Today (February 11th) an official Ministerial Statement was released by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Caroline Spelman) about the plans to sell the public forest estate in England. The full text of ‘Forestry Commission England’s 2011-12 asset sales programme’ reads:
‘As in previous years, the selection criteria for land in the Forestry Commission England’s forthcoming assets sales programme were published on 27th January. In light of the Government commitment to increase protection for access and public benefit in our woodlands, the criteria for these sales will be reviewed so that protections are significantly strengthened following the inadequate measures that were applied to sales under the previous administration. Pending this review, no individual woodland site will be put on the market.’
A statement from Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is available here. The government is currently allowed to sell-off 15% of England’s woodland. It had marked certain sites for disposal in 2011/12, on top of those that were under the disposal programme for 2010/11. That’s what this announcement refers to. The idea of selling the whole estate is still open for debate, as is the legislation that could enable Government to do this if it chooses to. The proposals are set out in its most recent consultation document and Government is asking for your views about these plans.
The Trust sees this announcement as a step in the right direction with regards to reviewing protection, and welcomes clarification that there will be no further sales until a review is complete. We will be strongly pressing the case for ancient woodland and PAWS safeguards as part of this review. This could be a nod to the clear strength of feeling that the plans around the sale of public forests have generated around the country – whatever comes of this, we need to remember that the plans for a disposal of the rest of the estate are still under consultation. Please sign our petition and make your voice heard.