The government’s about-turn on forestry sales last week was wonderful, but we mustn’t be complacent.
On Thursday 17 February, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman, told the House of Commons ‘I am sorry, we got this one wrong’,and she announced that she was ending the consultation on the future of public forest estate (launched only three weeks earlier, is this unprecedented?), withdrawing the forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill, and establishing an independent panel to consider forestry policy, to include experts on access and biodiversity, which will report in the autumn.
In fact the Open Spaces Society (and others) had been calling for some months for the withdrawal of the forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill and a proper debate about the future of our woods and forests–it’s good the government heard them.
But we are not out of the woods yet. The Forestry Commission is still threatened with massive cuts which could affect its ability to deliver the (mostly) high-quality access it provides at present. It is vital to retain and improve this access and also to campaign for more and better access to private woods and forests.
I don’t want to see any more fences going up around woodland, like this one near Fingest, in a popular part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty–allegedly to keep out deer and rabbits!