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 http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/index.htm
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 http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/20110127-forests-map.pdf.
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 http://38degrees.org.uk/index.php/pages/save-our-forests-map. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org to show your support and get organised against this sale.