Yew turn – a year on

Twelve months after a spectacular halt to the public consultation around the future of the public forests in England.

It was late October 2010 when the first emails arrived from supporters, worried about a newspaper article which had revealed plans for a mass sale of the public forest estate.  Our response initially was wary; at that point a large scale disposal of the forests appeared to be one option of several options on Defra’s table.  We wanted as clear a picture as possible before launching a public campaign; things were changing almost daily and, as we said in our December campaigning statement, we continued to ask questions and lobby in Parliament wanting to know exactly what was happening so any actions our supporters took would be truly effective.  In the meantime we highlighted other opposition groups which were running petitions, like 38 Degrees and Save our Woods, although our main concern about these was that a flat ‘no sales’ just wasn’t a realistic outcome. Government did seem determined to change the shape of public ownership of the forest estate.

In January 2011, Defra opened a public consultation in which at least one thing looked clear: the questions were about how, not should the forests be sold. Our petition launched the same day as Defra’s consultation, with a more detailed call around closing the serious loopholes in woodland protection; guarantees that public benefits like access would be retained and restoration commitments progressed, before any sales were even considered. It gathered over 125,000 signatures, rising to over 165,000 in what seemed like a flash, and elsewhere other petition signatures also kept on rising – over 500,000 people signed the 38 Degrees petition! We were elated by the passion demonstrated for our magical, rich, necessary forests. And yes, shaken at the time by the immediacy of social media, and the way some challenged and misunderstood the stance the Trust was taking (coinciding with some serious IT problems which didn’t help either!). Daily, the public feeling that this land wasn’t the Government’s to sell, but ours, the peoples’, grew and grew. It was hard for our specific calls to be properly heard – the trees’ voice which we were trying to raise became a whisper next to the war cry that sounded out for forests. 

Thank goodness it was. The huge outcry from all quarters could not be ignored. Within days the public consultation was abandoned, an apology made in Parliament (and a hasty stop put on our full membership mailout which was just heading out the door!).  A few weeks later an independent review of forestry in England including the public forest estate was started by an Independent Panel on Forestry. The threat was over (for now…?)

I’ve written some of this before in emails or articles, and while I’m reflecting on those intense 21 days they still resonate. Our campaign isn’t over and our lobbying work around protection, restoration and woodland creation continues while we help communities and landowners plant more trees around the UK.  Groups have more space to look into those wider concerns about the issues around protection, public benefit and restoration. The media will be waiting for the Panel’s report – due in June – before looking into the forest debate again, so I’d expect to read more in the papers then. But in the meantime, what has the Government actually done for the environment – and specifically trees and woods – since its spectacular u-turn last February? So far the answer is, many promises – these need to be turned into practice. Will they? And when?

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, England, Government Affairs, Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Yew turn – a year on

  1. Pingback: Good news from Awards ceremony | Woodland Matters

  2. Pip Howard says:

    I too was initially wary of the media take on the sell off, but the content of the consultation paper and political manoeuvrings to enable the sell off were enough for me to jump head first into the campaign. I admired the Save Our Woods campaign technique, because contrary to what you state, they were far from a single issue of ‘NO SALES’. They were seeking the axioms at play – particularly in landscape terms and rural economy and most importantly for me; ensuring that the major threats to British trees and woodlands; pests, diseases, climate change, non natives etc., which would see a lessening of interest if there were to be and as there have been major cuts to the FC. SOW also took and promoted the modern academic concept of Landscape, and bearing in mind the ratification by the UK to the European Landscape Convention – a concept all should be adhering to.

    Forestry is a science, it is ever evolving and there is no single solution. With the diversity of landscape in the UK there is no real way of ensuring a one size fits all policy and thus real progression, particularly with the now essential need for community engagement and public participation, can only be achieved by discussion across all boundaries. I fear however that many vital voices have become too insulated in their methodology and their ‘branding’ to fully join this discussion. But my greatest concern is that one vitally important voice in forestry, the FC, containing many of the UKs’ foremost experts on the myriad of issues with regards forest science were brought to their knees, gagged and not even represented on the forestry panel (the lack of public representation was also an unforgiveable omission). One year on from the cancelled consultation this ongoing situation is totally unacceptable and the one thing we should all be really campaigning for is across the board, transparent discussion.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hello Pip and thanks for your comment, your point about representation on the Independent Panel on Forestry is certainly one that’s been made by others – one for the Panel to defend! Did you see the 6-point challenge the Trust made to the Government and the Panel – http://ow.ly/9jxEk – when it was set up? And when it comes to our own landscape scale approach you might also like to read our latest publications on Sustainable Woodland Management: http://ow.ly/9jyIn and Planting the Future: http://ow.ly/9jyNI

  3. Ian Ferguson says:

    Serious IT issues? Using google adwords to divert the browser from Forestry Commission searches and using the FC logo with the trees felled!! You state you were in liaison with government, please publish minutes of this. The cuts to the FC are ongoing and despite what you may say now and whether you believed in what you were doing at the time I and many others got the very clear impression that you were anti FC. Following the halt of the frankly flawed consultation and your CE’s invited presence onto the PR gimmick that is the independent forestry panel, I for one would like a definitive statement as to exactly what you as an organisation want? I ask this because last year I discovered also that you were selling one of your woodlands in the Blackdown hills near where I live.
    If the WT do not wish to appear to be what they seem to be; a manipulator for all tree and forestry issues to ascertain a position as THE money launderer for the forestry and tree sector as a whole, then we need better explanation than the above.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hi Ian and thanks for your comment (although that’s quite a closing sentence!). A couple of clarifications which I hope will help: this short post is a reflection from my perspective as part of the campaigning team about that period and the 12 months since; the IT issues I refer to were the ones that stopped us getting news and information onto our website quickly, which was very frustrating at the time for us as well as our supporters. And as we have said in the past, the logo we designed for the campaign was actually intended as a comment on the situation – could this be the fate of England’s public woods and trees?! – and the Google Ad words we bid for (standard practice in a campaign of this magnitude) to help highlight our petition online included relevant words like Forestry and Save Woods, for example, but these were not at all chosen in order to or intended to divert anyone’s browser from other searches. Details from the meetings we and other groups had with Government are available here: http://ow.ly/9jw7d. I hope this helps. Also, you mention a wood for sale in the Blackdown Hills – I can only think that the site you mean is Three Corners Common, Churchinford, Somerset? This is a Woods On Your Doorstep site which has not been sold but leased on a 25 year lease to a private individual with public access maintained, the site is fully available to the public. There’s more details about this here: http://ow.ly/9jvL7. Finally, when it comes to what the Trust as an organisation wants, have you seen our response to the Panel’s ‘Call for Views’? You can read that plus our reaction to its interim report here: http://ow.ly/9jzEb, and there are a couple of useful links about our landscape scale principles that I’ve shared with Pip in his comment above which might also be of interest.

Sorry, comments are closed as we have moved to a new site: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/

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