Controversial plans to sell off England’s public forests abandoned by Government

 

A A A

Controversial plans to sell off England’s public forest estate were finally abandoned by the Government today, after an expert panel called for the 637,000 acres of woodlands owned by the Forestry Commission to remain in public ownership.

The panel was hastily set up last year after the initial plan to dispose of the forests, and raise £250m, brought down an unprecedented barrage of criticism on the Government and forced the first major u-turn of the Coalition’s time in office, with the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, shelving the scheme and publicly apologising for putting it forward in the first place.

Today, barely minutes after the report was published online, Mrs Spelman announced that she accepted its main recommendation and that the idea of a sell-off, one of the first of the Tories’ ‘Big Society’ policies, had been given up for good. “Our forests will stay in public hands,” she said.

"We will not sell the public forest estate. We'll be talking to all those who are passionate about our forests to decide how we will manage our forests for the future.”

It remains to be seen whether ministers will accept several other major recommendations made by the panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, which range from setting up two new bodies to look after woodlands, to increasing the amount of forest cover in Britain by half – from ten per cent of the land area, to fifteen per cent, by 2060.

Britain has one of the lowest percentages of forested land in Europe, where the average is 37 per cent, and indeed, a century ago UK forest cover stood at merely five per cent.

The panel, which included the heads of the National Trust, the  Confederation of Forest Industries, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB among others, and which received the remarkably high number of 42,000 individual submissions, called for a new culture of valuing woodlands for their benefits to people, wildlife and the green economy.

 “England’s trees, woods and forests represent a vast and underused national resource,” it asserted.

The panel said that in future, the public forests, which represent 18 per cent of the total, should be managed by a new body evolved from Forest Enterprise England, currently part of the Forestry Commission.

The new body should be free from political control and should be governed by a charter, they said, which would set out its mission to provide public benefits, to be delivered through a group of guardians or trustees accountable to Parliament.

It also recommended that all English woodlands, public and private, should be overseen and promoted by a new body evolved from Forest Service, the part of the Commission currently delivering scientific expertise, incentives and regulation.

It proposed that funding such new bodies to 2020 would cost £22m and £7m respectively.

Asked if he thought this was “a big ask” of the Government during a recession, Bishop Jones said: “It’s an important question. These are important sums of money, but relatively so  – when you discover that nine kilometres of dual carriageway costs 160 million pounds, you think that 22 million for the public forest estate, given all the benefits it delivers for society, is a legitimate call on the public purse.”

The panel’s report was widely welcomed today. Hilary Allison, policy director of tjhe Woodland Trust, said the charity was delighted that the Government had confirmed the public forest estate was safe.

“It is vital that the Government now works towards ensuring the estate is effectively resourced and developed to deliver more benefits for more people,” she said.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£14000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is very proud of t...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales

£75000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Head of Sales position is offered on...

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Control / Sales Ledger Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a temporary position wo...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen