So, just over a week to go before the government publishes its response to the Independent Panel’s report on forestry. Seasoned forest watchers are awaiting the response with a mixture of eagerness and mild trepidation.

The timeline on all of this is fascinating – the response comes almost exactly two years to the day after the Government launched its consultation on the future of the public forest estate in January 2011. When public outcry forced it to abandon proposals to sell off most if not all of the estate in February 2011, it launched in the Independent Panel on Forestry in March 2011, both to take the heat out of a tricky political situation and to obtain some high quality insight into not just the future of public forests but also the question of the direction for forestry in England in future.

After 15 months the report was published in July 2012 with an almost unanimously positive response, with a promise not to sell-off the public forests. And now 24 months on, we finally get to know what the government really thinks about forests.

Or do we? It’s clear that the government had to publish now or face embarrassing questions about trying to defer the report for even longer but on the other hand the timing is awkward for three reasons because much has happened in the last six months to create uncertainty and complexity.

For instance, the EU is in denial about CAP reform but discussions about the budget and its broad direction on core principles such as farm support and greening have all but ground to an uneasy halt. But until this is resolved there is no prospect of a new Rural Development Regulation which sets the priorities for land management grants including forestry, an important pillar of the delivery of the Panel recommendations. A further unknown is the outcome of the Spending Review in the summer and whether there will be funds from HM Treasury to match the funds available from Europe.

And then there are a whole series of Triennial Reviews, the Government’s process for testing the purposes and functions of its ‘quangos’. The review of Natural England and Environment Agency will conclude in spring 2013 several weeks after this response is published and the future of Forest Services will inevitably be in the mix with those conclusions, rather than being addressed in a few days time.

And lastly, in response to the burgeoning crisis around tree disease. There is a heavyweight review by Professor Ian Boyd of tree health and biosecurity measures instigated by the Secretary of State in October just as ash dieback was starting to get serious, which will report at the end of March. Tree diseases have thrown into sharp relief the even bigger question of what we need to do to ensure a healthy and resilient woodland resource for the future, which is exactly what the Independent Panel’s report described as its vision for the future.

The Secretary of State’s open letter in December to over 12,000 Trust supporters recognising their immense passion and interest in the government’s response was very welcome; supporters who read it will I am sure have noted it contained three large hints that our expectations might not be fully met, quoting a lack of unanimity over the Panel’s conclusions (who’s been undermining that warm feeling we had back in July I wonder?), plus a need for the recommendations to be ‘viable and affordable’.

Our view is that there are three recommendations which the government could certainly support unequivocally right now; an ambition to sustainably increase England’s woodland cover from 10% to 15% by 2060, working with other landowners to create a more wooded landscape; speeding up delivery of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan by additional investment in research on tree and woodland diseases, resilience and biosecurity controls; and increasing woodland protection through reconfirming the existing Keepers of Time policy and ensuring planning policy and practice reflect the importance of ancient woodland. We cannot afford not to protect and expand woodland cover in England; these are assets which like our natural environment as a whole need to be treated by the Treasury is in the same way as our financial assets before we go into environmental debt on an alarming scale.

So reading the tea leaves suggests there will be some great words from the government about the role of woods and trees because the Secretary of State is after all a genuine tree enthusiast. We will welcome those.

But there will be a number of recommendations which the Government won’t be able to or won’t want to respond to in depth because of all the complications outlined above. The Panel report is likely to remain unfinished business for a while yet; we will all need to keep forests centre stage of DEFRA’s attention to ensure that all those loose ends are properly tied up as soon as possible and to hold government as a whole to account on those promises it does make. We owe that at the very least to our beleaguered and beloved trees and forests.


*Keep the debate alive and catch up with more posts in our ‘Forests Report’ series: https://wtcampaigns.wordpress.com/category/forests-report-2/


About Hilary Allison

Policy Director, Woodland Trust
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, England, Forests Report, Planting, Protection and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: The future of England’s forests – a new chapter | Woodland Matters

  2. Joseph James Marshall says:

    Isn’t it about time the politicians left our woods and forests in peace, and did something about dodgy tax havens and the dirty money swilling around the City of London? Hilary Allison’s article here is very good; the last paragraph is a reminder that we mustn’t let our elected representatives start to think we won’t be keeping our eyes on them. This is my message to Westminster — Take an axe to avoidance of tax! And kindly don’t think again about flogging our forests to the money-grabbers – they’ll only cut down half the trees and sell the other half back to us.

