Updated 17th February 2011
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman told MPs the government had “got this one wrong”, as she announced the current consultation was being halted.
A new panel of experts will be set up to look at public access and biodiversity within the publicly owned woodland.
Labour said it showed the government was “incompetent” and “out of touch”.
Update 14th February 2011
The Woodland Trust (Paul Hetherington Head of Public Relations )have updated us with their position.
WOODLAND TRUST’S VIEW ON THE GOVERNMENT’S CONSULTATION ON THE PUBLIC FOREST ESTATE
The fate of the nation’s forests are now a national political issue. Media and public reaction in recent weeks has polarised the debate as public ownership is good and private ownership bad but as ever the truth is more complex than this and the Government’s thinking bears all the hallmarks of idealism triumphing over practicality.
The Trust believes that iconic heritage forests (such as the New Forest and the Forest of Dean) which have to balance the sensitivities of being nationally important sites for biodiversity with the demands of managing hundreds of thousand of visitors and differing stakeholder interests are best left in public ownership. Unlike the government, we don’t believe that the charitable sector can be the solution to future care of all of the publically owned heritage woodlands given their long term financial liabilities.
We are especially concerned that ancient woods are not treated as a category for special consideration. Under the government’s proposals most ancient woods and planted ancient woods would end up as freehold sales. Despite statements by ministers about the importance of increased protection, the consultation gives no indication as to how this would be achieved. We don’t believe current protection is sufficient given we know of 370 ancient woods currently under threat from development proposals. Furthermore the Commission’s own holding of planted ancient woodland sites remains woefully off course to meet its commitment to restore it all by 2015. These must be restored before sales are even contemplated.
The level of community participation in woodland ownership and management has remained static for many years so we don’t believe the government has thoroughly properly considered the feasibility of this option, even though we support it enthusiastically.
By contrast the proposal to lease commercial forests to private owners is not one we object to especially where there are few public benefits subject to sustaining current levels of access and biodiversity benefit through conditions in the lease. However the proceeds from disposals must be reinvested in priority activities such as woodland expansion and woodland restoration.
13th February 2011
Forestry petition raises hundreds of signatures in Scarborough.
The Government has outlined plans to sell-off much of the National Forest into private ownership.
This could lead to them being fenced off from public use or cut down loosing the habitat of the wildlife.
Hundreds of shoppers signed up to a petition on Saturday in Scarborough calling on the government to scrap its forestry sell-off proposals.
The petition is part of a campaign by local Labour Party members to reverse the plan.
It came as the government signalled a partial U-turn with its announcement last week that a planned 15% sell-off was being put on hold.
Harrogate-News met with Scarborough and Whitby Labour Party Spokesperson, Colin Challen in Scarborough as he was collecting signatures.
Colin Challen said: “At one point people were queuing up to sign the petition.
There was quite a lot of anger that the government could contemplate selling off our forests, even into foreign ownership.
It was also the case that many people thought last week’s announcement meant the whole sell-off plan had been shelved. However, as Defra has made clear, the temporary suspension of a planned sale of 15% of the forests will in no way prevent the eventual 100% sale of Forestry Commission woodlands.”
Campaigners will be collecting more signatures this coming Saturday or you can sign the online petition here