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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments