Conservation groups say forestry plan is 'recipe for two-tier management': Government is accused of giving priority to commercial objectives. Susan Watts reports

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The Independent Online
CONSERVATION groups yesterday condemned government plans for the future of public forests as heralding a two-tier approach to forestry.

Last month, the Government shied away from full- scale privatisation of the Forestry Commission. Yesterday, it published the long-awaited consultation paper on alternatives, with a strong emphasis on commercial objectives.

In July, ministers announced the results of a pounds 833,000 review of the forestry sector. This left open the possibility of privatisation, but concluded Forestry Commission woodlands should stay in the public sector.

Yesterday, the Council for the Protection of Rural England said the Government's proposals were 'a recipe for two-tier forestry, with parts of the estate managed for environmental and amenity benefits and the rest managed mainly for commercial ends'.

Ben Plowden, Senior Land Use Officer for the CPRE, said this would reverse the move towards integrated forestry management of recent years. He said the council wants this mixed approach to continue, with all parts of Britain's forestry put to both public and commercial use. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said the Government had failed to consult, as promised, on the future of Forest Enterprise. This organisation owns 1.2m hectares, almost half of Britain's forests. It is to become an executive agency under the Government's Next Steps programme, with the aim of increasing its efficiency and providing better value for taxpayers' money.

Nick Marshall, forestry officer for the RSPB, said yesterday's paper showed '. . . key issues of the overall purpose and priorities of the organisation seem already to have been decided'.

He said the paper talks about multi-purpose objectives for forestry, 'but requires only the setting of financial targets'. The society considered environmental as well as financial targets to be essential for the new agency, he said.

'Without clear targets for conservation and amenity, the great opportunity for the agency to protect and improve the conservation value of these forests could be jeopardised on a drive for higher monetary returns.'