Government to sell off Forestry Commission sites

3 Comments » |  Posted by Neil |  Category:Forestry Commission, Media, News

Forestry land is under threat

You may have already heard, but the new government is intending to sell off land currently owned by the Forestry Commission to private enterprises and a period of consultation has now been entered. (Edit: 28/1/11)

The Guardian newspaper has a very good report on the current initiative here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/24/forests-government-heritage-private-developers

This (the selling of Forestry Commission land) has now been confirmed according to the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/29/uk-government-forest-sell-off (Edit: 02/12/10)

While Aston Hill may not directly be at risk, a lot of the finest trails and trail centres that you ride in this country are on Forestry Commission land. It’s also worth bearing in mind that while centres like Llandegla are on private land and very successful, it’s highly probable that most potential private landowners will not be so forward-sighted and sympathetic towards current trail users. (It should also be noted that Llandegla was set-up with help from the Forestry Commission and is supported by an annual management grant from Forestry Commission Wales.)

In short, if this happens we may be losing a lot of trails that we currently take for granted in the UK (which may also include military land, according to The Guardian, as the MOD are now also threatening to stop cyclists using its land as well, possibly following an increase in illegal trail-building, and more specifically ‘North Shore’ style boardwalks.) (Edit: 26/01/11)

So what can I do?

You can sign this petition, but more importantly contact your local MP. You can find their name and address on findyourmp.parliament.uk. Drop them a letter or email with at least three reasons for objecting; you can use the following as an example:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you because I am strongly against the proposed selling off of Forestry Commission land to the private sector.

I disagree with this for the following reasons:

  • The cost to the public of recreational activities is likely to increase if woodlands are sold to the private sector.
  • The land use is more likely to be changed from forest and woodland to other uses, if sold to the private sector.
  • The profit driven management style of the private sector will reduce the care given to social and environmental land use issues.
  • Restrictions on land use types decreases the value of land when it is sold. Therefore, we fear that sufficient restrictions will not be placed on land that is sold, to ensure it remains managed on behalf of the people and the environment.
  • Public access and pathways are likely to suffer, due to them being of lower priority within private sector when compared to the public sector.
  • The work of the Forestry Commission (FC) in monitoring and regulating the commercial forestry of the private sector will probably increase dramatically. Given the FC budget cuts, it is unlikely they will have the staff to carry this out effectively and the natural environment will suffer as a consequence.
  • Once forests and woodlands are sold, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the public sector to regain them.

To conclude, I urge you to stand against this disturbing proposal and fight to preserve our historic forests and woodlands.

Yours faithfully,

A. Voter

This is a national matter and one that may, or may not, affect Aston Hill directly. Please read up on it so you can make an informed decision on how you wish to treat the situation. However, if you ride bikes on Forestry Commission land then it’s very likely that it’s in your interests to make sure that Forestry Commission property remains publicly owned.

These articles have recently come to light and add interest to the debate: Rigg Wood in the Lake District has recently been sold off, and although access is still legal, the new owner has made no effort to encourage it: read the article at saveourforests.co.uk/2019/01/17/access-will-be-protected-case-study-of-rigg-wood/.

Something else to consider has been put forward by @fishd: he says “So, currently the entire #FC estate is valued around £700m or, approx. 10% of what Vodafone should have paid in tax?” and supports this with “Read section 4.1 of http://j.mp/i913UE and then http://j.mp/ctKXw2“. It would seem he’s right when he says “Suppose to be accurate… it’s 8.5% of what Vodafone DIDN’T pay… (£6 billion unpaid tax) and 10% of their total bill…”

Food for thought. (Edit: 27/01/11)

 | Tags: government, politics, privatisation, sell off

3 Responses to “Government to sell off Forestry Commission sites”

  1. M Williams says:

    There is about to be a government consultation exercise about the future of the Forestry Commission in England.
    The Forestry Commission manages many of your local woodlands. These woodlands are managed to provide wood for fuel, house building and making furniture. They also provide access for you and your family enabling you to walk your dog, ride your bike, exercise your horse or go orienteering. Land managers and ecologists agree that the provision of access for local people and the conservation of habitats within woodlands is wholly dependent on active and regular management of the woodland. As a result of management, woodlands are dynamic places and much of the biodiversity value of your woods comes from hundreds of years of continuous management. It is thanks to the truly unique set of skills and the absolute dedication of Forestry Commission foresters that they are able to manage your woodlands to produce a sustainable flow of wood for use in local businesses. At the same time they provide attractive and safe woodlands for you to access and enormous biodiversity. This is all achieved at a modest cost.
    The harvesting of the timber, the mowing and repairing of tracks and the general disturbance within a forest creates niches and opportunities for a very wide range of species that ebb and flow, exploiting the conditions that most suit them. If management activity were to stop, the diversity of habitats will decrease rapidly and the species associated with these habitats suffer. Forest tracks, which provide easy access to the public, are also great places for wildlife. Without continued management they will very quickly become damp and over grown, rendering the whole forest utterly impenetrable to both people and wildlife.
    It is because of the number of woods that the Forestry Commission manages and the size of the estate that the Forestry Commission is able to realise all of these different benefits. It really is a case of the total being greater than the sum of the individual parts.

