Defra Forestry Plans Revealed
The UK governement has unveiled its long-awaited plans for the Forestry Commission, proposing to lease woodland to private sector operators and hand over control of England´s heritage forests to charitable trusts.
The coalition is already committed to taking 15 percent of the public forest estate out of state control, generating up to £100 million of receipts. They are now trying to decide on the future of the remaining 85 percent still owned by the Forestry Commission.
A consultation document released by Defra this week confirmed that the government will follow the Scottish model and lease the 2,500 square kilometres, which is about 18 percent of English woodland, to private forestry companies.
It is thought that 150-year leases could raise between £140 million to £250 million, but sales are conditional on protecting public access and biodiversity. Smaller sections of woodland will also be offered to community groups to manage.
Many of England’s most well known forests, such as the New Forest and the Forest of Dean, will be transferred to the management of new or existing charities.
The environmental secretary Caroline Spelman said, “State control of forests dates back to the First World War, when needs were very different. There’s now no reason for the government to be in the business of timber production and forest management,”
Earlier proposals to sell off the Forestry Commission prompted a number of campaign groups to spring up. Spelman attempted to calm fears that the plans would see forests to become commercialised.
“The government is absolutely committed to the ongoing provision and protection of the public benefits provided by the public forest estate, and the consultation shows how we intend to achieve this,” she said. “We will bring forward amendments to the Public Bodies Bill to create a strengthened framework to safeguard the natural and social capital our forests provide now and for future generations.”
The reforms would also benefit commercial users such as the biomass sector by encouraging better managed forests.
“It’s time for the government to step back and allow those who are most involved with England’s woodlands to play a much greater role in their future,” she added.
The National Trust said that so long as access and conservation were safeguarded, the proposals could offer “exciting new opportunities” for communities, charities and business.
The consultation will run until 21 April 2011. Forests in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not affected.