Ministers ‘to abandon plan to change forest ownership’
The government is preparing to abandon its plans to change the ownership of thousands of acres of state-owned woodland, the BBC understands.
Government sources said ministers will, on Friday, announce that the current consultation be halted.
Instead, it is understood a new panel of experts will be set up to look at public access and biodiversity within the publicly owned woodland.
David Bellamy articulated the feelings of most people when they first heard the news of the government’s proposed disposal of all of England’s public forest: “The green heart of England is not for sale.”
It looks as if the message is getting through. Over half a million have signed the ‘Save Our Forests’ petition organised by grass-roots movement 38 degrees and today David Cameron signalled that the plan may be ditched. Here’s how the FT reported it:
Cameron signals U-turn on forest sale By Jim Pickard, Political Correspondent Published: February 16 2011 16:28 David Cameron has executed a sharp U-turn over the sell-off of much of Britain’s state-owned woodland in England, telling the House of Commons that he did not approve of his government’s own policy. The decision emerged at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, when Ed Miliband, Labour leader, asked the prime minister if he was happy with the plan, which could raise up to £350m for the nation’s coffers. “The short answer to that is, no”, Mr Cameron replied, taking MPs on both sides of the Commons by surprise. The statement undermines Caroline Spelman, environment secretary, who has been pursuing a review of the Forestry Commission as part of her attempt to cut costs at the Defra ministry under last autumn’s spending review. Ms Spelman planned to sell much of the “commercial” forestry on long leases to private operators while transferring native “heritage” woodland to charities and community groups. But Tory and Lib Dem MPs, inundated with letters of complaint, have been unhappy for weeks about the huge public backlash surrounding the policy. “It’s been handled appallingly, it’s a cock-up,” said one minister. Some backbenchers have privately raised questions over Ms Spelman’s cabinet future as a result of the row…Mr Miliband had mocked the prime minister in the Commons, saying: “Even he must appreciate the irony. The guy who made the tree the symbol of the Conservative party flogging them off round this country.”Read full article at FT site.
The irony of a party with a tree as its logo behaving in this way has occurred to many. Our Druid group has been working with the idea since it began. Melanie Philips, of the Daily Mail telepathically picked up our thoughts (ha!) and voiced them on TV on the BBC’s Question Time, suggesting a felled oak and a dead stag as the Conservative logo, and a new party logo appeared on the Guido Fawkes political blog recently, shown at the top of this post.
Sex Pistols artist and radical Druid socialist Jamie Reid has produced his version of a new logo. And he’s let us change it. He’s also working on a new version for an album of songs about trees we’ll be bringing out soon entitled ‘The Green Heart of England’. If the government sees sense it will be a celebration album and profits will go to The Woodland Trust, Tree Aid and Trees for Life. If campaigning needs to continue then profits will go to Save Our Forests. We may well need to continue to apply pressure and voice our concerns until the future of the forests is secured.