8 Jun 2011

Make your views to Forest panel known

The wonderful Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) campaign to save the Forest of Dean continues. The deadline for submissions to the Government is 31st July but they would like them made by 13th June ahead of the panel's visit to the Forest of Dean. See more on their website: http://www.handsoffourforest.org/

My submission is below - click read more - I am not sure how useful the panel's questions are as they overlap......and goodness knows how they will collate the responses. I am also really concerned that this is another meaningless consultation process where views will be ignored...we'll have to wait and see....I've done this in a rather hurried fashion due to personal circumstances - I would welcome comments and feedback.

Dear Panel,

Q: What do forests mean to you?

Spiritual, emotional, and physical health of self, community and planet.

Q: What is your vision for the future of England's forests and woods?

Our ancient woods are fully protected and restored. It is astounding that only 15% of ancient woodland is covered by designations to protect them.

New woods are created to provide a complete life support system for people and wildlife. The UK has one of the lowest percentages of woodland cover in Europe.

Our woods remain in public ownership. A YouGov poll finds 84% of British public agree that woods and forests should be kept in public ownership for future generations.

People can reconnect with the natural environment through fruit, nut, game, timber, medical resources, amenity, education, research, health and more.

Q: What do you feel to be the benefits of forests and woods to you: a. personally; b. society as a whole; c. the natural environment; d. the economy?

The benefits of Forests are huge and grossly underestimated to self, society, the natural environment and the economy. See for example the UK National Ecosystem Assessment of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and our continuing economic prosperity. This work strengthens arguments that the government should focus on policies which enhance and protect the countryside. *Although I have to note concerns about this methodology - see here.

Q: Suggestions of practical solutions and good practice.

New protection for ancient woodland. In the last decade the Woodland Trust for example, has fought more than 350 cases involving over 850 ancient woodlands threatened by developments ranging from roads and housing to golf courses, quarries and airports. Such planning policy guidance that exists is now threatened by planning changes. We urgently need stronger protection in planning legislation. For example the Government should not abandon PPS9 and should review permitted development rights. There should be a requirement on planning authorities to report on all planning applications affecting ancient woodland and Trees of Special Interest and the Forestry Commission should be resourced to become a statutory consultee on all planning applications affecting ancient woodland.

Confirm commitment to sensitively restore all Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) in public ownership (all 35,000ha).

Support to protect and restore private woodlands including PAWS. Grants need to be improved further to help private woodland owners.

Increase tree and woodland cover. A commitment to woodland creation and a target of 15,000ha per annum in the Natural Environment White Paper (it's also astounding planting was 29,000ha in 1989, 17,000ha in 2000 and 5000ha in 2010!!). Funds taken from planning gain (section 106 agreements and new credits system) to create new community woods to ensure every home has a wood within walking distance.

Put tree planting on schools' curriculum to give every child the chance to plant a tree.

Introduce transparent annually reported figure for forest loss.

Increase the fines for illegal felling, adjust the limit for felling licenses to 5m3 pa and prosecute illegal woodland and tree fellers.

Restore funding cuts to the Forestry Commission: the loss of some 25% of staff will have a huge detrimental impact on our woodlands.

A fund could be established to help advise re new community woodlands.

Do not break up management of our Forests. Fragmentation of forest ownership and management will increase costs and carry big risks. The Forestry Commission is big enough to employ specialists and to invest in sophisticated forestry equipment and disease management. It has centralised management of human resources, finance, IT and the like. In short, the Public Forest Estate is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Extend Public Rights of Way. The Government says that public rights of way and access will be unaffected. But the Forest of Dean for example has very few designated Rights ofWay. Instead the Forestry Commission provides permissive access to the Forest. This access has to be managed including appropriate parking facilities, gates, walks, etc. It is hard to imagine how this could be guaranteed under new and different owners. The Ramblers Association are opposed to these plans. Even with the promises for heritage forests the Ramblers say that: “A large question mark hangs over the long term viability of maintaining the levels of access provided by the Forestry Commission by any new charitable body managing such woodlands.”

Q: What do you see as the priorities and challenges for policy about England's forests and woods?

Forests must first be seen as an essential feature of the biosphere. Education is urgently needed.  The “environment” in public and planning discourse tends to be thought of as amenity in a leisure sense, or something that conserves wildlife for photography. Urban-based society has lost contact completely with the reality of the biosphere and its climates. This basic vision must be integrated with policy for food security by Defra.


Cllr Philip Booth, Stroud District councillor for Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe ward

No comments: