The Ramblers’ boss is among 12 people appointed today by the Government to a panel of experts that will look at how England’s forestry is used in the future.
The announcement was made by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman following her department’s u-turn on the planned sell-off of public forests which prompted huge protests.
The panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones, will include Ramblers chief executive Tom Franklin along with RSPB chief executive Mike Clarke and Dame Fiona Reynolds, the National Trust’s director general.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said they will advise the Government on a new approach to forestry policy in England, including looking at how woodland cover can be increased and at options for enhancing public benefits from all woodlands and forests.
The panel will report back to the Secretary of State in autumn this year.
The Ramblers they were welcoming the chance to look at the whole of woodland policy afresh. “The panel will have a wide ranging remit to look at policy relating to all of England’s forests not just those owned by the Forestry Commission and will take into account issues including; public access, biodiversity and the protection of wildlife and ancient woodland,” a spokesperson said.
“The Ramblers are keen to ensure that the views of community groups who spoke out to protect their local woodlands are listened to and understood by the panel. The charity is also committed to ensuring that public access is at its heart of all discussions; protecting the woodland walk now, and for future generations.”
Mr Franklin said: “We spoke out against previous proposals and their consequences for the woodland walk and now welcome the chance to look at policy afresh, for all of England’s woodlands, ensuring that access is at its heart.
“I am keen to help the panel listen to the views of community groups, large and small, so that all those who visit and enjoy their local woodland can help to shape the future of England’s forests.”
The Bishop of Liverpool said: “It’s clear that the public care passionately about our forests and woodlands, and one of the panel’s very first tasks will be to meet with the grassroots campaigners who recently showed how much they valued their local woodlands.”
Ms Spelman said: “Our forests are a great part of our heritage and essential for our way of life, providing clean air and water, homes for wildlife and a natural way of countering the effects of climate change.
“But they also offer economic benefits through tourism, recreation and providing timber for fuel and buildings. This independent panel of experts will advise us on what we need to do to give forests the right protection so they continue to be a place that people can enjoy for hundreds of years to come.
“I would like to thank Bishop James for agreeing to lead this important piece of work and all the panel members for giving their time and expertise to advise us on the future direction of forestry policy in England. I look forward to seeing their recommendations.”
But the Open Spaces Society said the panel was incomplete, having no representation from cyclists’ and horse riders’ groups.
OSS general secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “While we are pleased that Tom Franklin of the Ramblers is included, we consider the omission of organisations representing horse-riders and cyclists to be lamentable.
“Our woods and forests are of immense importance to riders and cyclists, who enjoy extensive legal and permissive access there. Horse-riders have far less access provision than walkers in the countryside generally, and so woods and forests are of particular benefit to them.
“We hope the panel will take on board the views of all recreational users, though it’s a great pity that no member of the panel can speak directly for users other than walkers.
“The recent public outcry at the proposed sale of the public forest estate shows just how much our forests mean to us all.”
And members of a grassroots campaign group that opposed the sell-off also expressed disappointment at the membership of the panel, saying many of its members represented organisations that stood to benefit from any disposal of public forests.
Save Lakeland’s Forests also pointed out there were no representatives of mountain bikers or horse riders on the panel – groups who stood to lose most if the forests were sold off.
Lord Clark of Windermere, a former chairman of the Forestry Commission, said: “Ware concerned that the panel does not include one single representative of those who campaigned against the Government’s plans to dispose of our public forests.
“The panel is also stuffed full of people who represent organisations that could benefit from the Government disposing of public forests. That means they have a potential conflict of interest.
“Ministers should include at least one person from the local campaigns and a representative of mountain bikers and horse riders. We therefore hope the Government will make changes to the membership of the panel before it starts work.”
Lord Clark also said Save Lakeland’s Forests members would press for the panel to visit the area.
“We’d like to set up a visit for the panel to see to see some of our public woodlands and meet some of the people who use them, as well as others with an interest in the future of public forests, including wildlife experts, walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.
“It’s vital this panel does get the opportunity to find out why so many people, including lots of the people they represent, were so passionate about keeping these forests in public hands for the benefit of future generations.”
- The full list of panel members is: Rt Revd James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool; Shireen Chambers, Institute of Chartered Foresters executive director; Mike Clarke, RSPB chief executive; Tom Franklin, Ramblers chief executive; Stuart Goodall, ConFor chief executive; Stephanie Hilborne, Wildlife Trusts chief executive; Sue Holden, Woodland Trust chief executive; Alan Knight, founder, Single Planet Living Ltd; Dame Fiona Reynolds, National Trust director general; Sir Harry Studholme, Forestry Commissioner; John Varley, estates director, Clinton Devon Estates; William Worsley, Country Land and Business Association president.