The end of the beginning – looking to the future for forests

I was delighted at the invitation to be a member of the Independent Forestry Panel, set up by the Government in 2011 following their U-turn over the sale of the public forest estate (PFE) in England.

Producing the report has been a long, hard but fascinating process involving many meetings, site visits all over the country and study of research reports for the Panel members, but today we have finally delivered our recommendations. The report indicates that the government and society are missing a huge opportunity if we don’t keep the spotlight on woods. The recommendations should be accepted by the Government and acted upon soon.

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited recommendations in the report are those around the sale of the PFE.  I believe the Panel recommendations have answered the calls by NGOs (including the Woodland Trust) and the public to protect the PFE in perpetuity, and take it out of the short-term cycle of political interference.

I was pleased with the panel report; the panel had some stimulating debate on many critical issues. Our work has shown us that society needs to view forests and forestry differently – they’re more complex than most realise: not just industry, not just nature conservation, they’re both and much more! There are enormous social, economic and environmental (air quality, soil stability, wind reduction, shade, water quality, carbon storage) benefits to be realised from trees and woods. As Chief Executive of the Woodland Trust, I can add that the Trust calls on the government to lead the charge if we are to realise these diverse opportunities. Here’s the Trust’s response to the report.

I have been amazed by the amount of “can’t do” attitude I’ve heard through the Panel in the past year: landowners aren’t motivated to plant trees; woodland owners don’t care about their woodland; landowners don’t like access; there isn’t the land available for woodland expansion. This is not the experience of the Woodland Trust – through our Jubilee Woods project we have found hundreds of landowners who want to create woods and ¾ of them are happy to create access and community engagement in their new woods. Communities are finding small pieces of land for a copse and farmers are finding margins to pepper trees across their farm.

However, alongside the robust proposals to protect the PFE, I’m particularly pleased with the recommended target to increase England’s woodland cover to 15% by 2060. There is huge consensus that we need a more wooded England and a revitalised woodland culture. We can only achieve this if we have significantly more woodland, whilst protecting and restoring the valuable woods we have left. And woodland is unfairly distributed – parts of England have fantastic woods, other parts have very little – society would benefit in all sorts of ways if more people had accessible woods near to where they live. This will require a step-change in England’s current rate of woodland creation, but this is another challenge the Woodland Trust is willing to help with.  We’ve already seen through the Jubilee Woods project how much we can do together. We believe in the art of the possible – working with landowners, communities, companies and local authorities we will create 400 new woods for the Jubilee, with the planting of 6 million trees across the UK.

The time for reflection is over – now’s the time for decisions and action.

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24 Responses to The end of the beginning – looking to the future for forests

  1. Adam F says:

    Thank you both very much. There seems to be some serious politics here, none of which I care for. You both want the same thing ultimately so why not try to work together and find some suitable resolve. We need everyone on the same team, like an army of campaigners lobbying for, planting and enjoying the trees.

    I know what I believe in and love and I’ll continue to do what I do and I hope you all get what you want and are fighting for.


  2. Adam F says:

    Great blog, I am so proud that we have people like Sue caring about our Woodlands. These are so much more than just trees and the general public must be made aware of how important they really are. I am a keen nature photographer, birdwatcher and walker and have spent so much time in woodland and frankly if I had the opportunity to live in the woods then I would.

    For those that haven’t seen the report published by the Independent Panel on Forestry then they should. Just 9% of the UK is covered in woodland unlike 44% of Europe and of that 40% is made of non native trees which is frankly shocking.

    My father-in-law was the head of parks in Kent and when the storms of 87 hit, he was responsible for replacing the trees that came down and many more. We now as a family plant trees regularly and if we all took responsibility and did a little of the same then we could really make a difference and preserve the woodland habitats we have as well and create many new ones.

    I have set myself a goal to own a piece of woodland in the next 10 years and have already begun to save for one. In the mean time I will continue to support my local woodland and parks and ensure that we keep maintaining and planting trees and wildlife so that my kids can enjoy what I have been fortunate enough to.

    Now lets not point fingers at the WT and moan but instead put our hands in our pockets and support them and go out and try to make a difference! I wonder just how many will………

    • Adam, it’s fantastic you and your whole family are involved with planting more trees and caring for your local patch. More individuals like you are needed all over the country. I too would love to own and care for my own woodland – for now I have to be content that all publicly owned woodland is my woodland and it’s only down to the grassroots campaigners that I continue to have that privilege.

