Revealed: The true scale of Britain's woodland sell-off

Forestry Commission forced to get rid of thousands of hectares as it attempts to balance the books

Thousands of hectares of Britain's forests have been sold off by the Forestry Commission as it struggles to meet financial targets imposed by successive governments.

A detailed inventory of woodland sold off by the FC, which is charged with protecting our forests for future generations, shows that it has raked in millions from sales to private companies, many of which hold licences to carry out logging. Campaigners complain that several buyers have barred the public from newly acquired woodland, despite signing legally binding contracts saying they will preserve traditional rights of access.

The FC's own records show that between 1997 and 2010 it sold almost 12,000 hectares of forest, in contrast with the 5,403 hectares acquired for the nation in the same period. An official account of transactions over the past decade obtained by this newspaper shows that more than 170 plots of public woodland have been sold to private buyers across the country since 2001. The largest was a 712-hectare site at Threestoneburn Wood, Northumberland, sold for £2.7m in 2007.

Despite a public outcry over the Government's plans to sell the Forestry Commission's entire stock of public woodland earlier this year, sales have continued. Although Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, abandoned plans to sell off England's 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland in February, an independent forestry panel is currently mapping out its future.

Opponents of the plans last night claimed the Forestry Commission's long-term policy on woodland sales make a large-scale sell-off inevitable.

Ian Standing, honorary secretary of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign in the Forest of Dean, said: "Due to government pressure on the FC to balance its books, sales revenues appear to have funded revenue deficits. Thus there were major sales during the Blair years. And along with the forestry consultation of last January there was an order to the FC to sell off, right away, 15 per cent of the English forest estate. This is now on hold pending the panel's final report in April."

While it awaits this, the FC is pressing ahead: it pushed through the controversial sale of 525 hectares at the Stang, County Durham, last January, at the height of the row over the Government's plan to sell all public forests. The site, which produces 7,000 tonnes of timber a year, was bought by a London-based consultancy for over £3m.

Most recently, 36 hectares at Sawrey Ground, Ambleside, in the Lake District, were sold last March for £200,000 – although there was local opposition at the loss of a "historic forest". The FC's operations manager, John Bruce, said: "I hope people can understand we would rather keep hold of all our assets but we have to sell 2,000 hectares to keep afloat."

Maria Castellina, of the Ramblers, said: "Forest sales continue to be an issue as the Ramblers is also campaigning to open up the other 80 per cent of England's forests that remain in private hands."

An interim report from the forestry panel last week said the benefits of the country's publicly owned forests were "greatly undervalued" by the planned sell-off, and claimed the £20m-a-year cost of maintaining woodlands "delivers benefits far in excess of this".

The shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, added: "Labour wants a long-term future for our forests that will prevent the kind of smash-and-grab approach we saw from ministers earlier this year."

An FC spokesman said the organisation sold land "according to criteria agreed each year with respective ministers". He added: "The criteria tended to keep those woodlands with highest public benefit and conservation value and selected those woodlands with lowest public benefit or that were inefficient to manage."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor