Indie: Revealed: The true scale of Britain's woodland sell-off
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Dec 18 20:55:05 GMT 2011
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
Brian Brady - Independent - Sunday 18 December 2011
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."
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