Thursday, January 27, 2011

England's forests for sale

The much broadcast government consultation on the proposed sale of large parts of the estate owned by the public via the Forestry Commission was launched today:

Apart from saying, in the style of Sellar & Yeatman "This is a bad thing" (which I believe profoundly that it is), I thought I might use this space to set out some considerations that I have not seen covered in the media, but are important.

This is just a start. I will update this entry as time goes by.

30 January 2010

There is a very well considered commentary on the proposed forest sell-off from the Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Tony Whitbread, here:

27 January 2010

Access. The Government says that access will be conserved. Does this mean that new owners will be under an obligation to maintain car parks and footpaths and, in particular, any open glades or heathy areas that are so important for biodiversity? Will rides have to be maintained at an appropriate width for optimum ecological benefit? Will there be 'close seasons' when shooting takes place, or the birds to be shot are breeding? Will 'access' mean the freedom to go anywhere in the wood or forest, or will it be confined to set paths and routes?

Identification. How will we know if a wood or forest has public access or not? Currently Forestry Commission Woods are clearly marked on the popular Ordnance Survey Explorer and Pathfinder maps. If these woods are sold and the Forestry Commission marking removed, how will people know which woods are accessible? Perhaps the Government could consider continuing to mark them on maps some how or other. "Former public wood sold to a private owner by the Coalition Government in 2011."

If all the Ordnance Survey and other Government maps have to be changed, I wonder if the cost has been taken into account.

Many Forestry Commission properties have a sign at the entrance(s) so that people know there is access. Will the new owners have to erect signs saying that the wood/forest is one of the free access ones?

Is there the quite interesting danger that, in the absence of any positive information, people will assume that most or all woods have access? If challenged when walking, could the appropriate response be "Oh, I thought this was one of the public woods you had bought from the Government."

Is this a good moment to press for the 'Right to Roam' to be extended to woods and forests?

Shooting. I mentioned shooting above and, unless shooting is absolutely forbidden in any sold off woods/forests, it seems likely to escalate. Apart from the dislike of this pursuit by so many who use the countryside, it is likely to represent both a danger and a reason to deny access to woods. Many who have been in France know the tyranny in the French countryside of 'La Chasse' and its powerful lobby.

There is also the question of noise. The countryside where I live has been relatively peaceful for the last several years, but this could change with the dismal sound of organised shot gun fire reverberating around during the shooting season. This unpleasant effect extends, of course, far beyond the woods and forests where it is taking place.

Management. There has been much talk of management. It may be possible for an experienced woodland/forest manager to be employed on the larger properties. Most of the smaller ones are too small to justify such an expense. Organisations like county wildlife trusts, the RSPB or the Woodland Trust have managers that cover a number, often a large number, of woodland properties spread over a wide area. The input of experienced people from the Forestry Commission who cover large areas will, presumably, no longer be available and the management of small woods will suffer as the new owners are unlikely to have the time or money to invest in the long learning curve and multiple skills needed to know how best to deal with a wood.

Countryside stewardship. If the scheme continues, many of the sold off woods could be eligible for Entry Level or Higher Level Stewardship. Among other things this means they will receive payment from the Government provided they stick to the agreed management plan. I wonder if the cost of this has been taken into account in considering the 'profit' from woodland/forest sales.

Deer control. In many places deer, and also wild boar, are increasing. Their control via fencing and culling are complicated operations requiring cooperation over large areas if they are to be effective. Many of the animals are using smaller woods and increasingly coming into gardens as different, and often only partially successful, strategies are used to control them. If they are not controlled (and some new woodland owners might not want to) some woods may, in the long run, turn into wood pasture and, ultimately overgrazed grassland with starving animals and not much else.