[Diggers350] Re: Forest sell-offs

david bangs dave.bangs at virgin.net
Thu Feb 17 13:40:03 GMT 2011

See piece below which is in today's (Wednesday's) Morning Star. 

It's now delightfully semi-redundant after the government's climb-down yesterday (WHOOPEEEE!!!)...but only partly so...for, as far as I am aware, the government's proposals for a 15% sell-off over the next 4 years are still in the pipe-line (subject to them agreeing new acceptable criteria for sale), together with the 27% staff job cuts (which amount to 400 jobs out of a national workforce of only 1,100...leave alone all the many contractors and suppliers), together with a 25% saving on their DEFRA grant (which amounts to £13 million by 2015-5).

If these job cuts & financial cuts go ahead then it will be impossible for the FC to fulfill their Forest Design Plans and to deliver all the public services they currently do (in recreation, education, biodiversity and landscape terms). For instance, in East Sussex the FC has a team of five workers, TWO of whom are forest rangers...directly delivering the public services we need.

Down here in the FC's South East Region (from the Chilterns to the Isle of Wight, round to Kent) we have been very slow in getting organised. It has taken us five months to start up the 'Keep Our Forests Public' network (which now has groups in Brighton and Worthing, and coming meetings in Chichester and Lewes). This means that we are at risk of losing these new networks even before they have solidified. 

Yet we need such woodland defence networks big-time. Only last year the Forestry Commission sold off half of Sheffield Forest (Funnel's Wood) south west of Ashdown Forset in Sussex without any kind of public consultation or public knowledge. All we got out of it was a measly bit of press publicity. There are no guarantees that this will not happen again, and we need all the eyes and ears we can to defend the national forest estate in all its parts.

The PROSPECT union is organising round-the-country rallies on March 20th to defend Forestry Commission jobs and services. We have a rally and walk in Friston Forest, near Eastbourne, on that date...Noon on Saturday 20th March, @ Exceat car park, Friston Forest.

Lastly, I absolutely cannot agree with Markib (hi Mark !) in his failure to centralise the issue of public ownership...not 'third sector' ownership, but PUBLIC, accountable or potentially accountable state ownership, which partially extracts the resource from the operation of market forces. 'Third sector' ownership doesn't do that - as any charity or coop or not-for-profit manager will tell you, since their share incomes and other private sector revenues have crashed with the global slump. 'Third sector' ownership doesn't directly challenge the market. Indeed, it can reinforce it by re-legitimising its operations. (Better to sack yourself and cut your own pay than have a nasty boss do that for you, it is argued !!).

And I disagree that the public forest estate's small size makes it a marginal player. An estate of 18% of all english woodland isn't small. The FC owns 2% of the UK footprint, which is TWICE the footprint of the National Trust...one in 50 acres !! The FC is responsible for 60% of the national timber harvest on that mere 18%, and provides an example that puts the private sector - with all their semi-derelict woods - to shame.

The case for a democratically planned and publicly owned economy has been swamped by the neo-liberal tide over the last generation. The sooner we rehabilitate it the better... 

in solidarity

Dave Bangs

Keep Our Forests Public

From: Dave Bangs (chair, Brighton Keep Our Forests Public). dave.bangs at virgin.net  

Tel: 01273 620 815. 78 Ewhurst Road, Brighton, BN2 4AJ

9th February 2011

The governments’s announcement that they are postponing the sale of 15% of the Forestry Commission estate so as to review the site-by -site criteria for disposal is a first victory in the massive grass roots anti-privatisation campaign.  We have a country-wide wave of anger that has brought levels of support for the public forest estate of the same order as that for the NHS or free education. We’ve seen activist groups forming from top to bottom of the country, with (polite) anger so raw that Mark Harper, the Forest of Dean Tory MP, scuttled fearfully out of the back door of a meeting venue, rather than address the shivering crowd outside.  We’ve seen an on-line petition approaching half a million signatures and rising.

And yet ALL of the rich conservation organisations – the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts Partnership, and even Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - who have the resources and clout to lead this campaign to a rapid victory have been horribly absent from the field.  

At a recent ornithologists conference in Sussex I asked the RSPB’s Conservation Director what kind of a campaign they had, and suggested that his organization and its sisters had the ability to make or break the campaign. 

His answer was chilling. He made no mention of a campaign, and started off by telling us that the RSPB was not a rich organization (though their regional office down the road from me has 60 salaried staff, and they have recently acquired several new tracts of Sussex land) and rounded up by saying that “the state had no business growing trees”.

Yet it does. Though the Forestry Commission controls only 18% of woodland the Commission produces 60% of home grown timber, and harvests 92% of its softwood increment, as opposed to just 37% in the private sector. The public forest estate counters the business cycle by a steady timber harvest irrespective of market conditions. They maintain their network of staff and contractors, their forest infrastructure and year-on-year thinning and planting operations, irrespective of market conditions because they know that, if they don’t, their long term forest plans are jeopardized. By contrast, only 60% of all private woodlands are in management schemes, and commercial pheasant shooting represents the only real management many of the woods in my county receive. My countryside is tarnished with privately owned semi-derelict forestry plantings, ancient woodlands strangled by invasive rhododendron, giant veteran trees strangled by encroaching conifers, and gill woodlands dating back to the ‘wildwood’ now flooded for commercial duck shooting ponds.

But the Commission doesn’t just grow trees. They are a major player in the restoration of ancient woodland, as well as endangered heath, mire, fell, and other open habitats. About 26% of Forestry Commission land has SSSI status and 96% of this is in favourable condition. The Forestry Commission today bears no resemblance to the Commission of a generation ago, with its narrow remit to grow conifers, conifers, and conifers, irrespective of landscape and wildlife. Their recent dedication of their entire freehold estate as statutory access land, and their energetic creation of Community Forests and multi-purpose urban fringe and brown field woodlands, exemplify a major progressive turn. 

Down here in Brighton we have some previous experience of the bureaucratic inertia of the conservation NGOs. Fifteen years ago the Labour Council proposed privatizing our 13,000 acre farmed downland estate. Every one of the rich local conservation organisations accepted that the privatisation could not be stopped, and contented themselves with seeking tokenistic measures of amelioration. A hastily cobbled together coalition of community and wildlife activists – ‘Keep Our Downs Public’ – refused to accept this sell-out, campaigned furiously, and won. This victory set the scene for four more successful local anti-privatisation struggles, including a 77% tenants’ vote against council housing stock transfer, and a recent success against the privatisation of council–owned downland at nearby Worthing. 

The lesson is clear. We need a two-pronged battle. First, the widest possible independent mobilization against this privatization, on a clear demand for the protection and expansion of the public forest estate as an exemplar for a people’s countryside, and, secondly, a hard challenge to the rich NGOs to adopt a common position of refusal to take over any privatized fragments of the Forestry Commission estate. Such a boycott will blow out of the water the government’s smokescreen proposals for an increased role for the ‘third sector’, social enterprises, and community control.

If we do not succeed in this the ramifications of failure will spread far beyond the decline and commercialization of ex-Forestry Commission land, for the fire-fighting role of the NGOs will be even further compromised. We will be faced with a huge diversion of the energy of countryside NGOs and activists to the effort to absorb chunks of privatised forest and preserve their public values, without the commercial cross-funding and professional resources of the Commission. 

Down here in Sussex we have painful recent experience of this, for Keep our Downs Public’s fight against privatisation came too late to keep one important landscape, at the Devil’s Dyke, in municipal control. The National Trust took it over, and launched a big fund raising appeal. Whilst they were doing so a further stretch of gorgeous downland came onto the market – downland with ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ status and traversed by a stretch of the South Downs Way. The National Trust refused to bid for it - too expensive, in the light of their new commitment. The result was that this downland was lost to an agri-business investor who wished to convert its woodlands to intensive game rearing. The old conservation projects were abandoned, and when I inspected the site last year the landowner had herbicided over an acre of ancient flowery chalk grassland to secure his fence lines.

Thus, the National Trust wasted its energies on purchasing land that was already in public ownership, and abandoned the fight for a site that was at real threat.

But the struggle for the public forest estate is one that we CAN win, and in so doing we can make further gains. We can use this campaign to re-connect people with the wider countryside and its problems. Down here in the south east many of our Forestry Commission estates are scattered and relatively remote. Our campaign will make sure that the public get to know better what they are at risk of losing. 

We can, too, gain traction for the case for greater democracy and local initiative in the management of public forests, without fragmenting ownership and strategic control amongst a rag tag of third sector organizations, private forestry companies and landowners.

State ownership’s major advantage is that it subtracts a resource, at least partially, from the irrationality and greed of the market.  The answer for our public forests is the same as the answer for our economy. We need more democratic public ownership and economy-wide planning  – enough to break the dominance of the market – not some porridge of private businesses and ‘social enterprises’ struggling for market share.

‘Keep Our Forests Public’ is a new coalition formed with the intention of galvanising campaigning activity across the Forestry Commission’s South East Region.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: MarkiB 
  To: diggers350 at yahoogroups.com 
  Sent: Monday, February 14, 2011 10:56 PM
  Subject: [Diggers350] Re: Forest sell-offs

  Fran and Ben extoll the virtues of buying woodland for ownership by the community - which on the surface appears an attractive proposition (chiming with that often unconscious assumption that local always know best). 
  However, in doing so, they both appear to have missed Dave's earlier comment about how community buyout in Sussex has led to the loss of coordinated management (eg. coppicing), and so, as a result, a negative impact on biodiversity. 

  Perhaps community management would best work if kept firmly under a
  regulatory umbrella overseen by the Forestry Commission?

  My inclination that community buy out, if it should even happen
  at-all, should only be at the margins to protect the national interest of retaining a strategic reserve of forestry for the market in wood does not really stand up to scrutiny because the amount of large commercial forest in England is small (much more in Scotland), and so, in the international free market, this consideration is rendered laregly meaningless. 

  In these circumstances, I personally have no absolute ideological objection to public sell off provided every sq inch of that land remains fully protected, it's management is subject to being overseen by the full vigourous regulatory authority of the Forestry Commission, that all public access agreements remain fully in place, and finally that all of the above are held absolutely sacrosanct irrespective of any future governmental change in policy that may seek to compromise on any of the former stipulations (deed of covenant).

  However, since I am not satisfied that the government have embarked on
  their now stalled attempt at privatisation without ensuring all of these considerations are to be fully adhered to, I have so far been opposed to public sell-off.

  Actually, bearing in mind the increased cost in management terms of
  regulation as opposed to direct control, the reason the gobvt may have
  ditched the proposals is that they've realised that their plans will be costlier in the long run!

  Mark Brown (The Land Is Ours)

  Latest from 38 degrees:

  The government have announced they will pause forest sell-offs for a few
  months. It's a brilliant sign, but our forests are still in danger. If we
  keep working together, we can save our forests forever - not just for a few

  The government is still going full steam ahead with changing the law to
  clear the way for a 100% sell-off. It looks like they hope the fuss will
  die down if they pause a few sales here and there - so they can press on
  with quietly scrapping legal protection for our public woodlands.

  Our petition is now 490,000 strong. Let's show the government we will keep
  campaigning until English forests are safe, by making sure the petition
  passes half a million signatures today.

  Please forward this email and ask your friends to sign:

  Picture yourself in the last forest you visited. Remember how you felt,
  what you saw, how peaceful it was. Now imagine hearing that this beautiful
  place has been auctioned off. We just can't let it happen!

  By working together, bit by bit, we are protecting our woodlands for
  future generations. Since 38 Degrees members voted to launch this campaign,
  we've spread the word, emailed our MPs, and chipped in to pay for opinion
  polls and adverts. It’s starting to work - today is a time to celebrate.
  But we also need to keep the pressure building.

  Please forward this email and ask your friends to help get our petition
  past half a million signatures today:

  -------- Original Message --------
  Subject: Re: [Diggers350] Woodlands.co.uk
  Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2011 08:41:51 +0000
  From: Fran Ryan <Fran at peopleincharge.co.uk>
  To: Ben Mathers <benjaminmathers at gmail.com>

  I have fantasised about setting a national community land trust and 
  fund, to buy the woodland for the benefit and use of local communities. 
  this would be a way of securing it in the public domain in perpetuity. 
  Maybe community bonds could be part of how it could be funded. Sadly I 
  don't have the energy or time or expertise to do this.

  But with so much stuff on the verge of being sold off (other bits of 
  land such as county farms, school playing fields etc,) all then gone for 
  ever it would be great if we could muster some energy to make a 
  concerted effort to capture the land for local people for ever.

  Fran Ryan
  Oxfordshire Community Land Trust

  On 10/02/2011 13:12, Ben Mathers wrote:
  > I did get in contact with the folks managing their South Wales
  > properties asking about their attitude to One Planet Development and
  > whether there was anything in their covenant stopping people from living
  > on the land and the woman I contacted definitely said that there wasn't.
  > The only issue she thought would be with the planning department...
  > Wouldn't it be great though if someone could buy these bits of woodland
  > and then split them up and sell them for the £1,800 that was paid, does
  > anyone know of anyone thinking of doing something like this? Even if you
  > were to sell them for £2,800 you'd still be making a whopping £54,000
  > profit for doing nothing! I mean if a trust was set up to do something
  > similar that money could then go into buying some more land and doing
  > likewise, obviously with a strict covenant on the land ensuring low
  > impact principles with areas of common land etc etc. I know this is
  > probably something most people on this email group think about, but
  > really it wouldn't need a very big initial outlay (well not very big for
  > some people at least!). What is stopping people I wonder?
  > Ben
  > On 9 February 2011 10:01, John Boshier <john at permaculture-jb.me.uk
  > <mailto:john at permaculture-jb.me.uk>> wrote:
  > They may be unpleasant, but they do seem to be open to discussing
  > Planet Developments in Wales, See
  > . I think the wording has changed a bit, as when I looked on their
  > recently I think they said they would not object to it, and I've
  > this from another source.
  > If anyone knows more I would like to know. I'm going to be producing
  > One Planet Development newsletter, and am organising meetings to
  > people get started on low-impact development in Wales. You can sign
  > to the newsletter at http://www.eco-hamlets.org.uk/newsletters.php ,
  > and
  > I'd welcome any contributions to the newsletter.
  > John
  > On 07/02/2011 00:14, offgriduk wrote:
  > > I see the unpleasant woodlands.co.uk <http://woodlands.co.uk> was
  > one of the early beneficiaries of the forest sell-off (Sunday Times
  > 6/2/11) - buying 54 acres of glorious wood near Market Rasen.
  > >
  > > They paid GBP1800 per acre and will sell for GBP9000, removing
  > the wood from public access and at the same time preventing the new
  > owners from doing more than asset-stripping through the restrictive
  > covenants they add to the sale - such as no living on the site.
  > >
  > > I would like to have a go at preventing woodlands.co.uk
  > <http://woodlands.co.uk> from buying further forests in the current
  > selloff - if anyone has the necessary info, please send to
  > nick at off-grid.net <mailto:nick%40off-grid.net> and I can put it
  > fully in the public domain

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20110217/0ad0a992/attachment.html>

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list