      During the campaign the Woodland Trust were resigned to the fact the government had already reached their decision and the only thing they could do was attempt to change legislation to enhance protection of ancient woodland. The campaigners proved them wrong. Without the campaigners we wouldn’t have had the U-turn by Caroline Spelman on February 17th 2011 or an “independent” forest panel and Sue wouldn’t have had the privilege of sitting on that panel.

      If someone like Sue lies about this fundamental part of the Save Our Forests campaign to save face it negates all the hard work of thousands and thousands of campaigners who fought hard to stop the government from selling our publicly owned woodland. That will only further alienate the many people who have now lost trust in the Trust. I don’t need to give the Woodland Trust money to fund their £5,000,000+ headquarters or £250,000 reception desk. I, like you, can (and do) buy and plant trees in appropriate places myself.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Adam – what a great story! and a welcome sentiment. Thanks for sharing and welcome to the blog

  3. I don’t remember a single moment during the Save Our Forests campaign when the Woodland Trust or any other NGO said they agreed with the public and didn’t want the government to sell the PFE. Sue, you’ve deluded yourself over the last 18 months trying to claw back some face that you lost during the campaign.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Karen – thanks for sharing your personal view and for your other comments on this topic. The Trust’s views about and our hopes for the PFE are detailed in our response to the Panel’s Call for Views hosted on the Save Our Woods website:

      • Oh yes – I remember that from July 2011 – well after the start of the main Save Our Forests campaign in December and five months after Caroline Spelman said “we got it wrong”. That link is to the WTs response to a panel your Chief Exec was a member of.

        Nowhere and at no time during the start of 2011 did the Woodland Trust say “No, the PFE should not be sold”. THAT is what the public were saying – NO sale of the PFE. Only when 500,000+ people had signed a petition to say NO SALE to the government, (whose numbers were actively swelled by and online campaigners despite the WT trying to convince people the petition on your site was the right one to sign), did the WT and the other NGOs start to change their strategy.

        If campaigners had have listened to the Woodland Trust and only signed your petition about ancient woodland protection (which ought to be highly protected) then we would have lost and the government would have sold the Public Forest Estate.

        Your petition and strategy during January and February 2011 was disruptive to say the least.

  4. Roderick Leslie says:

    I think Sue’s blog is better than the home page headline which is solely about the Woodland Trust !

    I am very pleased with what the panel have done and I am also pleased that Sue has recognised how much panel members have learnt – initially some people sold it as an ‘expert’ rather than independent panel – to be fair, panel members are experts but often in one corner of the whole issue – what comes across from Sue’s blog is how everyone on the panel has grown in understanding how all the different bits fit together – including issues we’ve only just started seriously thinking about like flood control. Looking back from what society needs, not forward from our love of trees, I personally believe the case for more woodland – and other multi-purpose habitats including reedbed, heathland, low intensity wet grassland and so on – is actually stronger than even the Woodland Trust make out. Have a look at ‘A Garden for Everyone’ on the SoW site and you can download ‘Planting with purpose’ from the Forestry Journal website.

    I also agree with Sue about the ‘can’t do’ – we seem increasingly hemmed in by rules of our own making when threats we really can’t control by Government edict are coming down the line towards us. Lord Kreb’s report on climate change identified lots of good intentions about climate change – but a gap between policy and practise. The Forestry Commission is one of the most powerful bridges we have across that gap – exceptional at making real things happen on the ground. Whatever has gone before I hope we can all now unite into a really powerful delivery force for woodlands and the wider environment, getting more woods into biodiversity-friendly management, restoring as much of our ancient woodland as possible and helping develop a big vision for new woodlands as a crucial part of a climate change resilient environment.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hello Rod and thanks for your comment. Welcome to the blog! We’re looking forward to the Panel’s briefing event on its Final Report tomorrow, perhaps we will see you there 🙂

  5. Pingback: No sell-off of UK forests, promises Caroline Spelman | LEARN FROM NATURE

  6. chris taylor says:

    I would love to help all trees but after phone calls emails more calls and an email from the warden of Kings wood cornwall i have given up trying to volunteer for the trustbut not for the trees

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Chris, thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog. That’s sad to hear – I’ve had a look into this and, as you say following your previous emails with the local site manager which we’d put you in touch with, you were to be sent a task outline (which we send to all potential volunteers to clearly identify the scope of the works they could get involved in). I understand this has been done now and Malcolm’s suggested a date for you to meet up to chat. I hope you will be able to meet up with him you and that you change your mind about getting involved… but most importantly, keep on enjoying Kings Wood! It’s a lovely site.

