1. An attempt to change the law governing ownership of the public forests is already underway. Ministers are trying to seize the authority to sell all our forests through three short clauses inserted into the Public Bodies Bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords.
Why are they seeking authority to dispose of the forests prior to any consultation, without presenting any concrete proposals, and in a Bill primarily addressing a completely different question?
Jim Paice MP, Minister for Agriculture and Food, has been frank about the reason: ‘opportunities for legislation do not come very often’.
2. This proposal has already been rejected in Wales and Scotland. In Scotland a previous campaign against radical privatisation of public forests was led by Chief Secretary of the Treasury Danny Alexander, now a member of the Cabinet.
3. Although the government requires a change in the law to sell the entirety of the English public forests, it is already planning a sale of 15% of the estate, for which it believes no permission is required. This amounts to 40,000 hectares of land – an area larger than the Isle of Wight.
4. Our public forests are managed to balance economic, social and environmental objectives and to provide timber, recreation, access and conservation for the benefit of all and in perpetuity. Although some protections will be maintained through legislation like the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW), there will be no guarantee of continued provision for horse-riders, cyclists or dog-walkers, and the high standard of access and accessibility currently maintained will not be required.The former Chair of the Forestry Commission has outlined some of the risks involved in a widespread sale here, while Jonathan Leake in the Sunday Times (paywall) has described the chilling effects of previous forest sales on public access and enjoyment.
5. At the time of writing, over 158,000 people have signed the online petition rejecting the current proposals.
Serious concerns have also been registered by, among many others, the Woodland Trust, the Confederation of Forest Industries, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the British Horse Society, the Ramblers and the Kennel Club.
Local campaigning groups are building support in areas as diverse as the Forest of Dean, Haldon Forest near Exeter, Thetford Forest in East Anglia, Cannock Chase, the Lake District and Sherwood Forest, and new groups are forming rapidly. Find out how to get involved by clicking “What can I do?” at the top.