Since my post of last week about the proposed sell off of our nationally owned forests I’ve been doing some reading to try and find out the background to the sell off. It is apparently in line with a policy document published by the government in May 2010 entitled ‘The Coalition: our programme for government‘ which sets out the stall of the current coalition (but fails to mention they plan to sell off one of our last remaining crown jewels in the form of our forests).
This is from the consultation document published by DEFRA, and in the parlance of current political imbecility:
What are the policy objectives and the intended effects? The Government is committed to shifting the balance of power from „Big Government‟ to „big society‟ and ensuring that it is intervening in forestry in England only where appropriate and necessary. Part of the policy objective is to increase profitability of commercial woodlands and reduce net costs for running local and heritage woodlands whilst at the same time increasing public benefits through greater involvement of local communities and civil society bodies. The government will seek to protect and enhance biodiversity to contribute to a network of wildlife corridors, maintain public access for recreation and leisure, ensure the continuing role of the woodlands in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and protect nationally important landscapes.
I think it significant that most of what I have read in government and Forestry Commision documents seems to stress the maximisation of profitability first and foremost before listing preservation of biodiversity and maintaining the forests for public recreation as secondary objectives. This may be my jaundiced interpretation but I can’t see how, once the forests are sold, that protecting biodiversity can be guaranteed in the long term when the primary motivation is stated to be income generation and cessation of public funding for maintenance of our forests.
As with the previous sell off of publicly owned utilities in the early 1990’s, which resulted in significant chunks of the privatised companies passing into foreign ownership, it is difficult to imagine how the same situation would not recur with our forests. A foreign logging company is unlikely to be overly concerned with maintaining biodiversity in British forests when shareholders in their own country are demanding bigger year on year dividends.
According to DEFRA’s consultation document the plan is to sell off 40,000 hectares (approximately 100,000 acres – an area equal to a third of Bedfordshire) during the period of the current spending review. In answer to a parliamentary question from Tim Farron, Lib Dem MP for Westmoreland and Lonsdale, Jim Paice, Con MP for SE Cambridgeshire and Minister for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, replied that total income generated by the sale of 40,000 hectares of forest would be £74.5 million. It seems to me that in the economic fiasco we currently find ourselves in that is a very small amount of money indeed. The value of what we stand to lose is orders of magnitude greater.
I think it is abject folly to go down this route and once the forest is gone it is gone forever, so I hope common sense will prevail at some level of government and this piece of legislation will not be passed. If you agree and you want to add your voice to those of us who don’t want the forests to disappear into private ownership you can sign the petition to oppose this by clicking here.