  7. Under the charter for protectin of forrest’s signed by king John in 1215, at the time of signing the magner carter king john was forced to sign the protection of our forrest’s So any one damaging our forrest’s in any way are in breach of that charter. and must face the full force of the law, and that includes any governments.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hello Horace and thanks for this comment. Our understanding is that only three clauses of 1215 Magna Carta remain in force in UK law relating to;
      • the freedom and rights of the English church
      • the liberties and customs of London and other towns,
      • the right to justice and the due process of law
      All other clauses were either left out of later revisions or have been repealed in modern times, including forest laws.
      Happily, Caroline Spelman stated on Wednesday “I therefore agree with the Panel that the Public Forest Estate should continue to benefit from public ownership. A well managed and publicly owned estate provides the sort of public benefits we need to protect – such as access and biodiversity.” so it looks like the estate will not now be subject to mass disposal! 🙂 More here in the full Written Ministerial Statement: (pdf)

  8. “I believe the Panel recommendations have answered the calls by NGOs (including the Woodland Trust) and the public to protect the PFE in perpetuity, and take it out of the short-term cycle of political interference.”

    I have documentary evidence that says otherwise.

    Clearly showing not only the WT but ALL of the other environmental NGO’s disagreed with the public; that there should be a publicly owned forest estate. Some going as far as putting in shopping lists to government for some of our woodlands! All this, months before the public even knew about the proposed sell off.

    You knew the government wanted to sell off our forests months before Gabriel Hemery shared the knowledge with the public. Why wasn’t it you telling us? Why, when I phoned you in January 2011 as a member of your charity and asked why you weren’t doing anything did you tell me “oh don’t worry, we can’t stop government now, the sell off is a done deal. We just have to make the best of it”?

    I started because YOU did nothing. I waited and waited to do anything and fought your corner because I was adamant that my favourite charity wouldn’t let us down. Any minute now they’d step up. Well you didn’t. Not only that you tried to obstruct those of us that were stepping up.

    Surely now is the time for you to show some integrity and honesty and build the bridges you smashed between Save Our Forest campaigners and the Woodland Trust.

    I feel totally gutted all over again. How could you?

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hen, welcome to the blog and thanks for this comment. You and I have spoken before about this and I have been honest with you. I’m gutted that you have taken offence. I know all the Panel members have been impressed by the groups and individuals they met during their time together. When Sue talks about ‘NGOs and the public’ she includes SOW and those groups in that.

      You raise several other points, we have talked through some of this before but let me try to answer each of them here:

      The Trust has long championed a PFE, including a campaign in 2009 to encourage consultation response to Labour’s plans for reform. You can also see it clearly in our Call for Views. As you know from the the ‘Our Forests’ FOI responses from DEFRA that the Trust was not interested in buying sites or the estate and was not one of those NGOs which brought a list to the table when plans were announced for mass disposal. (Not to defend those NGOs, but I’ll bet they thought they were doing the right thing at the time if it was the only way to have saved those woods.)

      Not telling members about the plans right away when they were floating in the media was based on an attempt to get as much of the actual facts established as possible (you will remember the media hype I know) to make sure we gave people the right information. It was a fast-moving topic! Plus we wanted to give our members a truly effective way for them to influence what was happening – we felt the consultation provided a direct route, through Government’s own channels, to input. Of course things moved much faster than that!

      I’m not sure you quote directly but I do remember that particular conversation between us; our assessment at the time was that, as Government had expressed itself determined to sell the estate, it did feel there was nothing we could do about the situation. The plans were out. The consultation was about to launch. At the time it felt more productive to address the consequences of those plans – in the context of securing public benefit, protection and restoration in particular – than the idea itself.

      I don’t agree that the Trust did nothing. There was a great deal of lobbying done in Parliament and briefings produced before our public campaign and petition launched (the same day as the Gov consultation). 125,000 people signed in the first 2 weeks. We shared a campaign statement and guest blogged on Greenpeace’s website. We tried all the way through to get the message over that there were – still are – issues that needed dealing with before any sales are even considered. We feared that if we didn’t raise the issue of restoration needs and protection loopholes that woods of all kinds (not just PFE) are threatened by, these would go by the wayside – we had to focus on that when, at the time, no-one else was. We accept we were not being clear enough about this. The media need for black and white headlines overshadowed our more complex message. I also don’t agree about obstructing others – we actively shared petitions online, encouraged members to get involved locally, we respected what others were doing, never hit back against aggressive voices.

      For the record, I’m really glad you started SOW. The Trust was overjoyed to see such passion for woodland from the public at large last year. We actively encourage people to stand up for woods and trees – this is why we started WoodWatch. You and those groups were instrumental in taking this debate out to the wider public and you gathered people together in a way that the Trust, for one, would not have been able to. Hindsight is a marvellous thing. The Trust learned a lot and we’re still learning and I’m sure others are too. Without being too cheesy – we have all made a difference in this. Just because we all have differing views in some areas doesn’t mean that we can’t all make a difference together again for our forests, or work together to protect woods and trees for everyone. That’s the most effective way to achieve this, especially after today’s report.


      • One question Kaye, why did the Woodland Trust use the mutilated version of the Forestry Commission for your campaign to protect ancient woodland?

        • Kaye Brennan says:

          We wanted to address a serious problem in a visually arresting way; we were trying to highlight the vulnerability of the public forest estate by using the FC’s highly recognisable logo as a direct way of illustrating what was at stake. It was also an analogue for the vulnerability of public forests as a whole.

          • Even though your campaign was not related to the proposed sell-off but was more concerned with legislation affecting ancient woodland. Did you know you were breaking copyright law or did you ask the Forestry Commission’s permission to mutilate their logo?

  9. Jacquie Cox says:

    I heard about this decision on the news this morning. The piece mentioned some of the people involved in producing the report, and notably, the Woodland Trust was not mentioned. I have found through the volunteer work that I do for the Woods under Threat team that very often, the Woodland Trust is not listed as a primary stakeholder in consultations into development and land allocation – the recent work I did for the National Grid consultation springs immediately to mind.

    One would hope that whenever woodland came into question, the first organisation to spring to mind would be the Woodland Trust, but all too often it appears not to be the case. It seems that often the Trust is consulted as an after thought or because a Woods under Threat team member has become involved through the monitoring of planning applications.

    Considering the importance of woodland, shouldn’t more be done to raise the Trust’s profile across the board?

    • Alice Farr says:

      Hi Jacquie,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You won’t have seen WT in the press as architects of this report, Jacquie, as Sue and the other Panel members were there as individuals and it’s the Panel that have created this Final Report for Government.

      You’re right that the Trust isn’t always aware of threats to woodland until we are notified by the public or our Woods under Threat volunteers dig them out. We are constantly trying to raise the profile of the woods and trees and our profile with local planning authorities. We’ve come along way in the last few years and are consulted more widely than we were even five years ago. This in one of the reasons you guys are so valuable to us helping us to fill that gap, the more we comment on planning applications the more likely we will be consulted about them.

      One of our asks during the Panel’s ‘Call for Views’ is that ‘The Forestry Commission should be a statutory consultee on all planning applications affecting ancient woodland and should have powers to object as well as comment on them’. The Trust can’t be a statutory Consultee as we are not a statutory body. In some ways this is better as we are not constrained in what we say!

      • Jacquie Cox says:

        Hi Alice, thanks for your reply! I wasn’t criticising the Trust. Perhaps I am not eloquent enough to articulate clearly what I meant. As you will know, whenever I write to a council planning office or respond to consultations, I always ask them to keep the Trust updated on any progress made relating to a particular planning application, AND to place the Trust on their list of stakeholders for future consultations.

        Councils consult the wildlife trusts because there are statutory obligations around protected species, so why don’t they consult the Woodland Trust as a matter of course when developing local plans, or when faced with planning applications that affect woodland? This is why I am wondering what else can be done to raise the Trust’s profile with councils and government.

        • Alice Farr says:

          That’s ok Jacquie I didn’t think you were. You’re right though, we do need to keep raising our profile with local planning authorities. I have been discussing a couple of ideas with Victoria, our planning advisor, so I will keep you posted.

  10. Kaye Brennan says:

    Sue has also done a quick film about the forests report, here:

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