind the scenes Defra is forging ahead imposing 25% cuts on the Forestry Commission and the staff who manage the Public Forest Estate. This pre-emptive strike undermines the ability of the Forestry Commission to continue to deliver on the many public benefits provided by the Public Forest Estate and suggests a disregard in Defra and the Government for the Panel’s role and any recommendations it makes
[6].

Therefore, Our Forests is seeking answers from panel members to the following questions:

    1. Do panel members support the principle and recognise the value of there being a Public Forest Estate – i.e. a substantial body of woodland and forest managed on behalf of the Nation to deliver a multiple range of public benefits?

    2. What is the formal position of individual panel members regarding the Government’s earlier disposal plans and any future plans to reduce the area of woodlands under public ownership?

    3. What are the views of individual panel members on Defra’s decision to push through these current cuts ahead of any recommendations that the Panel will make?


Our Forests
will seek answers to these questions from each Panel member, and will continue to monitor the work of the ‘Independent Panel’ and make interventions as necessary to ensure the public’s concerns and those of grassroots organisations are not by-passed by the Government.

Later in the year,
Our Forests will work with 38 Degrees to fashion ‘a people’s vision for the future of England’s woodlands and forests’, which will be submitted to the Independent Panel as a critical input into its own deliberations [7].

[ENDS]


For further information please contact:
Robin Maynard: robin.maynard@btinternet.com, 07932 040452, 01179 731779


See also:

www.gabrielhemery.com
www.handsoffourforest.org
www.saveourwoods.co.uk
www.38degrees.org.uk
www.jonathonporritt.com
www.tonyjuniper.com

Notes to editors


[1]
Our Forests
The ‘Independent Panel’ first met on 31st March. The same day, a group of individuals, all of whom had been actively challenging the Government’s disposal proposals, also met and agreed the urgent need to form a separate ‘ginger group’ to ensure the ‘Independent Panel’ focuses on key issues, considers crucial available evidence, and takes on-board grassroots views that are so signally missing from the Panel.


Along with the over half million people signing the
38 Degrees petition, we believe that there are unique values and benefits provided to society from having a national body of woodland and forest owned by and managed sustainably on behalf of the public.
Therefore, as a core principle,
Our Forests will work to retain and expand what is currently referred to as the ‘Public Forest Estate’ – but which might better be termed ‘Common Wood & Forest Land’.

A short-term aim is to ensure that the ‘Independent Panel’ frames its recommendations within the findings of the earlier and extensive public consultation concluded just before the change of Government , as well as incorporating the views of the over half million signatories to the
38 Degrees petition.

Our Forests
will also set-out a long-term vision for the future of England’s public woods and forests – but one that is genuinely ‘a people’s vision’ by engaging directly with ‘Big Society’ via our working partnership with 38 Degrees, as well as through the many local & grassroots groups with whom we are networked.

Individual members, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Hen Anderson (Co-founder ‘Save Our Woods’, who also runs a smallholding and woodland on Exmoor)
  • Richard Daniels (Chair of the grassroots campaigning group Hands off our Forest (HOOF) in the Forest of Dean)
  • Dr Gabriel Hemery (chartered forester, co–founder and Chief Executive, the Sylva Foundation);
  • Tony Juniper (independent environmental advisor, campaigner, writer and former Director of Friends of the Earth);
  • Rod Leslie (former Chief Executive, Forest Enterprise);
  • Robin Maynard (environmental campaign consultant);
  • Jonathon Porritt (Founder Director Forum for the Future and former Chair of UK Sustainable Development Commission).


[2] The Public Forest Estate (PFE)

Totalling 258,000 hectares, the PFE is the largest single landholding in England – its size, diversity and geographical spread are unique. The PFE’s 1500 individual woods and forests make up 18% of England’s total woods and forests – covering the spectrum from ancient semi-natural woodland to sustainably-managed plantations – and attract more visits each year than the seaside. The Government had been considering plans for the wholesale disposal of the entire Public Forest Estate out of public ownership and management.


[3] Independent Panel on Forestry Policy in England

See:
http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/forestry/panel/

[4] Public Consultation 2009

See separately attached
Our Forests summary of the consultation findings and the supporting detailed research on the economic, social, wildlife and landscape benefits of the public forest estate. The public consultation consisted of: an in-depth 26 question document available on-line and as a hard-copy, which drew 2,239 responses, as well as a shorter survey carried out at Forestry Commission visitor centres, completed by 2,287 individuals. Respondents to the in-depth questionnaire included:

  • nearly 1,400 individuals;
  • 85 local community groups;
  • 78 representatives from the forestry industry;
  • 56 Non Governmental Organisations;
  • 158 other associations, groups or forums.

All the major conservation and environment groups responded to the questionnaire, including those now represented on the ‘Independent Panel’.

Responses to and findings from those questionnaires can be found at:

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/england-estatestudy-evidence

[5] NGO positions on the Government’s disposal plans and public campaign to halt them

During the national outcry against the Government’s disposal plans, the main conservation bodies were largely silent. Consequently, those bodies came in for some robust criticism, see:
http://www.jonathonporritt.com/pages/2011/02/environmental_ngos_betray_engl.html

Our Forests
very much hope that all the NGOs will now take a robust and critical approach responding to and respecting the public’s passionate, instinctive, and informed support for a national body of publicly-owned woods and forests delivering the many public goods and services provided by multi-purpose forestry.

[6] Cuts impacts

Even though the Panel has only just begun looking into the future of the Public Forest Estate, and will not report until spring 2012, the Forestry Commission has been told by DEFRA to continue with the cuts program. In summary, the process is in train to:

  • Cut around 250 jobs across England with further cuts to follow in Scotland.
  • Close sites and offices throughout England.
  • Reduce the services the Forestry Commission offers to the public.
  • Look at privatisation and outsourcing of some functions.
  • Reduce the number of forest districts from 11 to 6.

Roles focussed on wildlife management, public access and recreation, and educational work are under particular threat – the very roles and activities that the public have made it plain are most valued. Ecosystem services and recreation were also areas that the economic research carried out as part of the public consultation in 2009 indicated had greatest potential for income generation.

[7]
Our Forests and 38 Degrees
Our Forests
and the members of 38 Degrees already share a clear common purpose: to prevent the sell-off or disposal of the Public Forest Estate and to find ways both of protecting both the integrity of the Public Forest Estate and to further its future development and growth. Furthermore, both are keen to bring forward a positive vision for the future of England’s forests and woodlands. Therefore, Our Forests and 38 Degrees have committed to working closely together until such time as the Government brings forward new and acceptable proposals regarding the future of England’s public forests and woodlands.

 

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