Fwd: Our forests - ginger group fighting for public woods & forests

Simon Fairlie chapter7 at tlio.org.uk
Thu Jun 16 11:44:48 BST 2011


> Our Forests – a people's vision for the future of England's woods  
> and forests
> Thursday 16 June 2011, for immediate release
> Today sees the launch of a new 'ginger-group', Our Forests [1].
> Our Forests has been formed to ensure that the views of the more  
> than half a million people who signed the 38 Degrees Save Our  
> Forests petition against the Government's reprehensible plans to  
> sell-off or otherwise dispose of the Public Forest Estate in  
> England [2] are fully understood and taken into account by the  
> Coalition Government and by the 'Independent Panel on Forestry  
> Policy in England' [3].
> The 'Independent Panel', hastily convened after Secretary of State,  
> Caroline Spelman, was forced to withdraw her proposals, is chaired  
> by the highly-respected Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend  
> James Jones, and includes senior figures from national bodies,  
> representing conservation, recreation and forestry interests.  
> However, there are real concerns over how restricted and  
> compromised the Panel will be:
> by its terms of reference;
> by the role some of the national conservation bodies appeared to  
> play during the national outcry against the sell-off plans;
> by the absence of any genuine grassroots representation on the panel.
> Our Forests is therefore putting a set of questions directly to  
> individual panel members concerning their core principles and their  
> readiness to deliver on public expectations. The questions are  
> underpinned by the findings from the extensive public consultation  
> exercise on the future of the Public Forest Estate in England  
> concluded in September 2009 [4], as well as reflecting the concerns  
> of the public so clearly expressed in the 38 Degrees petition.
> Jonathon Porritt, one of the founders of Our Forests, issued the  
> following challenge:
> "The Independent Panel should not be starting its work with a blank  
> sheet of paper. Hundreds of thousands of people and many campaign  
> groups have already given a very clear steer as to the direction of  
> forestry policy in England. The Panel has an extraordinary  
> opportunity to amplify those views and to provide the Government  
> with unambiguous advice as to the critical importance of protecting  
> the Public Forest Estate."
> That 2009 public consultation found 'strong resistance' to any  
> disposal policy and that 'the overwhelming majority of respondents  
> indicated a desire for the public forest estate to increase in  
> size'. Yet throughout the national grassroots campaign against the  
> disposal plans, it was unclear whether the major conservation  
> bodies were opposed to the Government's plans or prepared to go  
> along with them [5].
> As Hen Anderson of the grassroots group, Save Our Woods commented:
> "We must expand and keep our woods and forests publicly-owned and  
> sustainably-managed by a properly resourced body of experts, fully  
> accountable to the public. Unfortunately, not one member of the  
> Independent Panel was a part of the Save Our Forests campaign. Not  
> one of them tried to stop the Government pushing through the Public  
> Bodies Bill that would have allowed it to sell off the entire  
> Public Forest Estate behind closed doors. It was the public that  
> fought so hard and forced the Government U-turn on the forest sell- 
> off. If the Independent Panel is to win the trust of the hundreds  
> of thousands of people who stood up for their local woods and  
> forests, it must be seen to take on-board and champion their  
> concerns."
> Despite the Government's apparent public U-turn on the disposal of  
> the Public Forest Estate and the setting-up of the 'Independent  
> Panel on Forestry Policy', behind the scenes Defra is forging ahead  
> imposing 25% cuts on the Forestry Commission and the staff who  
> manage the Public Forest Estate. This pre-emptive strike undermines  
> the ability of the Forestry Commission to continue to deliver on  
> the many public benefits provided by the Public Forest Estate and  
> suggests a disregard in Defra and the Government for the Panel's  
> role and any recommendations it makes [6].
> Therefore, Our Forests is seeking answers from panel members to the  
> following questions:
> 1. Do panel members support the principle and recognise the value  
> of there being a Public Forest Estate – i.e. a substantial body of  
> woodland and forest managed on behalf of the Nation to deliver a  
> multiple range of public benefits?
> 2. What is the formal position of individual panel members  
> regarding the Government's earlier disposal plans and any future  
> plans to reduce the area of woodlands under public ownership?
> 3. What are the views of individual panel members on Defra's  
> decision to push through these current cuts ahead of any  
> recommendations that the Panel will make?
> Our Forests will seek answers to these questions from each Panel  
> member, and will continue to monitor the work of the 'Independent  
> Panel' and make interventions as necessary to ensure the public's  
> concerns and those of grassroots organisations are not by-passed by  
> the Government.
> Later in the year, Our Forests will work with 38 Degrees to fashion  
> 'a people's vision for the future of England's woodlands and  
> forests', which will be submitted to the Independent Panel as a  
> critical input into its own deliberations [7].
> [ENDS]
> For further information please contact:
> Robin Maynard: robin.maynard at btinternet.com, 07932 040452, 01179  
> 731779
> Hen Anderson: 07540 897682
> Jonathon Porritt: 07770 970748
> See also:
> www.gabrielhemery.com
> www.handsoffourforest.org
> www.saveourwoods.co.uk
> www.38degrees.org.uk
> www.jonathonporritt.com
> www.tonyjuniper.com
> Notes to editors
> [1]Our Forests
> The 'Independent Panel' first met on 31st March. The same day, a  
> group of individuals, all of whom had been actively challenging the  
> Government's disposal proposals, also met and agreed the urgent  
> need to form a separate 'ginger group' to ensure the 'Independent  