    The imminent government consultation will decide how many Forestry Commission woodlands will be sold off to the highest bidder and how the remnants of the estate will be managed in the future. The Forestry Commission was set up in 1919 after the end of WW1 with the sole purpose of producing a reserve of timber for the next war effort and has constantly evolved to deliver the objectives of the government of the day. The Forestry Commission has been extraordinarily successful in this and is now recognised as a world leader in woodland management. The Forestry Commission’s woods are independently certified against the internationally recognised Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) standard. A new owner would not be required to certify their woodlands. All of this costs money, a net cost of about £9m a year to manage 635,000 ha, which sounds like a lot of money but in terms of government finances it is in fact small change and amounts to less than 30p a year for every taxpayer. 70% of the costs of managing your public forests in England are covered by commercial revenue.
    In contrast Hampstead Heath in London which is only 315 ha cost the tax payer over £6m.

    In addition the Forestry Commission acts as a catalyst in the rural economy, providing a well managed and attractive woodland backdrop for a whole range of businesses that create wealth and jobs in our rural communities. This is done through partnerships and by enabling entrepreneurs to set up new private businesses. In fulfilling this role, the Forestry Commission has now matched its timber income with income from other enterprises demonstrating that the Forestry Commission responds to new government agendas while working with local communities to provide new business opportunities in the countryside.

    However, despite the massive contribution that the Forestry Commission makes to local communities and global conservation (these are called public benefits), the coalition wants to break up the Forestry Commission and move the remnants into the private sector.

    There has been much said by ministers about safeguarding these public benefits when woodlands are sold. In some cases you will continue to have a right of access on foot. But who is going to enforce this? The public are welcomed into Forestry Commission woodland but there are many ways a new owner can discourage access e.g. by closing car parks and not keeping paths open.
    As a “28g”public body the Forestry Commission has a legal obligation to consider conservation but a private owner does not have the same obligation.
    Some people think that by placing conditions of sale on Forestry Commission woodlands, these public benefits can be safeguarded after sale. The problem with this is that the more conditions that are placed on a woodland before sale, the less valuable it becomes. Many conditions will only apply to the first new owner, but not to subsequent purchasers when the woodland is sold on. As the Forestry Commission will certainly be set a financial target for woodland sales it will simply have to sell more. Is this what you want?
    The reason for selling off these precious national assets cannot be about raising money to pay off the deficit in England. If it is, then why has DEFRA announced that it is giving £100 million to forestry abroad?
    The cost to the government of giving grant aid to new landowners for the management of those woodlands that have been sold will be greater than the cost of Forestry Commission management. In addition there will be no guarantee that the new owners will deliver in the way that the Forestry Commission does. The Forestry Commission is not able to claim grant aid. Therefore, the sale of Forestry Commission woodlands is about dogma not money.
    You are the Big Society and the only way to stop this is to write to your MP, the forestry minister Jim Paice and the Head of DEFRA Caroline Spellman.

  2. Roderick Leslie says:

    Forestry Commission land is different. Its the one bit of the countryside we really all own and I’m sure most mountain bikers would recognise the welcome the FC gives to all sorts of recreation - and the way its works with local people as an exemplar of central Government in the ‘big society’. Don’t believe the assurances you’ll be given - CROW access covers foot only and there’s already evidence that cycling, dogs, horses, all will go whenland is sold.

    FC land is just 200,000 ha out of 13 million hectares in England - its not much for the urban amjority to really own in the countryside. Far from accepting Government’s poorly thought through ideas everyone who loves these forests needs to have their say - I think the most popular FC forests should become ‘inalienable to the nation’ like National Trust land - a completely different status with the law recognising that we all own this land, don’t just have rights over it, so that this sort of stupidity does not keep coming up time and time again and that we can all have pride in something which is just as important as our great built national monuments.

  3. Stephen Ball says:

    We need forests for ourselfs and our children and wildlife,i know the government may not cut them down, but come on BRITAIN.
    We need this Green and Pleaseant LAND

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