Activists hit Defra to protest over forests sale


10:00 am - January 20th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Yesterday morning a group of activists from the environmental action group Climate Rush placed ‘FOR SALE’ labels on dumped trees they had found the evening before.

Dressed as Suffragettes with hand-sewn rabbit, mice and badger ears, the group delivered the trees to Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The government is currently planning to sell most or all of the publicly owned forests in England.

These forests have special protection in law, but the government wants to remove this protection giving them the freedom to sell all of the public forest estate.

In 2009 a public consultation generated an overwhelming response asking for the expansion of our public forest estate, not its disposal.

More pictures at the Climate Rush site

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Dressed as Suffragettes with hand-sewn rabbit, mice and badger ears, the group delivered the trees to Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Jesus. Well, I’m sure this protest will be treated as seriously as it deserves.

I’m not sure I support this sell-off.

On the other hand it is not obvious why the buyers will do anything to the forests other than, erm, running them as commercial forests which involves, erm, planting trees. Which the Climate Rush people might support?

(Yes I know it actually involves planting trees, cutting them down, planting more trees, etc.)

“Jesus. Well, I’m sure this protest will be treated as seriously as it deserves.”

If they had dressed in suits, and more like business people, do you think they would have succesfully persuaded the minister to change policy?

I never understood why the suffragettes wore “hand-sewn rabbit, mice and badger ears”, anyway. Perhaps if they’d dressed smartly, women might have won the right to vote quite a lot earlier.

Will selling these publicly owned forests lead to them being cut down?

I really would like to see the amount of forest cover in the UK increase, and also improvements in the way forests are managed from the point of view of helping wildlife, helping scarce flora & fauna recover and so on.

Can anybody tell me on what basis these forests are being sold – will the owners be able to cut them down? Will the owners have any obligations w.r.t. management of the forest?

“Will the owners have any obligations w.r.t. management of the forest?”

I’m guessing that those obligations will at the very least take the form of wanting a return on their investment.

Which will involve cutting down and planting trees. I can see no commercial reason why they would want fewer trees.

They might want boring trees, which is an important aesthetic issue.
But not a climate related one?

cjcjc

I don’t want to see ancient diverse forest replaced with pine plantations, so I really hope these forests are not being sold as purely commercial assets

Luis,

From the link in the article:

“The government is currently planning to sell most or all of the publically owned forests in England. These forests have special protection in law. The government wishes to remove this protection giving them the freedom to sell all of the public forest estate without asking for public permission.”

“Within the House of Lords the junior Minister responsible for the plans, Jim Paice MP, threatened the plans could mean a “very substantial disposal of public forest estate [sic], which could go to the extent of it all”. When asked whether public access rights would be preserved and conservation managed, the same minister said: “It would be a brave politician who guaranteed anything”.

So it would appear not.

Of course, it is possible that private operators might do a better job with forests. They might, for example, be happier to let people use the forest for outdoor activities (since the latest incarnation of the Forestry Commission seems to think that any organised activity needs a £3 per head levy, when they are not actually contributing infrastructure, I doubt it will get more expensive). Likewise, they may decide that letting large areas of forest fall to brambles or brashing is not efficient (if for no other reason than they might be able to sell the brashing at least – no economic use for bramble occurs to me…). Or they may actually try to maximise usage of forests.

My understanding is that access to the forests will still be allowed (obviously not in areas being worked, but that is normal) and indeed, for anyone seeking to make money from a forest, access and amenities are the way to go to get a return in that 10-50 year period whilst your trees are actually growing.

Oh – and who knows, it might make for more interesting (and ecologically diverse) environments if forest management is not centrally controlled – far too many of our forests are simply monocultural masses of one or two types of pines.

Luis,

I don’t think the ancient forests (e.g. on the downs or the new forest) are generally forestry enterprises anyway – and they are generally protected by other laws (e.g. national parks etc).

Will selling these publicly owned forests lead to them being cut down?

No, they’ll still be forests, and therefore subject to the same degree of planning, regulation and legislation as they are currently. They just won’t be owned by the state, and the revenues will therefore go to the owner and not the Treasury.

I don’t want to see ancient diverse forest replaced with pine plantations, so I really hope these forests are not being sold as purely commercial assets.

