Earlier this year over half a million people signed a petition against the Government’s plans to sell off the public forest estate in England which threatened over 1,400 woods across the country.
Thanks to this campaign the Environment Secretary was forced to execute an embarrassing u-turn and consequently set up the Independent Panel on Forestry, whose progress report was published last week.
The Panel’s report reflected the views of some 40,000 people and groups and their heartfelt affection for England’s forests and woodlands, stating that the public forest estate provides the gold standard of public access in England.
The report stresses that we should maximise the “triple bottom line” that our forests and woodlands provide for the environment, people and the economy. Increasing woodland cover, a vibrant forestry sector, improving access for recreation and enhancing nature can and should go hand in hand and is good for the rural economy. In the report, the Panel recognised the value of our forests by backing the public forest estate and making expanding public access a priority for future woodland policy.
The authors also point to the recreational value of public visits to woodland which have been estimated at £484 million a year, whilst the cost to the public purse of maintaining the public forest estate is £20 million.
The Secretary of State has only suspended the sell-off while waiting for the final report from the Independent Panel. Despite the Government’s u-turn, they still intend to sell 15% of England’s public forest estate, the maximum sales allowed under the law as it stands. I know that isn’t what Rother Valley residents want so I will continue to press the Government to drop its plans to sell off any part of our public forest estate.