From the traditionally Tory paper the Telegraph yesterday:
A series of charities which the Coalition had hoped would take on the running of hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland have all come out against the proposals.
At the same time, a new poll shows that more than half of Tory activists oppose the sell-off plans…WWF, the world’s largest wildlife charity with more than 300,000 members in the UK, branded the sell-off ‘sinister’ while the RSPB and the Woodland Trust said they no longer have any interest in owning and managing heritage forests such as the New Forest, Sherwood Forest and the Forest of Dean…
The survey of 1,484 Conservative party members, conducted by the website ConservativeHome, shows 52 per cent believe forest privatisation should be stopped while fewer than a third – 31 per cent – believe it should go ahead…
The revolt against the sell-off has gained momentum in recent weeks following the publication in The Sunday Telegraph of a letter signed by almost 100 dignitaries, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, branding the sale ‘unconscionable’…
In a joint letter, a number of major organisations including the Ramblers, the Open Spaces Society, the Campaign for National Parks and the British Horse Society all made note of their opposition to the bill and warned it could result in reduced public access and adversely affect biodiversity…
The key forestry clauses in the Public Bodies Bill could now be amended – or struck out altogether – in the face of continuing opposition.
Regular readers of this blog please forgive me for using so many posts to discuss the government’s forest sell-off plan. I know I’m particularly ‘exercised’ by this issue – but so I believe are the majority of people in the UK – 38 degrees is moving towards the half a million mark for signatures to its petition, and I’ll be interviewing its spokesman David Babbs in the next few days for our Druidcast podcast – which now has a regular audience of over 16,000.
I’ll also invite Caroline Spelman on to the programme to explain the government’s position. Spelman, I have discovered, is well known for her support of genetic modification after spending 15 years in the agricultural industry and having set up a biotechnology lobbying firm with her husband. Doesn’t look good does it? Not a good profile for a Secretary for the Environment: liking GM and wanting to sell off our forests.
I do hope she, or a spokesperson from DEFRA, agrees to talk to us. It’s important to hear all sides of an argument and to try to make this issue yield some real benefits for our woodlands. My local MP has reminded me that the government has initiated a programme to plant a million trees over the next four years. This is wonderful and to be applauded. Before you open the champagne, though, you might want to look at the webpages on this project: is the government going to plant a million trees? No – you are! The government is encouraging us to get out there and plant trees and it hopes we’ll get to work and plant a million. Their ‘Big Tree Plant’ website offers advice on how to plant a tree, encourages you to form a tree-planting group, and tells you how to look after the tree they’ve encouraged you to plant. To be fair, they’ve allocated 4 million pounds in grant aid, but to apply for your grant of £100-£700 you must be a community group or school, and applications for funding close the end of March (try again in September if you miss this).
I have just spent several hours studying the Public Consultation document – eager to participate in this initiative so that I could explore the issues and options and make my views heard. To my dismay it turns out to be modeled on the old chestnut of a forced-choice question: answer either Yes or No to the following question: ‘Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife’?
From the very first question you realize what you’re up against:
Do you agree or disagree with each of these key principles which Government proposes to abide by when making decisions on new owners for the public forest estate? Please tick whether you agree or disagree: 1. Protect and enhance biodiversity to contribute to a network of wildlife corridors across England. 2. Maintain public access for recreation and leisure. 3. Ensure the continuing role of the woodland in climate change mitigation and adaptation 4. Protect nationally important landscapes.
Even so – please respond to the consultation document. Each question also has a section for you to add comments – albeit cunningly guided. So for this first question the ‘open’ one asks ‘What changes would you recommend to this list of principles?’
The problem with the whole document is this – it starts with the premise that the disposal is going to happen, and it asks whether you agree with the way they plan to do it, and whether you have any suggestions for improvements. Nowhere does it ask you whether you actually agree with the idea of selling and leasing the public forest in the first place.
If, like David Bellamy, you believe ‘the green heart of Britain is not for sale’ you will have to write that in the additional comments box at the end.
As Jonathon Porritt says in his blog, ‘The basic intent is… privatise one of the country’s most cherished public assets. Which means that people shouldn’t get too diverted by the consultation. The focus should instead be on the Public Bodies Bill, currently going through Parliament. If this goes through unamended, it will allow the Government to do what it really wants to do whenever it’s most convenient for them.’
All rather depressing. But news of a new Druid initiative coming soon! Meanwhile here’s a photo of some new chestnuts to cheer us up:
Now thrill to the 72 second video of Caroline Spelman Secretary of State for the Environment for the current Condem government:
Notice the ‘Freudian slip’ she makes: “What we are going to do is open up our woodlands and forests”. Hang on, I thought a public consultation was under way. Shouldn’t she have said ‘What we would like to do’ or ‘what we are proposing to do’ ?
I am writing to Ms Spelman to ask her if this was just a slip of the tongue or whether the consultation is just a PR exercise.
Notice another gaffe: the real reason for dumping all the public forest on the market Spelman reveals is because the Forestry Commission is both the regulator and a major supplier and this ‘simply can’t continue’! Why not? It has continued for a long time already, why is it suddenly such an issue? When the country is faced with so many pressing issues, why has this got to be dealt with in such a drastic way all of a sudden? And if it really does need to be separated, why can’t you just create a separate regulator? Just shove a few people in a room with a telephone and tell them they’re the regulators. Come on, it doesn’t wash!
PS Notice how ‘adding comments’ has been disabled on Spelman’s video but not on Creagh’s. I wonder why?