Defra’s consultation on ‘The future of the public forest estate’ has caused a furore among the glitterati, as Defra seeks the sale of some 40,000 ha of the Forestry Commission England’s 258,000 ha estate.
The review of the Forestry Commission’s role, and that of the public forest estate was begun by the previous government in a consultation titled, ‘The long-term role of the Public Forest Estate’. The result of this consultation can be read HERE. The Detailed Findings of the consultation make interesting, if lengthy, reading.
I wonder if the celebrity objectors contributed to the consultation. I did.
John Redwood’s blog post Save our trees offers the view of the illusory difference between public sector trees and private sector trees. John argues well for a balanced view of the need to manage change.
It’s perhaps worth considering why we have a Forestry Commission. It was created by the government during WW1 to ensure the supply of wood for pit props for the coal mining industry. The buying of land and makin mono-culture pine plantations continued for the same reason through WW2. In recent times the Forestry Commission has evolved, but a strategic re-think about what it does, and what it’s for, is long overdue, which the previous government recognised.
The Forestry Commission is in essence a nationalised timber producer and forestry owner, who has segued into leisure provision for the general public.
The idea that woodland cannot be sold once it becomes part of the Public Forest Estate is perverse. Of course we must protect our ancient and heritage woodland, and even add to it, which the Defra consultation promises to continue to do. In the Forestry Commission England 2009-10 Annual Report it notes sales of its land,
“The woodland sale market has been very strong in recent years, to some extent riding on the back of agricultural land prices. This is particularly so in the South of England where there is very strong demand for “hobby woodlands” and environmental ownership. Woodland sale values across the country have remained steady a fluctuating timber market, and remained a solid choice of investment in the turbulent financial market. Price gains have comfortably exceeded inflation.”
I think, just like John Redwood, that there’s merit in re-thinking both the role of the Forestry Commission and its ownership of some of its land. Personally, I’ve always found it odd that we manage our forests and woodland on the principle of benign neglect, the opposite of that of our continental neighbours. In fact, I think I’ll find out more how the Germans, for example, manage their woodland.