I have pasted part of a email I have recieved from the Woodland Trust there are some very important issues of concern for us all and for future generations of people in the uk.
Recently there has been intense media and public interest in the future of the Forestry Commission. With a public consultation on the long term land ownership model for the public forest estate look set for January 2011, at the Woodland Trust we have long held the view that not all of the existing Public Forest Estate needs to be kept in public ownership. This is especially true for those sites whose primary purpose is the production of timber, or where local community ownership is a viable option.
However, the Trust does have concerns about the consequences of a substantially accelerated disposal programme of public forest land for those sites which deliver significant public benefit. Ancient woodland is the UK's richest and most fragile habitat; our equivalent to the rainforest. However, around 40 per cent of all ancient woods have been degraded by the planting of non-native conifers. Restoring the Commission's 20,000 ha of planted ancient woodland sites offers a major opportunity for improving the UK's biodiversity and displaying world leadership ahead of the International Year of Forests. If the government is determined to be the greenest ever, then it needs to find a mechanism to secure the future of ancient woodland sites planted with conifers over the last 60-70 years.
More immediately the Forestry Commission as a result of the CSR 2010 settlement has to sell 40,000 hectares of land in the next four years; many of the sites already on the market are planted ancient woods and we have written to Jim Paice as Forestry Minister to urge him to defer such sales until the conclusions from the public consultation are reached; only then should the Commission contemplate selling such sites and to responsible owners.
The Trust also has concerns that not all public forest land has yet been dedicated under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 for permanent public access; this applies to sites where the Forestry Commission holds the leasehold rather than the freehold. Public access needs to be safeguarded prior to land disposals taking place. Moreover, it is noteworthy that at the last general election all three of the main political parties' manifestos contained commitments to increasing tree and woodland cover. For this to be delivered on the ground the Government needs to protect and increase Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) funding for tree planting. In practice this should mean earmarking revenue raised from land sales for this purpose.
The Natural Environment White Paper
The consultation on the Natural Environment White Paper closed last month. The production of the White Paper - the first of its kind in twenty years - offers a unique opportunity to re-shape how we look after the natural environment and is warmly welcomed by the Trust.
We believe that a new approach is needed where conservation moves from being a segregated activity - too focussed on just a few sites - to an activity which is integrated with other policy areas. Such an approach will have a new focus on how landscape scale is combined with the provision of 'ecosystem services' to people. At the heart of this vision for the natural environment should be a commitment to the doubling of native tree and woodland cover. The UK has one of the lowest tree covers in Europe and tackling this would be an extremely cost-effective step forward in terms of delivering on a range of policy agendas. Not only are native trees of outstanding value for wildlife, they also deliver carbon sequestration, flood alleviation, clean our air and rivers, harbour insects which pollinate the air and crops, provide shade in towns and cities, shelter for our livestock and enhance public health. At a time of enormous pressure on public finances, cost effective instruments such as tree planting are more valuable than ever.
The natural environment matters to people in a deeply personal way. In an age of localism it is vital that the devolution of power is linked to a strong emphasis on environmentalism. This should mean making it as easy as possible for people to engage with their local environment. Key to this will be drawing on innovation by civil society organisations. A good example is the Woodland Trust's MyView - a new online campaigning tool that allows people to show their councillors via a picture how they want their communities to look in the future. The Woodland Trust looks forward to working with you in what are challenging but nevertheless exciting times ahead.
Should you be interested in working with us please contact my colleague Lee Bruce and me at email@example.com
Head of Government Affairs