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  4. Faith Hope Charity says:

    I have contributed to the Forests and Woodlands “debate” since the appalling idea to steal and sell off Our Nation’s Sylva was first mooted – although, to be honest, I find the very fact that we the people even find ourselves in this position at all completely galling and quite insulting to both my intelligence and my sense of what is right and good.

    Having to beg for mercy for the protection of something that already belongs to us turns my stomach to the core. I liken the scenario to a burglar ransacking my home and then holding my belongings (and, therefore, me) to ransom – forcing me to grovel at his feet while he calls the shots on the terms upon which I can have them back!!! Degrading and humiliating are just two of the more polite words that spring to mind as I chew over and regurgitate this galling morsel of toxic reality.

    Our National Heritage (along with our human rights) belongs to us. End of. It is not for some men (or women) (elected or otherwise – but don’t get me started there!!) in suits to waltz in, with their over-inflated egos and dollar-filled eyes, and presume and preside over us and our possessions. But then this seems to be the way of the world – even in our so-called “representative” democracy. It literally turns my stomach.

    As far as I am concerned, our government has a duty of care towards us and, therefore, towards our forests and woodlands and all beings that reside in them. We humans are its guardians. Our government has an obligation to ensure that our country does not exceed a carrying capacity that affords our beloved natural environment its right to be and us our right to enjoy its intrinsic values and breathe its beautiful life-supporting oxygen. It is a simple matter of ecology if nothing else– but then I wouldn’t presume to teach an “environment” minister how to suck eggs.

  5. Wendy Perkins says:

    Wendy Perkins
    We must keep our Woodlands and Forests. We need to tell the government and Mr Osborne not to sell any of them.They should be kept for generations to come !

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Quick quote from Owen Paterson in the response just released, Wendy – “I want to put the future of our public forests on a clear and firm footing. Our forests and woodland will remain secured in public ownership for the people who enjoy them, the businesses that depend on them and the wildlife that flourishes in them.” More here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2013/01/31/protect-forests/

      • Rob McBride says:

        I think tomorrow when I meet him I will ask him if I can video him saying this…would be v. cool I think!

      • Joseph James Marshall says:

        Thank you for posting this link. I’m not over-impressed by Mr Paterson’s order of priorities: “Our forests and woodland will remain secured in public ownership for the people who enjoy them [not too bad so far], the businesses that depend on them and the wildlife that flourishes in them [if only the idle wildlife would set up a business or two, then it might earn a second-place mention].” He has stated clearly that our trees will remain in “public ownership”. This is a victory for the Woodland Trust. But the battle should never have had to be fought in the first place. Ownership! Have the half-wits who govern us never encountered the notion of stewardship?

        • Kaye Brennan says:

          We’re also concerned about those issues being given a heirarchy, Joseph James – you can’t have one without the other they need equal weighting

          • Joseph James Marshall says:

            You express it very well, Kaye. I agree. Woods, wildlife, people and livelihoods – they must all balance.

  6. Rob McBride says:

    I am meeting with Sec. of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson MP, tomorrow evening and will be putting these and other ‘tree related’ issues to him in a forthright manor shall we say…’Green monument’ status for our truly ancient trees is a must! Wales currently leads the way on this goal…

  7. John Ellis says:

    The very words “Treasury” and “match the funds” rings ominously. The biggest potential stumbling blocks to whatever Defra might think and say is Osborne at the Treasury, who is, not to put to fine a gloss on it, not envrionmentally friendly and Pickles/Boles with their inane plans to extend the area of the country covered by housing. Trees don’t count for much in the minds of those philistines.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Thanks for your comment John – we’ll have to keep working together to really hammer the value of woods and trees home

    • Joseph James Marshall says:

      Your opening sentence seems likely to prove prophetic, Mr Ellis. I hope that you (and I) are wrong. Let’s at least be thankful that the Treasury hasn’t allowed the banks in on the act – otherwise we’d be hearing about how their traders had accidentally “put a match to the funds”. And Defra would be announcing that the money earmarked for our forests had all gone up in smoke.

  8. L.M.Newlove says:

    Let those who want to destroy the woodland be prepared to live in an environment devoid of oxygen, wildlife…..etc…..I challenge them to live in townships, cities, communities where there are no trees………just bricks, cement, concrete, stones,noise,……where Mother Nature is excluded…..but….if ‘Profit’ is what matters to those………then they should study the native American Indian words of that subject…!!!..they would learn everything that is to their advantage….!!!!!!

  9. Roger Fryatt says:

    For anyone who remembers the 1980’s the sale of our Woodlands would be yet another sale of the family silver. If they’re privatised, they’ll become inaccessible to the public and will be treated like any other asset – milked it for all it’s worth.

    It’s typical of a Government that is flayling around in all directions to raise money except the moral one – taxes and cutting subsidies from people & businesses that don’t deserve them (the banks come to mind in this category….)

    Keep up the good work!

  10. Ray says:

    Thank you for the update. With our countryside under pressure from housing development, HS2, & with the future of our native ash threatened by disease, it is more important than ever to fight for the nation’s forests & woodlands. The government must be kept aware of the public’s feelings & be under no doubt that we will fight to secure their future.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      And those pressures are so strong, too Ray – we must all keep making the case about the value of our woods! The good news is that Gov seems to have heard us all loud and clear, but we’ll all need to remain vigilant…

  11. rusty says:

    I believe the government is playing the long game and will again kick the ball into the long grass until they believe the public’s enthusiasm for public ownership of the forests has waned and will then implement their original policy, or as close as possible, and sell off to their “friends”

  12. Lee says:

    Thank you for protecting our remaining woods… Without you the Gov’t will just sell off their responsibility to look after these area’s and make a profit at the same time!

  13. mary says:

    These Forests are called ‘Public’ for a reason and that reason is :- to be used by and owned by the public, they are not the property of any government and therefore they can’t sell off something which is not theirs. That’s not to say they will not try.

  14. R Mooney says:

    We need to protect our woods and forests for the sake of our children and our children’s children! For the habitat and wildlife. Please Please Please protect these woods from being destroyed!

  15. Miriam Ap Padovan says:

    Hilary, I’m from Brazil and decided support Woodland Trust ’cause here the situation is so worse than England and I wouldn’t like to know that there will be like near my house as well. I live in a region that a long long time ago, was only forest, called ‘Atlantic Forest’, a kind of very rich and lush vegetation that till Charles Darwin was been saw in your Beagle’s expediction. Now, we have less than 7% of all forest area. Please, do anything that you can and I’ll here supporting as well I can.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Miriam, how sad to read! The plight of Brazi’s ‘ancient woodland’ is so utterly depressing – we must see the UK’s remaining ancient woodland in the same light in order to value it in the way it needs to be valued. Thanks so much for your support from abroad

  16. Mike Dziubinski says:

    Unfortunately in our ‘democracy’ there isn’t one political group we can trust. Neither can any of their quangos be trusted because they have to bow and scrape to politicians with divided loyalties / interests. We need to broaden the remit of the Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission, give them more teeth, more responsibility. We as taxpayers must be able to back those with genuine interest in the long term assets of this country. We are locked into a roller coaster of knee jerk solutions to the problems created by governments across Europe, we need to isolate / protect our natural assets from this current toxic environment and the best way to do this is to take it out of the hands of inept politicians. Can’t we get the Royals to head a quiet revolution ?

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      A forests revolution! Thanks for your comment Mike

      • Joseph James Marshall says:

        A “quiet revolution”? What’s wrong with a noisy one? Just to be clear, I’m not advocating sticking people’s heads on spikes or anything like that. (Although, now that I come to think of it, a couple of spiky tree-branches placed somewhere uncomfortable for Messrs Cameron and Osborne might have a certain poetic justice.)

  17. Terry says:

    Unelected PM Cameron, is the latest to take our country further away from being green and pleasant, and that much nearer to a grey and dismal land.

    What is wrong with him !!, he has the same old type of mindset, to bulldoze and build on all the green and natural environment, it is an insane and monstrous attitude to have.

    Instead of thinking and making decisions in a new and harmonious Eco friendly way, he just goes down the same old road, which only leads to a dead end for our country, our wildlife and ourselves.

