The UK government plans to put half of England’s state-owned forests up for sale to private firms to raise billions to reduce the budget deficit and as a give-away to the nascent biomass industry. Ancient woodlands, regenerating natural forests and planted trees all provide important ecosystems and could be chopped down to make way for holiday villages, golf courses and commercial logging. This is theft of the English cultural heritage with woodlands and natural landscapes. Instead the UK government should fully protect many of these woodlands, fund forest ecological restoration and native plantation establishment, and strive in haste to get to 25% forest cover and beyond for their own ecological sustainability.
Across the whole of the UK, the Forestry Commission – the government department “responsible for the protection and expansion of Britain’s forests and woodlands” – owns or manages 18 per cent of England’s wooded areas, some 814,000 hectares of woodland, half of which could be put up for sale over the coming decade as part of the coalition government’s attempts to reduce the deficit and fund biomass energy. The British Isles have been severely denuded, down to 4% in 1919 when the Forest Commission started, and still only at 12% now – compared to Europe’s average of 30%. EcoInternet supports local calls for a doubling of UK woodland to 25% of the land base. And we need to stop these forest sell-off plans that could even potentially impact the handful of remaining ancient natural forests like The Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest. Indeed any natural vegetation – across UK’s denuded, over-industrialized and over-populated landscape – are national treasures and must be protected and assisted to expand for local, regional and global ecological sustainability.
UK is a ferocious consumer of timber and paper products, importing about 75% of the wood consumed. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, said the sale of forested land to private developers would represent “an unforgivable act of environmental vandalism… Rather than asset-stripping our natural heritage, government should be preserving public access to it and fostering its role in combating climate change and enhancing biodiversity.”
The entire British Isles are ripe for major woodland restoration by encouraging diverse natural plantings of native broad leaf species, such as larch, oak, willow and ash. There should be little if any monoculture which are particularly susceptible to climate change. Further, the UK government must seek to find ways to designate most of these state-owned forests as “conservation areas” and “carbon sinks” to recognize the fact that their value has diversified and moved away from simply being viewed as timber or biomass farms.
These woods and forests are valuable not only to the wildlife, but to the people who use them. They are open to people to wander through. Will they be once privatised? Doubtful, otherwise why would anyone buy them?
As the glaciers melted and retreated, Britain was heavily wooded. Very little of this forest remains.
There are open forests, like the New Forest, new when created by William the Conqueror. Many, like the New Forest, are former hunting grounds where Forest Law prevailed.
There are then Ancient Woodlands, the remains of the ancient post-glacial forest cover. Ancient Woodlands date from at least 1600. They are usually on the boundaries of parishes, have irregular boundaries, Old English names and are full of indicator species. Most if not all supported a thriving coppice industry. They fell into disuse, were revived during the Second World War, and have since fallen into disuse again.
We are quick in the West to attack countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil for destroying their rainforests, and quite rightly so, but conveniently ignoring that the destruction is to supply us in the West when the land is cleared for cash crops. We are hypocrites when we ignore the destruction in our own back yards.
Forests are essential, not only for their own sake for the myriad of species they constitute and the complex web of life therein, but also as an essential Gaian control mechanism. We can limit our carbon emission, limit the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, but all would be for nought if we had destroyed the Gaian control mechanisms.
The sell-off of the UK’s forests would make an insignificant difference to the Budget Deficit. A deficit that is widely exaggerated. Yes it should be reduced, but at a much slower rate that the economy can cope with. We are not on the brink of bankruptcy as claimed. The budget deficit is being used as an excuse for slash and burn of welfare.
£7 billion has been slashed from welfare, from the poor, from the disabled, from the environment.
Meanwhile Vodafone has been let off a £6 billion tax bill!
We are seeing more and more civil unrest, people are willing to take direct action. Vodafone stores across the country have been occupied and shut down the last two weeks. A couple of days ago angry protesters smashed their way into the party offices of the ruling Tory Party.
Contrary to the kneejerk reaction from the mainstream media what we saw at Millbank Tower was not Class War or Hard Core Anarchists as it lacked all the hallmarks and they would not have put themselves in the position of being identified or arrested. This was pent up anger from students who felt they have been betrayed, who see university will once again be for the rich and privileged.
Excellent pictures though in the Mail.
What we are seeing is the beginning of mobilisation against the cuts. As we have seen with Vodafone protests, a whole new generation is taking direct action, making full use of the internet to mobilise very fast.
Those in power do not give up power, they are forced to relinquish power.
People are saying NO! NO to cuts. NO to sell off of our forests!
Please sign the letter opposing sell-off of our forests
Please also sign the on-line petition
Hawley Wood is just one example of a wood now under threat. A decade ago when the MoD was going to sell it, it was earmarked for a housing. It could be under threat again.
Top story in The North Kent Marshes Daily (Saturday 8 January 2011).