The campaign against the forest sell-off gained widespread support

The campaign against the forest sell-off gained widespread support

Outdoor campaigners have welcomed the news that the Government has abandoned plans to sell off England’s public forests.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today made a statement in the House of Commons announcing the sell-off had been axed.

Ms Spelman told MPs it was clear from the early responses to the public consultation that many members of the public and MPs were not happy with the plans.

She said the relevant clauses of the Public Bodies Bill that would allow the Secretary of State to sell off Forestry Commission land would be removed and an independent panel would be set up to look at the future direction of policy and the role of the FC. The panel would include members of access and environmental organisations.

Open Spaces Society general secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “At last the Government has seen the trees for the wood.

“We are relieved [it has] recognised that its plans were a recipe for a complete disaster.”

The OSS had joined other campaign groups in opposing the plans, first unveiled in November last year. It called on Government to ditch the clauses in the Public Bodies Bill which would radically alter the Forestry Commission and to have ‘a long period of inclusive discussion and debate about the future of our forests and woods, which is not constrained by ministers already having decided what to do’.

Ms Ashbrook continued: “It is astounding that ministers were so out of touch with popular culture that they did not understand just what our woods and forests mean to us all, and that they are incredibly special, for recreation and enjoyment and as an essential part of the nation’s history.

“Now there can be a proper, informed discussion about the management and enjoyment of all our woods and forests, without ministers champing at the bit to sell the whole lot.”

Tom Franklin, chief executive of the Ramblers, said: “It is a wise decision to drop the forest sell-off consultation, and start again. The hole would only have got deeper.

“With each day that passed, it became clearer that, although ministers were saying – I believe genuinely – they wanted to protect and improve access, the proposals had not been properly thought through. Large amounts of forest access would have been at risk.

“Ramblers Areas have been collecting together the lists of woods that could have been at risk if the proposals had gone through.

“The Ramblers have said from the beginning that it’s access to forests, rather than ownership per se, which is most important. We’ll work with the Government on how to improve access not only to the 18 per cent of forests owned by the Forestry Commission, but to the other 82 per cent too.”

And 38 Degrees, the online campaigning website on which 530,000 people voiced their opposition to the plans, said: “Over half a million of us should feel very proud of what we’ve achieved together. Let’s keep watching but also celebrate what we’ve done!”

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Forest protesters celebrate at news of expected sell-off u-turn
  2. A very English revolt: tubthumping and online activism force forest u-turn
  3. Ramblers urge more access in countdown to forestry panel report
  4. Mixed views on Government’s grand view for the outdoors
  5. Outdoor campaigners’ alarm at plans for footpath team cuts