Government back-tracking on England’s forests is golden opportunity for better environment

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.

Oak tree Snowdonia - Credit Jason Cheng

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.

UK flora and fauna. Credit Jason Cheng

UK flora and fauna. Credit Jason Cheng

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!

EIA Campaigner

  • David Grant

    About the Tay beavers: they have been living free since 2001. The original ‘wild’ ones were of course escapes (and therefore illegal) as the North Sea is just a bit far to swim. However they have been breeding successfully and there are now ‘quite a lot’ about (The number is not known but could be as many as 100.). Scottish Natural Heritage, who are charged with looking after our wildlife and who have an officially-sanctioned re-introduction trial going on in Argyll, at a cost of some £2 million, are trying to trap the Tay beavers. They maintain that they are ‘illegal’ but are facing growing opposition to their fundamentally untenable case. The question of what protection the Tay beavers have is open to debate. Certainly the original escapees have none under the law. However, wild-bred kits almost certainly do, from the European Habitat Directive – a position supported by Scottish Executive papers from 2005.
    Ironically, any species that makes its own way here to Britain is protected, e.g. collared doves, spoonbills, egrets and literally millions of red-legged partridges, an alien species, are released annually by shooters. England seems happy to accomodate wild boar that have escaped and even some beavers.
    Only in Scotland does bureaucracy hold sway over science and common sense. Anyone interested in supporting the Tay beavers should sign up to the group linked to above.

  • Sue

    Your comment ‘We need some that are worked for timber and some that are simply left alone for nature to decide …’ needs some very careful consideration.
    The vast majority of England’s woodlands are not managed – those mainly in private hands but also many held by NGOs, local councils etc. The Woodland Trust are also guilty of this in particular – they are poor stewards of our woods I’m sorry to say.
    What we need in this country is more woodland management first and foremost and the FC lead the way in this by the proverbial country mile – and do it far cheaper than those who pretend to.

    Spelman and Paice both know that so there must be an undeclared motive for their idea.

    Like you I fear that the independent panel will be rigged – we’re naive if we even think membership of that panel wasn’t sounded out days ago. The government announcement does nothing more than allow the dust to settle so that they can start rolling the pitch before starting the same game again. Only next time they will be making sure that all the bowlers are either on their side or have had their arms cut off.