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?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform