[Diggers350] Dave's article 'Keep Our Forests Public'

david bangs dave.bangs at virgin.net
Sun Feb 20 13:13:45 GMT 2011

See below. Unfortunately I do not have the source. It was posted to Worthing Downlanders by John Hughes,
Dave Bangs

"The government U-turn on the sale of 85 per cent of England's forest estate was today (Thursday) hailed by specialist union Prospect as testament to the strong feeling across the country about the importance of keeping woods in public hands. 
"But as part of the cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review, the commission has already announced plans to shed 150 jobs at the Commission's UK headquarters in Edinburgh, and 350 jobs in England. These will go from two branches of the Commission's operations - Forest Enterprise, which manages the public forest estate; and Forestry Services, which supports the grants and licensing system.

"These figures do not include a third part of the Commission - Forest Research - which faces 25 per cent cuts under the CSR. Details of these have yet to be announced, warned Prospect negotiator Malcolm Currie.

"Even with today's U-turn, England's forests still face real dangers, and we urge the public to keep up the pressure. These job cuts will affect staff in England, Scotland and possibly Wales, and what we've seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Although we've won this particular battle the war is not yet over because the ability of the Forestry Commission to do its job properly will be compromised. Given the myriad of benefits that come from the Commission's work, and the huge wave of public support, it is short-sighted to go ahead with these cuts. We urge the public to keep up the pressure on the government to leave the Commission alone."

"Prospect has 270 members in the Commission, many of whom carry out vital environmental research to guard against and combat tree diseases and monitor climate change. They depend on the librarians, photographers, and other specialists whose jobs are also in danger".

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: MarkiB 
  To: diggers350 at yahoogroups.com 
  Sent: Saturday, February 19, 2011 12:47 PM
  Subject: [Diggers350] Dave's article 'Keep Our Forests Public'

  Dave's article Keep Our Forests Public highlighted for yr attention in
  case you missed it (which he did send out on this list 2 days ago in his
  reply to me).

  Further down in this email is a Press Release from Save Our Woods which
  makes some intelligent points about why many of the incumbent large NGOs
  were unprepared and worse, very slow to respond to the government's
  sell-off proposals (and in some cases, sitting on the fence on the issue).

  First a telling quote from Dave Bang's article in the Morning Star copied
  again below this quote:
  '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

  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”.'

  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

  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

  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

  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.

  (An edited version of this was published in the Morning Star on

  From Save Our Woods:

  Never try to separate the people from their landscape

  by SaveOurWoods on 17/02/2011

  One clear fact that had been identified prior to the campaign and became
  increasingly apparent is the lack of integration across the broad spectrum
  of land based interests by those that were meant to be representative of
  the public voice. When the voice of the FC was silenced, it highlighted
  their omnipresence with regards trees and woodlands in the UK and the
  necessary support associated with the industry and all values associated
  with UK trees and woodland. These values contained factors that had been
  identified in their modern sense for more than 30 years and have existed
  since Neolithic man first settled down: The peoples bond with their

  What was also proved is that many of the incumbent large NGOs were
  unprepared and worse, unable to provide the mechanism to produce a cohesive
  argument that transcended all the boundaries of the relevant issues. For
  many of the smaller NGOs this is beyond their policy and their
  contribution, confined to their special interest, and thus added further
  strength to the campaign as it progressed. But the large NGOs were very
  slow to publish their stance or even realise their stance, thus showing a
  lack of knowledge and certainly a loss of touch with the public and even
  their members which was quickly criticised by several within and on the
  periphery of landscape and natural heritage issues.

  This was particularly surprising given that global and European rhetoric
  based on substantial academic research has been slowly introduced and
  implemented with new policies adopting the ideals of sustainable land
  management in all its guises for the last twenty years.

  The stoicism of some NGOs is understandable for fear of disrupting what
  for many has become a safe, privileged and powerful position, the only real
  evolvement has been the PR element, the image and a close relationship with
  the media. Indeed many governmental agencies have copied this sole modern
  element of the NGO model, (English Heritage for example), in how they
  present themselves to whom they serve. It was good for the members also as
  this safe image was clearly in line with a desired ‘landscape’ encounter.
  The staged and well managed Sunday trip to the countryside and its
  woodlands, with the uniform waymarkers and signage, obligatory
  interpretation panel and picnic benches allowing the public to enjoy but
  not interfere.

  This ‘honeypot’ system of management was designed to ensure the protection
  and biodiversity of the area. But together with many other factors, (the
  subject has resulted in much academic published theory), it helped to
  transform a mindset from good custodial practice in maintaining a balance
  into a more deep green philosophy of land ownership, at odds with
  obligations to profit for the well being of the population at large.

  The fact is that the furore over the possible sale of public forest estate
  brought together the industry, the practitioners but most importantly the
  public themselves. During the campaign some stated this was ‘unpredicted’.
  But it was predicted, indeed it formed the basis of applying much
  conventional text (rhetoric) into practice and there were many who knew
  that there would be a ‘revolution’ of sorts within the land based industry
  to break through the PR and media mist that has settled over the English
  landscape and bring land management back into an agenda where the public
  were the central policy rather than a necessary nuisance. The reality is
  that the public are the custodians and will ensure the safety and
  protection of their landscape if they are educated in this properly rather
  than herded.

  The government U-turn is welcome, in media language ‘U-turn’ is an ill
  word for a politicians decision, why? This is what the people wanted and it
  has been given to them. It should never have got to this stage and whether
  there is blame to apportion in government is irrelevant in progressing from
  the present time. The NGOs will be falling over themselves to represent our
  interests in ‘the coming discussions’ for the future sustainable land
  management for the UK – they should be allowed a voice as major landowners,
  yet they have missed the opportunity to realise the importance of the
  published data, which had discovered that the bond between people and
  landscape was so strong that it is THE fundamental base for any policy
  decisions in terms of ALL land use issues and thus representation of the
  people and practitioners must be heard clearly in all future discussion to
  avoid the costs, emotional and financial incurred over the last 4 months. 


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20110220/472a6169/attachment.html>

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list