26 Jan 2011

Westonbirt also threatened by forest sell-off

Below is a link to a map with the four sites that are threatened locally: Forest of Dean, Symonds Yat, Westonbirt and Mallards Pike. It seems many people hadn't appreciated that local sites other than the Forest of Dean were also threatened so thought I should do a quick blog...

It was also interesting to read The Guardian Environment Blog by John Vidal - he says that Labour are finally taking an interest in plans to sell English forests. Thank goodness. As he notes it is extraordinary their lack of interest in this issue but now we hear some top Labour might visit the Forest of Dean. He writes: "Until last week, barely any MPs – apart from Caroline Lucas – had shown great interest in government plans to sell all English woodland along with nationally owned nature reserves and other natural treasures."

He continues: "Figures I've prised from the commission today show that more than 25% of the English forestry estate is not woodland at all, it is bog or heath. The commission also owns 3,500ha of farmland, stone and gravel quarries, "holiday" and "recreation" land and 580 assorted buildings ranging from the humble to the grand. Will all these go? And if so, how will they be disposed of, and to whom and on what terms? So far there are no answers."

He goes onto discuss concerns about access to the land if sold off. He concludes: "...unless the government conjures some remarkable new legislation in the upcoming bill, it is quite likely that over a period of years, by neglect or by design, thousands of miles of what are now publicly maintained paths and tracks will just disappear."

Green Economics blogger Molly Scott Cato has also blogged on this issue - see her piece here. See also a comment piece in The Guardian this week here.

The four local sites threatened

This link here provides a national map. The four local forests identified for sale (ostenisbly to "the community" are:

Mallards Pike (cirencester-ish-direction)
These lakes were constructed by the Forestry Commission for use by the local people. They are now a popular attraction for visitors far and wide.

Westonbirt, The national Arboretum in Gloucestershire
This is one of the most spectacular tree gardens in the world. an historic collection of over 3000 different trees and shrub species many of which are rare or endangered in their native lands. Covering 600 acres, the arboretum is an inspiring place to relax, get back to nature and indulge your senses.

The Forest of Dean
This is Britain's premier oak forest, covering 35 square miles. The Dean has been important to man for millennia - its trees, principally sessile oak, supplied charcoal to smelt iron already being exploited in the Forest over 2000 years ago. The Dean acquired its status as a royal forest when it was designated as a hunting forest following the Norman conquest in the 11th Century.

Symonds Yat
Lots to see and do at the internationally famous viewpoint. Nearby cliffs are the nesting place of peregrine falcons that soar above the valley of the River Wye 120m below. It is also the site of an Iron Age hill fort.

See my last blog on Forests here and see my letter to press here. See the excellent campaign see Hands off Our Forest here.


Philip Booth said...

England's public forests are to be sold off to the private sector for up to £250m, the Government announced yesterday

Philip Booth said...

Caroline warns of growing anger as "reckless" woodland sell-off plans published

27 January 2011

Fears grow over future of public forests as Defra publishes Forestry Commission proposals - and launches second FC consultation in 18 months

Coalition plans to sell off swathes of England's publicly-owned forests have been published in the face of widespread public opposition and questions over the economic case for the proposals.

Private owners could be allowed to take over management of nearly half a million acres of land previously owned by the Forestry Commission. Some 15% of the forest estate, worth an estimated £100m, is already being sold. This latest consultation could lead to the sale of the remaining 85%.

Caroline Lucas, Brighton Pavilion's MP, will try to amend the Public Bodies Bill - which would enable the sell off - when it comes to the Commons. She said:

"There was a public consultation on the Public Forest Estate less than 18 months ago. We don't need another one.

"The public have already made it clear that they want to maintain public forests - and many are now concerned that the Government's misjudged and short-sighted plans pose a serious threat to whole swathes of our much loved woodlands.

"Despite Caroline Spelman's belief that the Government should not involve itself in forest management, there are very good reasons for our woodlands and forests to remain under public ownership.

"The Forestry Commission has a proven record in environmental protection and managing sites of special scientific interest. It is highly unlikely that the same kind of long term care and protection would be afforded to the land once in private hands.

"Furthermore, access rights on Forestry Commission land go far beyond the basic rights of access that the law offers.

"And if the Government's claims about environmental protection are true, the sell-off makes no economic sense either. Who will want to buy this land unless they can develop it into a profit making enterprise?

"The fact is, the plans are unlikely to make any money and may even cost the taxpayer extra, as those who take our forests apply for Government grants that may match or even exceed the value of the sale."

Caroline added: "The Government is now on the back foot as a result of the public campaign against their ill judged plans. But we still have a fight on our hands to resist the legislative changes that would make the sell off a reality - which is why I will be seeking to amend the Public Bodies Bill in the Commons."