Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Selling the UK's Forests

4 February, 2011 - 15:21 -- John Burton

I have been approached many times recently by people who are interested in the World Land Trust's take on the Government's proposal to sell off publicly owned forests. So after after large public opposition to the proposal and a forestry debate between MPs on Wednesday, here is how the WLT sees the situation:

The World Land Trust has over 21 years of experience in acquiring land and in particular forests, and managing it for the benefit of conservation

The proposed sale of half of publicly owned land, currently managed by the Forestry Commission, provides considerable cause for concern, particularly the potential for changing legislation regarding the protection and security of Britain’s ‘ancient forests’. Even if land privatisation were to take place with established management criteria, the monitoring of these land stewardship agreements would be difficult. The failure of monitoring of existing protected lands already demonstrates how difficult this is.

The only sensible solution, would be to consider each land parcel sold on a case-by-case basis, evaluating the economic, social and conservation value of each property, thereby ensuring the preservation of the ‘most important’ forest habitats and maximising the return from properties sold. However, this would be a costly and time-consuming operation, and undoubtedly open to flaws and corruption, a situation which would be equally unsatisfactory.

The proposed ownership of land by community groups and local organisations may be ideal but the current cost of land in the UK would largely prevent these potential landowners from matching bids from commercial enterprises.

The UK’s previous experience of privatising national services, patchiness in quality of the service and in overall communication can lead to a breakdown in function – which, in terms of ancient woodland and all habitats of conservation importance, would mean irreplaceable loss of a significant area of UK’s habitats, and in turn, wildlife – its biodiversity. It is therefore in WLT’s opinion that a central body needs to be responsible for UK’s publicly owned woodland, and that it is the UK government’s responsibility to maintain and preserve the country’s natural heritage. Selling off such a valuable heritage would be irresponsible.

Of even greater concern is that this may well be ‘a thin end of the wedge’, leading the government to sell off national nature reserves. The voluntary sector cannot always do a better job than governments, particularly for larger areas. Nature reserves and forests should belong to everyone, for the public good, and not be there for business to exploit for profit.

What are your thoughts on the Governments plan to sell off publicly owned forests? Leave your comments and ideas below:

Comments

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

I emailed my MP on the back of the furore, and to my surprise got a printed letter back. I was urged to respond to the Govt consultation process (see the defra.gov.uk site) and state my case.

The letter -as usual- makes it look as if all is actually sweetness and light, and reasonableness abounds from behind numerous conditions and caveats preventing any naughtiness. So it does make you wonder, why then do this? Why sell the nations’ forestry assets if “we” really really do want to protect and enhance everything green?

Me? I reckon it’s just another attempt to make us plebs pay twice for lots of things to bail out the stinking rich. In order to pay off the bill for shoring up the banks, the govt needs money, lots of it and soon, and specifically YOUR money. Not tax dodging billionaires’ money, or off-shore-based corporations’ money, no. You, you the actual tax paying public’s money.

So flog off the forests and then get charities to do the hard work. Kerchinggg! You pay twice! Once involuntarily, then voluntarily through your dutiful support for charities (like the Woodland Trust, the National Trust).

Mercifully, those charities don’t want to play ball with this one and are (rightfully) complaining that the woodlands will get further fragmented and partitioned through sales. And that private companies will want to maximise returns by chopping down stuff, only to cop juicy grants to replant in order to “store carbon”. Neat, huh?

I think we shouldn’t be making woodlands pay for the financial sectors’ stupidity. And charities should think long and hard before accepting candies from Lord Snooty and his pals.

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