The UK has a new government in power and they are on a cost-cutting rampage. One of their many proposed budget ideas is the sell-off of England's state-owned forests.
The news has been met with shock and despair. The likes of Dame Judi Dench, Annie Lennox, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and Dame Vivienne Westwood think the government is barking up the wrong tree and have protested. The Minister responsible promises that she "can see the wood for the trees."
Photo: makebiofuel.co.uk Cardinham Woods
There are many aspects of this sell-off that are causing dismay: loss of forest accessibility to the public, increased development on forest lands and the loss of ancient woodland sites.
The loss of ancient woodland sites is an emotional and conservation issue. After the Second World War timber was hard to find. Many forests were planted with pine, fir and spruce trees which grows quickly and make a very dense shade so that none of the woodland flowers and other wildlife found in deciduous forests can flourish. Now many of these forests have matured and are ready to be cut down.
The philosophy of tree planting has changed in the past 40 years. Now there is an emphasis on preserving and restoring ancient woodlands. The Forestry Commission, the body responsible for protecting forests, owns or manages 814,000 hectares of woodland, that's 18% of English woodlands. They have been replanting and restoring these forests throughout England with native trees such as oak, beech, ash and lime.
The fear is that new owners would not restore the ancient woodlands; it is too expensive and not in their interest since timber grows quickly and makes more money for them. There is nothing in the government's documents about retaining and restoring these woodlands.
Photo: english-lakes Grizedale Forest
The Government is holding a three month public consultation. It is committed to selling off forest land in a controlled manner, with long-term leases being offered to charities for heritage forests. Community groups will be offered some forest lands to manage. Forests used for growing commercial timber will be sold to private companies, a significant loss of revenue for the Forestry Commission. The role of the Forestry Commission will be decreased and tightened up.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, described it as an "unforgivable act of environmental vandalism". She said "If this means vast swathes of valuable forest being sold to private developers, it will be an unforgivable act of environmental vandalism."
This is just the beginning of a bitter fight over the future of England's most treasured natural asset.
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