2011 is the UN’s International Year of Forests. How ironic it is, then, that the UK government has chosen this same year to pose such a threat to our forests.
The government has launched its consultation process on their proposals for the future of public forestry in England – not Scotland or Wales who have had the sense to reject being included.
On Wednesday Labour’s motion to challenge the proposals was defeated in Parliament, which shows it will still be a struggle to prevent sales or leases – despite the overwhelming opposition the proposals have invoked. Whether or not the proposals are actioned did you know that 100,000 acres are planned for sale over the next four years and are not included in the consultation?
This is what Tessa Munt, the MP for Wells, has written: “I was alarmed to discover that the 100,000 acres planned for sale over the next four years is not included in the consultation. This can only confirm the deep suspicions already expressed by those of us who believe that the sale of forests is motivated only by the desire to raise cash, and not by a desire to seek improvements to the condition of England’s forests. I have to ask why this major disposal is not included in the consultation?” (letter to constituents).
She is demanding an explanation from the Secretary of State. So should we.
Regarding this and the public consultation that has started we should avoid knee-jerk reactions, but here is what some of the experts and organisations who care about our forests are saying – having read the consultation document:
Jonathon Porrit, Director of Forum for the Future: “if the Government really cared about forests they would be taking more of it into public ownership as is happening in the rest of Europe.”
The Woodland Trust: “The threat created by possible sales of these ancient woods is two fold: Some ancient woods may slip through the net of protection, while many others may go unrestored. Government says they will be protected – we have grave doubts about this in practice.” This is their campaign video:
What can we do?
1. The amount of people who protest, sign petitions and contact their MPs or government ministers does make a difference. In debates MPs refer to the number of letters and calls they have received. Remember we pay their salaries (or rather those of us who pay tax and haven’t relocated off-shore – but that’s another question!). Already the 38 degrees petition has got over 450,000 signatures. Let’s help it get to a million. See http://38degrees.org.uk/page/s/save-our-forests
The Woodland Trust has also started a petition. Sign that here: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/campaigning/save-ancient-forests/Pages/default.aspx
2. The government cannot get rid of the Forestry Commission and sell its land under present legislation. But if the bill they are trying to push through now – the Public Bodies Bill – is approved, they will have the legal ability to do so. The bill is currently with the House of Lords and we need to show our disapproval of it. The Public & Commercial Services Union is organising a mass lobby of Parliament next Wednesday and they write: Join us in a rally and mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 9 February, 1230 at old Palace Yard opposite Parliament.
3. Respond to the government’s consultation paper: You can find it here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/index.htm. You can submit your responses online or by mail. To respond effectively you need to be informed about the issue. Whatever you do, don’t rush into responding to the consultation. Learn more about it first. A good place to start: http://saveourwoods.co.uk