    He has already stated, that he intends to remove all restrictions regarding planning permission for building, he intends to instigate massive building programs, more homes for a spiraling out of control human population, and the latest intent, is to further destroy our natural environment, with this HS2 Train plan, which no doubt also includes destruction of woodlands / forests and wildlife, now it becomes a little more obvious why they wanted rid of woodlands and forests, how many of these would be in the way.

    What our country, and the world needs, is immediate drastic human population reduction measures introduced, and then strict controls, it is utter insanity to keep allowing human over breeding.

    We should fear for all our country’s and the worlds remaining flora and fauna.

  18. Mela Fernandez says:

    Most of us do not have the pleasure of our own private estates and forests to enjoy. Time is running out and for this reason, we must remain committed to protecting England’s beautiful forests and open spaces for future generations to enjoy. If we fail, the words of Jonie Mitchells 1970’s song ‘..they took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em..’ may sadly become a reality for our children…!

  19. James G May says:

    This will be another step in the destruction of our rural country side.Like most things in this area what can one do about it except keep protesting in any way possible.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      James, we hope not! Although we do need to make sure the connections are made – and are kept being made – with things like HS2 and development, and the response to the Forests Report

  20. Michele Rist says:

    The government needs to get its priorities right. Our country is being decimated by roads, wind farms and the building on brown and green land. We need our forests to sustain our country and the world, and what about the people who get great enjoyment out of the forests by walking and cycling and teaching our next generation of the importance of having forests.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Michele, you’re so right. Hilary is attending a special meeting today at Defra about the Government’s response, so far though they do seem have recognised this vital point

  21. Reblogged this on patricktsudlow and commented:
    The UK’s Government response, delay, delay then fudge it.

  22. Christopher Heywood says:

    Given the vast and unnecessary wastage of foodstuffs at the consumer end of the food chain, let’s get the priorities right: apply utmost conservation efficiency to foodstuffs AND to the forests that keep us and other animals alive.
    Thanks for the good work…

  23. Joanna says:

    I think it is so important to remember small woods as well as large. I have an allotment in the centre of Cardiff with a Woodland next door to it where many people walk their dogs, children play and people relax away from the noise of the city, we could not and must not loose these special spaces

  24. Pingback: What The Government Thinks About Forests

  25. elmlover3 says:

    It’s great that the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report recommends keeping forests and woodland in public control. Selling this irreplaceable asset in the open marketplace would be a disaster for ancient woodland; all too easy to sneakilly use the land for something more profitable even with legislation in place to try to prevent this.Forests need cohesive management throughout the UK, this is probably especially important in the wake of Ash dieback and other diseases threatening our trees. Let’s hope the Government act on this report.
    The value of trees as wildlife habitat, the “green value” of carbon locking,trees for recreation and shade is well documented but what seem to be mentioned less is the very obvious point that trees are just so beautiful in their own right. They give us so much in terms of happiness and emotional well-being.
    Sustainably managed forests have the potential to create jobs as well as being a vital element of the British countryside there for all to enjoy for hundreds of years hopefully.

  26. Pingback: WHAT THE GOVERNMENT REALLY THINKS ABOUT FORESTS……………COMING SOON | Zack Bradley-Deacon aka Aneirin


  28. Roderick Leslie says:

    Hilary, you may have left them out because they are givens, but it is worth restating the core issues the Government must get right.

    First, no further sales of the FC forests and a clear plan to protect them for the future. After John Major going back on a specific election pledge in 1992 vague promises will not do.

    Second, no further cuts to the Forestry Commission. The FC has been cut by 25% already and we accepted that this was a reasonable response to the nation’s financial crisis. Bearing in mind that FC started at the bottom of the Defra heap and money to farmers has not been cut at all, any further cut will invalidate the Government’s sincerity in responding to the Panel’s report. This, of course, is not just about FC itself – it is equally about grants to private owners and tree planting charities like the Woodland Trust.

    Third, a strong FC for the future as the Government’s lead in delivering the panel’s core reccomendation: a new woodland culture. Be in no doubt that suggested hiving off of Forest Services into natural England, the principle advocacy arm of FC and central to delivering the Panel’s proposals would be the death knell for everything the panel – and the public support for our forests – has been about.

  29. Peter Gruffydd says:

    Thanks, Hilary Allison, for a full and reasoned report on the ” state of play ” so far. Apart from hand-wringing over the government’s equivocating over essential issues, we can be assured that a close eye is being kept on matters.

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