Okay. I’m going to spare you all the ubiquitous yew-turn jokes and get right on with it. After a massive public campaign, the Government has wisely scrapped its plans to privatise and sell off England’s public forests. There were three strands to this and they have backed down on all of them. The consultation on selling the entire 258,000 hectare estate has been scrapped. The plan to quickly sell 15% of the estate (the legal maximum without changes to the law) is on hold, and the clauses in the Public Bodies Bill that would allow the sale of the whole thing have been removed.
It’s a rout.
It’s great news and I congratulate them on seeing sense.
Does this mean that England’s forests are now safe and happy? Not quite. The immediate danger has passed but there are a few things to keep our eyes on. First, there is going to be a Commission set up to look into the whole forestry question. This will include the forestry industry and some big NGOs. Yet despite repeated questioning the Minister responsible refused to confirm that it would be held in public and that grass-roots campaigners would be included.
New style of campaigning
Why does this matter so much? Well, the big NGOs were pretty slow and ambiguous on this whole thing, and many have potential conflicts of interest as large landowners. Also, this was not a victory for established NGOs, but a victory for the new style of campaigning – fluid, fast and decentralised. A campaign made up of local groups, loose affinities and co-ordinated through on-line media. EIA made its views clear and we did a little behind the scenes, but this was run largely by ad-hoc groups. The brilliant 38 Degrees helped start the ball rolling but no one outfit can claim the result. It is a new and exciting world for the campaigner.
So we are going to have an enquiry. We will need to watch closely to make sure it doesn’t come up with something just as bad as the abandoned plans.
But we also need to be positive. We have an impoverished environment in this part of the world, beautiful though it is. We need to improve it. England and the rest of the UK, needs wilder, larger and more biodiverse forests. We need some that are worked for timber and some that are simply left alone for nature to decide what happens. This is a golden opportunity to start having those debates and working out how we can build a better future, for people and wildlife.
EIA already attends many of the meetings and grouping where these things are discussed and we will do what we can to influence the outcome!
Beavers in Scotland
On the subject of British wildness, I thought you might be interested to see this Facebook Groups about wild beavers living free in Scotland. They are escapees and are being rounded up, although they do appear to be a native species. EIA does not have an ‘official’ position on this, but you can check it out and make up your own minds!