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Selling off England’s forests could be an environmental disaster

EIA urges public retention and ‘green’ reform of forest management

GOVERNMENT plans to sell off large tracts of England’s forests could spell disaster for the country’s ecological heritage, while throwing away the chance to steer current management practices in a more environmentally positive direction.

For more than a decade, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has campaigned to protect the world’s forests from illegal logging and the associated illegal trade in producer countries, working undercover in often dangerous circumstances to expose environmental crime and abuse.

On the day the UN International Year of Forests was launched (02.02.11), the charity announced it will be utilising its campaigning expertise on the home front in support of local communities throughout England to oppose the sale.

“These forests are ours, a living, breathing part of our collective heritage, owned by the nation and managed on our behalf by the Forestry Commission,” said campaigner Alasdair Cameron.

“If this short-sighted plan goes ahead, they could be sold or leased to commercial businesses, charities and individuals – and effectively lost to future generations.

”England needs more environmentally friendly, more bio-diverse and more natural forests – not more intensive plantations, monocultures and holiday parks.”

Within the Public Bodies Bill now progressing through Parliament, the Government is seeking powers to sell a substantial proportion of England’s Public Forest Estate (PFE), which covers 258,000 hectares.

The first phase would dispose of 38,000 hectares, about 15 per cent of the total and the maximum currently allowed. The next step would be to amend the law to allow sale of the total estate.

EIA believes selling so much national forest land represents a tremendous, and irreversible, lost opportunity, both to protect England’s few remaining contiguous areas of forest and to improve nationally owned commercial forests by refocusing management more towards biodiversity and the environment.

The Forestry Commission has already begun restoring Planted Ancient Wood Sites and turning commercial pine plantations into a more environmentally friendly mix of pine and broadleaf species, but privatisation would likely stop such progressive reform its tracks.

“The Forestry Commission is not without its shortcomings but it does seem to be heading in broadly the right direction. At the same time, we understand the value of public ownership of significant forest resources and the potential this provides for continuing and accelerating improvements to the natural environment,” said Cameron.

“Even if the forest land is handed to charities to manage, the Government is saying they may need to become self-financing. Surely the last thing our forests need is more commercial pressure and the accompanying gift shops and entrance fees?”

EIA finds the reasoning behind the proposed sale to be flawed and lacking transparency, and fears that, with a lack of credible safeguards, the forest sell-off would be detrimental to biodiversity and the abundance of wildlife, restricting access to forests and denying the opportunity for large scale improvement.

Cameron added: “We oppose the sale of the forest estate to commercial buyers, although we recognise the need for more environmentally beneficial management and the possibility of a role for ‘safe’ organisations such as wildlife trusts and community groups in the management of lands under PFE ownership.”

Interviews are available on request: please contact Alasdair Cameron, at
[email protected]
or telephone 0207 354 7960.

EDITORS’ NOTES

1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK-based Non Governmental Organisation and charitable trust (registered charity number 1040615) that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate and ozone-altering chemicals.

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