I completely agree on the former, though I don’t know whether the former does actually follow from the latter.
Oak is obviously very expensive to buy because it is slow growing.
How the investment return trades off against cheaper faster pine I don’t know.

Of course it is only relatively recently that the Forestry Commission itself stopped planting masses of pines.

When asked whether public access rights would be preserved and conservation managed, the same minister said: “It would be a brave politician who guaranteed anything”.

That looks like a very partial quotation! I would rather suspect that the next word he said was ‘But…’

The combination of public footpaths and bridalpaths (which crisscross forest land and always have done) and the right to roam would mean that as a general supposition public access would be relatively unchanged.

“latest incarnation of the Forestry Commission seems to think that any organised activity needs a £3 per head levy,”

Its called fundraising, and most areas of the countryside do it. Eg: You get charged for parking on most beaches, and the money goes to help with running costs. It’s hardly a controversial model.

I discussed this briefly with a consultant arborist recently. He was pretty easy about it as he believed existing protections would remain.

I think it’s reasonable to have concerns about this change but we need to await clearer evidence of what is proposed.

Right now what it boils down to is whether one trusts the government or not.

Planeshift,

Indeed – but the previous levy was around £1 a head. Now, forestry infrastructure is actually quite minimal so that seems quite a leap – just the sort of leap in fact that a monopoly provider can make, but private enterprises may consider twice (cyncially, I do wonder whether it was made to make forest management look a much more enticing opportunity).

My only reservations concerning selling off the forests, so long as the land use is specified, would simply be access (I don’t think this is too much of a problem – commercially access is good for forest owners) and also the possibility of replacing a public monopoly with private ones either locally or nationally. That’s where I’d be inclined to protest (perhaps a limit on ownership nationally and within an area would be good).

Yesterday morning a group of activists from the environmental action group Climate Rush placed ‘FOR SALE’ labels on dumped trees they had found the evening before.

I’m confused by those trees – clearly they should have been Christmas trees, but how comes in late January they still have so many needles. I could really do with one like that next year…

18. Luis Enrqiue

so …. is this just about selling off forests that are not nature reserves, but forestry as in timber industry forests, to private forestry companies who will carry on doing the same thing?

what are the protesters worried about exactly? other than the change of ownership, what do they think is going to change?

@18 There is a wide mistrust in private business when it comes to things perceived as our wild places. I’ve been impressed by how concerns about the fate of our forestry cuts across party lines. I suspect there is some concern that the sell off is a slippery slope to clear felling, monoculture, opacity and loss of access. There is an element of mistrust of the government too.

Interestingly I live in an area widely forested. The estate is private, well-maintained and diverse.

20. peoples assembly of democracy village

All children’s futures are at risk

Risk assessment;

Job cuts, EMA cuts, education cuts, lack of investment into future jobs for the people.
Excessive unaffordable house prices, the lack of social housing, coupled with over priced rents charged by landlords, low wages, 20% VAT, Poll Tax ( where’s the community in that charge?)
The continued dilution of the NHS, with private health companies hiring NHS operating theatres. Therefore private companies with their money will be competing for space and time with NHS patients. The NHS belongs to the people it is the people’s right to access the best health care.
The sale of the people’s lands, with forests being sold throughout England to the highest bidders, foreign investment allowed private companies.
Soaring interest rates yet to come.

Every year the people are paying out more and more to councils, government, private firms, whilst and more, and, getting less and less in return for their efforts
.And the public’s assets continue to be sold off without referendum or consultation with the people.
We are not dogs who sit by a masters table waiting for scraps whilst the wealth of the families and lands are being sold off along with integrity and honour.

The actions of these elitists is against the people and therefore unacceptable, and if any Royalty want the full support of the people, then it is their duty to give light to such things and openly denounce this unjust self imposed government where quango leaders insist on handing to the people and unfair and unjust system where the children’s future’s are so blatantly being smashed up and destroyed.
It is as clear as the light of day that those who profess to be in power do not have the people’s best interests at heart. The power is with the People
We are rational people, with hearts of lions.
We all know what is going on within our country.
This great injustice forced upon us.
It is “Now Time” the time for all of Britain United to say NO under one umbrella. This daylight robbery and unaccountability to the people by politicians, government officials, Law Lords, councils and the banks cannot be allowed to betray people and country.

We are not dogs who sit by a masters table waiting for scraps whilst the wealth of the families and lands are being sold off along with integrity and honour.

Luis,

1) it’s not just commercial forests that are to be sold – Jim Paice wants to sell the lot. That includes the New Forest, the Forest of Dean, ancient woodlands, Nature reserves, SSSIs, sites of special cultural and historical significance, and everything else. the lot.

2) private forestry companies will not continue doing the same thing – the current managers (the Forestry Commission England) are leaders in the field of sustainable forestry, with their own research wing. They manage our woodlands for maximum social, economic and environmental benefit. English forestry companies benefit massively from the PFE, which provides a long-term, secure supply of high quality, certified timber. Many small businesses (cafes, b&bs, sports shops, riding clubs, leisure facilities) depend on the continued openness of their local forests, which bring thousands of visitors. Private foresters (notwithstanding some exceptional independent experts) do not have the same priorities.

3) unless bridleways have been formally set, there is no reason to assume that continued equestrian access will be maintained. it is not a legal requirement to maintain paths or any other facility under current restrictions (predominantly the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, or CRoW). the accessibility of our forests will suffer, even though the ‘right to access’ them may remain.

4) the government is currently decimating Natural England, the body that would oversee the standards of privatised forestry. At the same time, privatisation would mean the end of FOI access to intelligence on the quality and standards of the remaining 18% of England’s woods that are in public ownership. We would not be able to tell what was happening to our native species, or the standard of stewardship.

5) at present, 100% of the public forest estate is certified as sustainably managed. this compares to only 15% of private forest. there will be no guarantees at all.

there are many, many other objections to the current ambiguous and sketchy plans. yet the government is already seeking to change the law, and planning to sell 15% of our woodland in any case, without asking anyone’s permission. this is improper behaviour resting on inadequate rationale and cloaked in unacceptably vague assurances.

A consultation has already occurred in 2009. the response?

“The overwhelming majority of respondents indicated a desire for the PFE to increase in size. Additional comments include the need to consider the quality of benefits delivered rather than the absolute area of the PFE. Respondents see the PFE as a valuable resource, not least in environmental and ecological terms. Comments underline the FC’s role in taking the lead in setting and directing objectives for biodiversity at national, regional and local levels. Respondents want woodlands located within easy reach of cities, bringing the benefit of leisure and recreation, well-being, and biodiversity to urban communities”

see page 10
http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/eng-pfe-evidence-part1.pdf/$FILE/eng-pfe-evidence-part1.pdf

23. Luis Enrqiue

thanks bonzhe,

I cannot believe places like the New Forest or Forest of Dean would be sold and allowed to be turned into commercial plantations. But I very much take your point 2) that private owners of former PFEs more generally would not have any reason to do many of the good things the Forestry Commission does, with its broader social remit.

I know the public finances are in a hole, but this looks like a bad move.

Luis,

Isn’t the New Forest common land anyway?

And the Forest of Dean is not owned by the state that I am aware about. (The same goes for most midland forests – even the mainly coniferous Wyre and Rockwood Forests).

There’s some interesting coverage in Private Eye this week on the proposed sell-off. It argues that, with the costs of overseeing regulation being fixed and the loss of revenue from timber any net gain for the government would be at best marginal even over the first year. It would indicate that this policy is ideologically driven.

“It would indicate that this policy is ideologically driven.”

Of course it is, and regulations can always be changed very easily later. Ownership is not so easy to change. So 10 years down the road it will be easy to slip in a law banning access to all this land. But this is a govt of landowners and therefore it’s main aim is to transfer even more land and wealth into the hands of fewer people.

Can’t for the life of me see why the Lie Dems are going along with this. But then they have completely sold out.

28. sally thomas

I consider the selling off of our ancientwood land crazy. This is a big symbol as to how this government is going to treat green issuses


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Trakgalvis

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  3. Quinex1

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  4. David Carter

    RT @trakgalvis: Activists hit Defra to protest over forests sale | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/kzBb2

  5. Noxi

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  6. goldsmithsfightsback

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  7. Climate Rush

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  8. Keith Parkins

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  9. Next week in activism | THIS DAY

    […] nationwide on twitter. Activists from Climate Rush also came out to demonstrate against the sales of forests, as well as library users on the Isle of Wight through a mass borrow of books at Newport library to […]





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