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
  • 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

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Recruitment Genius: IT Technical Support Engineer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful IT reseller bas...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Engineer / Technical Sales Representative - OTE £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the Country's leading di...

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Coordinator - Part-Time

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence