Monday, 7 February 2011

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.

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