> Panel' focuses on key issues, considers crucial available evidence,  
> and takes on-board grassroots views that are so signally missing  
> from the Panel.
> Along with the over half million people signing the 38 Degrees  
> petition, we believe that there are unique values and benefits  
> provided to society from having a national body of woodland and  
> forest owned by and managed sustainably on behalf of the public.
> Therefore, as a core principle, Our Forests will work to retain and  
> expand what is currently referred to as the 'Public Forest Estate'  
> – but which might better be termed 'Common Wood & Forest Land'.
> A short-term aim is to ensure that the 'Independent Panel' frames  
> its recommendations within the findings of the earlier and  
> extensive public consultation concluded just before the change of  
> Government , as well as incorporating the views of the over half  
> million signatories to the 38 Degrees petition.
> Our Forests will also set-out a long-term vision for the future of  
> England's public woods and forests – but one that is genuinely 'a  
> people's vision' by engaging directly with 'Big Society' via our  
> working partnership with 38 Degrees, as well as through the many  
> local & grassroots groups with whom we are networked.
> Individual members, in alphabetical order, are:
> Hen Anderson (Co-founder 'Save Our Woods', who also runs a  
> smallholding and woodland on Exmoor)
> Richard Daniels (Chair of the grassroots campaigning group Hands  
> off our Forest (HOOF) in the Forest of Dean)
> Dr Gabriel Hemery (chartered forester, co–founder and Chief  
> Executive, the Sylva Foundation);
> Tony Juniper (independent environmental advisor, campaigner, writer  
> and former Director of Friends of the Earth);
> Rod Leslie (former Chief Executive, Forest Enterprise);
> Robin Maynard (environmental campaign consultant);
> Jonathon Porritt (Founder Director Forum for the Future and former  
> Chair of UK Sustainable Development Commission).
> [2] The Public Forest Estate (PFE)
> Totalling 258,000 hectares, the PFE is the largest single  
> landholding in England – its size, diversity and geographical  
> spread are unique. The PFE's 1500 individual woods and forests make  
> up 18% of England's total woods and forests – covering the  
> spectrum from ancient semi-natural woodland to sustainably-managed  
> plantations – and attract more visits each year than the seaside.  
> The Government had been considering plans for the wholesale  
> disposal of the entire Public Forest Estate out of public ownership  
> and management.
> [3] Independent Panel on Forestry Policy in England
> See: http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/forestry/panel/
> [4] Public Consultation 2009
> See separately attached Our Forests summary of the consultation  
> findings and the supporting detailed research on the economic,  
> social, wildlife and landscape benefits of the public forest  
> estate. The public consultation consisted of: an in-depth 26  
> question document available on-line and as a hard-copy, which drew  
> 2,239 responses, as well as a shorter survey carried out at  
> Forestry Commission visitor centres, completed by 2,287  
> individuals. Respondents to the in-depth questionnaire included:
> nearly 1,400 individuals;
> 85 local community groups;
> 78 representatives from the forestry industry;
> 56 Non Governmental Organisations;
> 158 other associations, groups or forums.
> All the major conservation and environment groups responded to the  
> questionnaire, including those now represented on the 'Independent  
> Panel'.
> Responses to and findings from those questionnaires can be found at:
> http://www.forestry.gov.uk/england-estatestudy-evidence
> [5] NGO positions on the Government's disposal plans and public  
> campaign to halt them
> During the national outcry against the Government's disposal plans,  
> the main conservation bodies were largely silent. Consequently,  
> those bodies came in for some robust criticism, see: http:// 
> www.jonathonporritt.com/pages/2011/02/ 
> environmental_ngos_betray_engl.html
> Our Forests very much hope that all the NGOs will now take a robust  
> and critical approach responding to and respecting the public's  
> passionate, instinctive, and informed support for a national body  
> of publicly-owned woods and forests delivering the many public  
> goods and services provided by multi-purpose forestry.
> [6] Cuts impacts
> Even though the Panel has only just begun looking into the future  
> of the Public Forest Estate, and will not report until spring 2012,  
> the Forestry Commission has been told by DEFRA to continue with the  
> cuts program. In summary, the process is in train to:
> Cut around 250 jobs across England with further cuts to follow in  
> Scotland.
> Close sites and offices throughout England.
> Reduce the services the Forestry Commission offers to the public.
> Look at privatisation and outsourcing of some functions.
> Reduce the number of forest districts from 11 to 6.
> Roles focussed on wildlife management, public access and  
> recreation, and educational work are under particular threat – the  
> very roles and activities that the public have made it plain are  
> most valued. Ecosystem services and recreation were also areas that  
> the economic research carried out as part of the public  
> consultation in 2009 indicated had greatest potential for income  
> generation.
> [7] Our Forests and 38 Degrees
> Our Forests and the members of 38 Degrees already share a clear  
> common purpose: to prevent the sell-off or disposal of the Public  
> Forest Estate and to find ways both of protecting both the  
> integrity of the Public Forest Estate and to further its future  
> development and growth. Furthermore, both are keen to bring forward  
> a positive vision for the future of England's forests and  
> woodlands. Therefore, Our Forests and 38 Degrees have committed to  
> working closely together until such time as the Government brings  
> forward new and acceptable proposals regarding the future of  
> England's public forests and woodlands.

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