Sunday, 13 February 2011

Government retreats .... for now

The Government has explained that it will review the legislation that it is expecting to use to permit the sale of Wendover Woods and other Forests.  The aim of the review is to provide more safeguards to the public that access and other existing rights will continue to be protected.

I think we need to watch this very carefully.  It is worth noting that the consultation has neither stopped nor been amended and the proposal to sell off Forests is still very much alive.  The PR machine has caught up with the views of the people and is trying to limit the damage.  It is not the case that the Government has full backtracked and they will try and sell Wendover Woods in line with the existing timescales.  I still remain very uneasy about the whole thing and urge you to write to your MP to oppose the sale of these woods.  By doing this you will keep pressure on the Government to put in place some genuinely meaningful legislation and, hopefully, find a much more sensible way of managing our forests and woods than they have proposed to date.

Some good information about the current status can be found at the following link.

And Finally, well done and thanks to everyone who took some action to oppose this shambolic and unwelcome proposal.

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Monday, 7 February 2011

Government Minister - egg on face

Here's a link to a report in the Daily Telegrapgh about the unrest that emerged at the protest about the sale of the Forest of Dean.

I'm not one to condone violence but I suppose you might conclude that there's no harm done in this case.

The Telegraph has a strange approach to the whole Forest Sale issue.  On the one hand it feels an ideological alignment to the Government's proposal.  On the other it seems to be really enjoying the hoo-ha that the matter has caused and the discomfort that Government is experiencing.  For example it described Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State for the Environment) as follows:

It was like watching a shy, woodland creature surrounded by a rude and raucous party of ramblers. Mary Creagh, on the Labour front bench, placed herself at the head of this self-righteous mob and mocked Mrs Spelman: “The Secretary of State does not know what she is doing, does not know why she is doing it, and nobody wants her to do it.”

Here's another sly bash at Tory Minster Damian Green who made a mess of explaining why the Government thinks this sell-off is a good idea:

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Reasons aganst the sale of England's forests

Below is an extract from a briefing by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).  It sets out the case against the sale of forest land and is worth a read..

The full text including footnotes and references is available at this website:

The UK Government wants to sell and lease England’s public forests. These cover
258,000 hectares in England and could be sold to charities, communities,
individuals and commercial timber or forest product producers.i EIA calls for the
sale to be stopped, for the reasons listed below.
The first step of the government’s plan is to dispose of 38,000 hectares, around
15% of the total. This is the maximum currently allowed by law. There is to be no
consultation on this part of the sale. The next step would be to amend the law
through the Public Bodies Bill to allow sale of the total estate.
To quote Government Minister Jim Paice: 'We wish to proceed with very
substantial disposal of the Public Forest Estate, which could go to the extent of all
of it.'ii
Forest cover in the United Kingdom is already one of the lowest in Europe, at just
12%. England fares even worse, with just 9% forest cover. This compares with a
European average of 36% – 27% in France, 22% in Belgium and 30% in
EIA has a number of serious concerns with the sale, including:
• The disposal of national forest land is an irreversible lost opportunity,
both to protect England’s few remaining large forests, and to improve
nationally owned forest by focusing on biodiversity through the
restoration Planted Ancient Wood Sitesiv or by turning commercial pine
plantations into more environmentally friendly mixed pine and broadleaf
• Public ownership safeguards forests for the long term. Some of the
areas of forest land in consideration have been in public or Crown hands
for centuries, and should not be sold to suit short term policies.
• Sale is a dangerous precedent. Law being drafted will allow
Governments free reign over the sale or lease of public forest assets,
without need for new legislation or recourse to Parliament.v
• Fragmentation of forest. As forests are packaged and parcelled for lease
or sale to many owners it will become increasingly difficult to manage
forests on a large scale. Currently Public Forest Estate (PFE) forests are on
average 10 times larger than private
• Pressure on charities to make money. If Charities or Trusts are
expected to become self financing in their management of land, there is a
risk they will be forced to increasingly ‘commercialise’ the forest lands they
manage with extra infrastructure, gift shops, entrance fees and the like.
• Loss of biodiversity. Forestry Commission is obliged to consider wildlife
conservation in general. Private landlords must only consider certain
species in certain areas.vii At the same time delay or reduction in
expanding mixed broadleaf and wild forests or restoration of ancient
woodland may harm biodiversity.
• Reduced access. While rights of way will be protected under the
Countryside and Rights Of Way Act (CROW - 2000), private forests may
still be fenced, and de facto access may be significantly curtailed.
Currently, although PFE accounts for just 18% of forest land, it accounts
for 44% of land with public access. Public access is allowed on just 16% of
private land.
• Poor management of commercial forests. Currently all PFE forests are
UKWAS/FSC certified, which is a minimum environmental standard. Only
16% of privately held forests meet this standard.viii
• Sale could prove damaging to future of National Parks. 45% of PFE
is in a National Park or AONB. The sale of this land could prove damaging
to the long term interests of these parks,ix and could hamper efforts to
move to more environmentally friendly and less intensive modes of
forestry within them.
• Goes against the wishes of the public. The sale is unpopular (84%
oppose)x and goes against the desires expressed by public in previous
• Economics of sale are uncertain. Government figures show that overall
there will be little benefit to the Treasury from the sale, and that there
could be a net loss.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Letter to the Bucks Examiner

