Read ITF’s position on the forest sell-off below and find out what you can do.
Government proposals to sell or lease the public forest estate
What is the government proposing to do?
The government is proposing to place the Public Forest Estate (PFE) into private and community hands. It describes three main avenues for doing this:
- Inviting new or existing charitable organisations, to take on ownership or management of the heritage forests to secure their public benefits for the long-term future.
- Creating opportunities for community and civil society groups to buy or lease forests that they wish to own or manage.
- Finding commercial operators to take on long-term leases for the large-scale commercially valuable forests.
The International Tree Foundation (ITF) opposes any action that will further threaten the future of the trees, woodlands and forests of England, or public access to this priceless natural resource. We believe the proposals set out by the government pose such a threat as they stand. Until we see evidence that these proposals will succeed in safeguarding our forest heritage in perpetuity, we believe the Public Forest Estate (PFE) should remain in public hands.
Forests in the hands of charitable organisations and civil society groups
We know through experience that funding the maintenance and upkeep of forests is often very difficult. Without on-going government support charitable organisations and civil society groups would be dependent on public donations, grants or earned income; they would also be largely dependent on finding voluntary expertise. At present there are few, if any organisations in the UK that could confidently commit to managing this volume and mix of forest cover in perpetuity. Many of the same concerns would apply to management by civil society groups; although such groups may be able to manage smaller parcels of forest, this would mean the fragmentation of larger woodlands which potentially threatens the integrity of irreplaceable ecosystems.
Forests in the hands of commercial operators
Much of England’s forests are of commercial value and when well-managed with long term goals in mind, they should continue to generate income and a sustainable source of timber. However, the government proposals do not indicate any meaningful counterbalance to the commercial imperative which would be central to this model. This could lead to the unsustainable exploitation of forests in commercial hands; giving 150 year leases, in our view, offers no satisfactory safeguards in terms of management or access.
Biodiversity and climate change
In the UN International Year of Forests we believe that the government should support the growing awareness that the world’s forests are a major piece of the global environmental jigsaw that we must play our part in protecting if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change and escalating species loss. The role of forests in climate change mitigation and in providing habitat for endangered species, cannot be underestimated. We believe that the current proposals do not fully recognise this
The government’s proposals purport to offer a more efficient means of managing the nation’s forests. Sadly at present the proposals appear to be littered with loopholes and ill-conceived assumptions, rather than a coherent plan for England’s forests. In seeking to generate income and cut costs, the government has neglected to consider those values that cannot be shown on a balance sheet.
Our forests are priceless, they should not be put up for sale.
What you can do
- Sign a petition
As a small NGO we believe this is an occasion when we must collaborate with others better resourced and better placed to highlight this issue. In particular we feel another petition would simply water down the impact of the collective protest. There are several petitions available for signature. We have already sent out a link via email to the Save England’s Forests campaign. The petition that has gathered most signatories to date is the 38 degrees site.
- Write to your MP
Almost all Forestry Commission land is in coalition MPs constituencies, therefore lobbying your MP could be very effective. You can email your MP via the 38 degrees site above.
- Complete the consultation document at DEFRA
ITF has been asked by DEFRA to complete the consultation and our response will reflect the contents of this statement. If you would like to complete the consultation please go to http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/index.htm This closes on the 21st of April.