The letter below was sent to local press today - I wonder also if conservation groups will be expected or wish to bid for sites to stop them being ruined by developers and commercial use. This would be in effect a government grab of charity resources, as there is little or no net gain for conservation if they are moved from public to third sector ownership. We urgently need assurances about what these plans will mean - it is wholly irresponsible to make such an announcement in this way.
Photo: Randwick woods - not part of Forestry Commission
But then it seems Spellman is making a number of misjudgements if the press is to be believed: "she was one of the first ministers dutifully to settle with the Treasury, agreeing to deep cuts of 29 per cent in resource spending and 34 per cent in capital expenditure – only to find on Wednesday that the average reduction across Whitehall was much less than expected, at 19 per cent."
Anyway here's my letter:
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, plans to dispose of huge tracts of our national forests to raise £250m This could mean ancient woodlands are destroyed. Walkers and endangered animals could have to make way for Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf, paintball, landowners with no interest in conservation and logging companies.
Ancient forests like our Forest of Dean, the New Forest and Sherwood Forest are national treasures. Once gone, they are lost forever. The current system means people can enjoy forests and feel ownership of them. Private companies in contrast restrict access.
Selling forests threatens the Forestry Commission's work to restore ancient woodlands. In England the commission is subsidised by £30m a year, but generates an additional £63m a year in income. A government study this year calculated that it provides £2,100 in value per hectare per year if benefits such as erosion protection, pollution absorption, carbon sequestration and health provision are included.
As Green MP Caroline Lucas said: "If this means vast swathes of valuable forest being sold to private developers, it will be an unforgiveable act of environmental vandalism. Rather than asset-stripping our natural heritage, government should be preserving public access to it, and fostering its role in combatting climate change and enhancing biodiversity. So much for the greenest government ever."
When Thatcher and Major tried to sell our forests, public opinion led to a climb down. Please add your name to the “save our forests” petition: www.38degrees.org.uk/save-our-forests
Cllr Philip Booth, Stroud District councillor for Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe ward (Green party)