I have sent this letter to the Bucks Examiner which is the local newspaper  for Chesham and Amersham: 

Wendover Woods : Not For Sale
To The Editor.
Sir or Madam

I am deeply concerned by the Government's proposals to sell Wendover Woods and other forests. This sale will result in the introduction of admission charges and a reduction in access for many users of this beautiful countryside. Cyclists and horse riders are likely to be hit the hardest by the proposals.

Our woods and forests provide wonderful educational and recreational facilities. Like the national museums they should be publicly owned to ensure that they remain free for all users.

Yours faithfully

Nick Arthurton

Please write to your MP and the local paper to oppose the sale of Wendover Woods.

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Volunteers at Wendover Woods interviewed by The Economist

The Economist thinks that the Government is having a real wobble over Forest Sales and has spoken to volunteers at Wendover Woods.  It's definitely worth a read at the following link:

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Write to your MP

Here is a template letter that you can use to test your MP's commitment to the sale of Wendover Woods and other Forests


Dear [MP's name]

I am writing to you to express my grave concern about the proposals that the Government has to sell land currently managed by the Forestry Commission to the private sector. I am strongly opposed to this action and consider the proposal to offer very low commercial, financial or environmental benefits. Furthermore, I am very concerned that the rights that citizens have to enjoy these beautiful parts of our countryside will be rapidly eroded once the private sector seeks to achieve its expected return on the cost of its purchases.

Of particular concern to me is the inclusion of Wendover Woods in the list of areas that are proposed for sale. I'm sure that you are familiar with Wendover Woods and you will surely be be aware that these woods are popular all year round with families, walkers, riders and cyclists. I hope you share my concerns that the benefits of this wonderful countryside will be eroded if it is sold off.

In response to my letter I'd be grateful if you would answer these questions:

  1. Please will you confirm your position regarding this proposal by your colleague Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to sell off these areas?

  1. Please will you explain your position regarding the proposal to sell Wendover Woods and other Forests identified as Multi-Purpose to the Private Sector?

Please use your position as a Member of Parliament to thoroughly oppose this proposal using the appropriate legislative and parliamentary mechanisms. I look forward to receiving your response and may be contacted as follows:

Post: [address]
e-mail: [e-mail address]

Yours sincerely,


Is Wendover Woods under threat?

The Government has published a document entitled 'Consultation on the Public Forest Estate in England'. This has been published as part of the process that supports the Government's policy of identifying and offering for sale land that is currently publicly owned and operated by the Forestry Commission.

The consultation can be viewed on the DEFRA website at

The Government has not yet published a list of the land that it expects to sell or offer on a long lease. Instead it has identified the criteria for sale and developed four categories of forest which are shown on a map of England at the following location

Wendover Woods which lies in the heart of the Chiltern Hills (and incidentally is the highest point in the Chilterns) has been identified on the map as Multi-Purpose land. The consultation document defines this as

Multi-purpose forests and woodlands which combine timber production with significant recreational facilities, high visitor numbers and high levels of biodiversity.”

A much better map of the land that is likely to be sold off is available at Wendover Woods is marked by a 'For Sale Sign' and is found just north of Hemel Hempstead on the map.

I am very concerned about the sale of forest land in England (the proposal only covers England for the time being). I believe that the financial benefits are spurious and insignificant in comparison to the massive financial problems that this country faces. Furthermore it is highly unlikely that community groups or small charities will be able to afford the high price tag that will be placed on these forests. The larger charities like the National Trust will not be able to afford to buy every hectare that is offered – the money is simply not there.

Instead large and cash-rich organisations, possibly operated by overseas owning groups, will buy up this land. Whilst the Government breaths a sigh of relief and a few more coppers clatter into our empty coffers, the new owners will take steps to maximise the return on their investment. For commercial and Multi-Purpose forests this means an intensification of logging activities enabled by creating better logging access (deeply rutted mud tracks that can only be used by specialist logging machinery). High yield, fast growth trees will be planted to replace the valuable indigenous wood that has been felled. This is not sustainability it is inappropriate monoculture.
For recreational areas the sale will result in the the erection of fences and admission booths. Play areas will become premium-price areas (you'll pay more if you want to use them too). Fast-food outlets which are out of keeping with the woodland area will be installed and quickly these beautiful areas will be spoiled by other fast-buck business strategies.

To really make the investment work the owners will minimise maintenance resulting in the footpaths and bridleways becoming overgrown and the canopy will be allowed to encroach causing the forests to become dark and forbidding. It is quite conceivable that access for cyclists and horse riders will prohibited by the new owners as these forms of recreation create a higher maintenance burden than walkers.

In the consultation documents the Government says that access and quality for recreational use will be maintained although the measures that will be put in place to assure the maintenance of recreational benefits are not at all clear. It seems unlikely that the owners will do any more than the bare minimum necessary to prevent them from being enforced against. Indeed The Government will be extremely reluctant to take any meaningful enforcement action against them (as to do so would imply a failure of the policy). Furthermore the the large owning organisations will be applying massive pressure on the Government to turn a blind eye to their failure to comply with the sale or lease requirements.

Before long the new owners will be making representations to Government that the use of woodland for recreational purposes is no longer viable and seeking to renegotiate their obligations and restrictions. They will argue that the land should be used for alternative commercial purposes such as housing or the development of fenced-off golf courses. The consultation documents state that the normal planning processes will apply to prevent this but frankly everyone knows how ineffective these are – just look at the amount of housing development that has taken place in and around Chesham in the Chiltern Hills recently.

On Wednesday 2nd February 2011 the House of Commons held an "opposition day debate" was conducted to establish the views of MP's on the legislation that will enable the Government to sell off publicly owned Forests. The MP for Amersham and Chesham, Cheryl Gillan, supported the motion to sell off forests. In an e-mail to her before the debate I asked her to explain her position on the sale of Wendover Woods. She responded with a pre-prepared and bland letter that copied the introduction of the consultation documents. I feel that this is arrogant and spineless by the way!

You can see how your MP voted using in the debate about whether to save our forests form sale to private ownership. If you do a search on your MP's name you will see either 'Yes', or 'No', or 'Absent' alongside their name. If they have a 'No' then they have agreed that Forests should be sold off and support the inherent risk that this presents to recreational use and wildlife.

There are ways that you can help. Firstly sign the petition against this proposal at

Urge your friends and followers to oppose the government and use social networks to do this, as follows:

Finally write to your MP and tell them how you feel and ask them to oppose the sale of our forests and especially Wendover Woods.

Contact to show your support and get organised against this sale.