Govt finally concedes 'No sell-off' for public forests

mark at mark at
Thu Jan 31 12:52:50 GMT 2013

'No sell-off' for public forests
31 January 2013
BBC News online

The government has announced that it will not sell off publicly owned 
forests in England.

It says it will create a new public body that will hold in trust the 
nation's forests for future generations.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was responding to a report that 
called the estate a "national asset" that should not be sold off.

He also announced that the policy of selling off 15% of the estate to 
cover costs would be rescinded.

Mr Paterson gave few details of the new, independent body that would 
own, maintain and safeguard the public forest estate except that it 
would be set up in the longer term.

"The new body will have greater independence from Government and 
greater freedom to manage its resources and maximise its income but 
with the right safeguards in place to operate for the long-term 
benefit of people, nature and the economy," he said.

The Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF) was established in March 2011 
after a ministerial U-turn on plans to dispose of a chunk of its 

The Rt Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool and who chaired the Panel, 
welcomed the government's response saying it was an "unequivocal 
endorsement" of the IPF's recommendations.

"I welcome the rescinding of the policy for disposal of 15% of the 
estate. This is a recognition that the public benefits that flow from 
forests and woodlands have a legitimate claim on the public purse," he 

Hen Anderson, co-founder of campaign group Save Our Woods also 
welcomed the government's response, recognising that it was a 
vindication of the 500,000 who signed an online petition against the 
proposal to sell the estate.

"Very positive - an exciting result for us. Two years ago they were 
flogging off the lot, but a half a million people kicked them in the 
pants, amazing result."

The IPF also recommended that woodland cover should increase from 10% 
to 15% by 2060. But the government says it will only increase this to 

However the government is increasing the amount of money that will be 
spent on forests, boosting the Forestry Commission's budget by £3.5m 
next year to make up for lost income from sales of woodland. They are 
also allocating £2m to recognise the additional pressures arising from 
the outbreak of Ash dieback disease.

This increased emphasis on protection was a concern for the Woodland 
Trust. A spokesperson said they were "broadly happy" with the 
government's approach but they were concerned that ministers were not 
putting enough emphasis on improvement and expansions in forestry.

"We need urgent clarification on the government's plans on the future 
of forest services," said the spokesperson.

Among the other recommendations in last year's IPF report:

     Measurably increasing the quantity and quality of access to 
public and privately owned woodlands;
     Ensuring every child "has an element of woodland-based learning";
     Protecting current funding for woodland management and creation;
     Increasing England's woodland cover from 10% to 15% by 2060;
     Creating a charter, stating that the public forest estate should 
be "held in trust for the nation".

There are in excess of 1,000 publicly owned forests in England, 
covering an estimated 258,000 hectares.

The Public Forest Estate (PFE) accounts for 18% of English woodlands, 
and covers about 9% of the nation - one of the lowest percentages in 

The estate has been valued at about £700m and costs about £15m per 
year to manage, equivalent to about 30p per year per person in 

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