You may or may not have seen in the news recently concerning the debate over the sale of the nation’s forests. At a glance it all seems very bizarre: the government selling England’s forests to the highest bidder. Who can buy them? And what can they do with them? Many issues have been raised and the opposition to the idea is great. It seems that once again the coalition government is choosing a very unpopular path.
It is not just a small amount of woodland being sold, not even a sustainable amount. In fact it is all of the state owned English trees, covering a 650,000 acre Forestry Commission estate. This includes state owned ancient woodlands, sites of special scientific interest, royal forests, heathland, campsites, farms and sporting estates. You may be led to think that by privatising the forests, it will free up some of the government’s spending, but this is not the case. Many may lose their jobs when a private company takes over the forest and any company which is continuing forestry is still eligible for public funding. This funding is likely to outweigh the money gained from the sale. Anyone who buys the land can also bid to receive further grants including environmental stewardships and rural development subsidies, something which the government has no intention to alter.
At face value the privatisation of forests may make little economic sense, but the new land owners can only receive these grants if they maintain the trees and plant new ones in the place of any trees they remove. The government is hoping that the land will be exploited by developers for financial gain. It is feared by many that foreign companies may buy the land and remove the trees to make renewable energy. The forest of Dean is known to contain coal and other resources and other forest land could be used to develop wind farms, holiday retreats and new roads.
Opposition to the idea has been significant, despite the Department for Food and Rural Affairs trying to reassure the public by stating: “Tree felling is controlled through the licensing system managed by the Forestry Commission, public rights of way and access will be unaffected, statutory protection for wildlife will remain in force and there will be grant incentives for new planting that can be applied for.” One of the most notable protests took place in the Forest of Dean where thousands gathered to protest about the sale of public land. Many more have signed the online petition to save our forests at www.38degrees.org.uk.
As the coalition produce yet another unpopular tactic, it will once again test their unity. Perhaps their most bizarre idea so far the privatisation of England’s forest seems to be another desperate attempt to free up public spending. Everyone has their own opinion on this debate and if you oppose the privatisation of forest then you should make your voice heard and sign the petition. Arguably the forests of England are something unique and beautiful which everyone should have a right to appreciate. It may be something we all take for granted, but I for one am sure that most of us will miss the trees once they’re gone.