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Future of the public forest estate

On 27 January 2011 the Government launched the "Future of the public forest estate" public consultation, which was to run until 21 April 2011.

As a result of a large public campaign, the Government confirmed on 17 February 2011 that the public consultation was to be halted, and plans to sell-off 40,000 acres of state-owned forest in England was also to be halted.

Many thanks to all our members who responded to the call for views on the future of forestry policy in England to the Independent Panel on Forestry that was set up by the Government after public dismay at its original proposals to dispose of many Forestry Commission woodlands and forests.

The consultation closed at the end of July 2011 with over 40,000 submissions received by the Panel, reflecting the strength of public concern over the issues involved. The Panel published its Progress Report on 8 December 2011, and we will remain very vigilant over any proposals which place our own Community Woodland and its future at risk. Further details of the Panel's deliberations can be found here

More information can be found at Save our Forests,   Save our Woods  and Woodland Trust


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                                INDEPENDENT PANEL ON FORESTRY 

Message from Dr David Mayston, Chairman, Friends of Hagg Wood - 5 July 2012

The final report of the Independent Panel on Forestry was published on 4 July 2012 and is available for you to read here

There are many positive conclusions in the report, though the Government has said that it will study the report and not announce any final decisions on its recommendations until January 2013. Particularly relevant to the future of Hagg Wood are the following conclusions, which imply continuing public ownership, though under a broader remit than Forest Enterprise’s current financial goals:

“We believe there is a continuing role for the public forest estate in England, and that the public forest estate should be managed by a new public forest management organisation evolved from Forest Enterprise England, which currently sits within the Forestry Commission. The organisation will have a new statutory purpose to sustain and build the social, natural and economic value of the estate for the long term, for the benefit of the nation.

Within the statutory purpose it will have new freedoms to be entrepreneurial, raise capital and retain revenues to re-invest in the estate, and to take the long-term decisions needed to manage the estate sustainably. The new organisation will work independently of Government. It should be financially secure through each decade, with any Government funding clearly linked to the delivery of public benefits.

In our report, we propose that the public forest estate should remain in public ownership, and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation. A Charter should be created for the English public forest estate, to be renewed every ten years. The Charter should specify the public benefit mission and statutory duties, and should be delivered through a group of Guardians, or Trustees, who will be accountable to Parliament. The Guardians will oversee the new public forest management organisation evolved from Forest Enterprise England.

The net annual cost of running the public forest estate to the public purse is currently only around 20 million, equivalent to 90 pence per household each year. The annual returns on this investment have been estimated at 400 million in terms of benefits to people, nature and the economy. Yet this still does not reflect some of the benefits it provides, such as peoples’ ability to connect with nature or the preservation of historic customs and traditions. We fully believe that if these benefits were accounted for on a natural capital balance sheet then there would be no question over continued investment by Government. In the meantime sufficient funding must be made available to avoid the sale of woods and forests simply to enable the annual balancing of the books, which has occurred in recent years. This reduces the value of the public asset, and is unsustainable.”

We will need to study the report’s detailed recommendations and participate in the consultation process which hopefully the government engages in before it announces any final decisions next January, but many of the positive messages in the Final Report of the Independent Panel are ones which I think we can embrace and welcome.