Selling off the public forests

The threat returns

We are very concerned about proposed new legislation in the Infrastructure Bill.  The government is introducing legislation that will allow ministers to transfer public land to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to enable development.

The Bill contains many elements of great concern.  For the Forest Campaigns Network (FCN) it’s the risk to the public forest estate (PFE) from the power contained in the Bill to transfer public land to the HCA.  We are fighting hard to change the legislation to include exemption for the PFE.

We need to persuade the government to insert words within this proposed new law, which would confirm our public forests cannot be included in these land-transfer schemes.  So far the government is refusing to amend the Bill to keep our forests safe.  The government have said ‘it is not their intention’ so they don’t need to exempt the PFE.  Crown land, owned by the Queen, is exempted in the Bill.  If there is ‘no intention’ as applies to crown land why not exempt the PFE?  This government’s intention is not relevant:  it’s the future impact of the bill used by any government which could be used to transfer parts of the PFE to the HCA.

The door will be left wide open for our forest land to be disposed of by any future government if we do not succeed in stopping this now.  The House of Lords meets next to consider the Infrastructure Bill in October: our next opportunity to persuade the Government to do the right thing.

We believe this is a serious and real risk to the PFE.  We are lobbying the Lords to back amendments tabled by Baroness Jan Royall to exempt the PFE.  So far the government have only made “verbal” statements that have no weight.  The only solution is an exemption for the PFE from the Infrastructure Bill.

Forest of Dean campaigners at HOOF have produced a template letter to send to Lords which is suitable for all public woodlands across the country (see www.handsoffourforest.org/documents/Infrastructure_bill_letter.pdf).  We recommend you send letters and emails to crossbenchers, bishops and non-party-affiliated Lords and Ladies.  Some of their emails can be found here: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/lords/
You can also get information on Lords here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/peers/
And on writing to lords here: https://www.writetothem.com/about-lords
And here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/whos-in-the-house-of-lords/get-in-touch-with-members/.

Key information:
You can email an individual member at contactholmember@parliament.uk or using their individual email address listed in the Members of the House of Lords section.

Please note that if more than six copies of the same email are received, all will be deleted.  It’s therefore important that you change the template letter to put in your own views and experiences.

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FORESTs MATTER: June 2014 Update

Lack of a Forestry Bill – a HUGE Disappointment.

We were extremely disappointed that after a concerted attempt to lobby the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet and key MPs there was no mention of a Forestry Bill in the Queen’s Speech.  Our disappointment was matched by our surprise that this Government missed an opportunity to do something green for a change – something that, based on the outcry in 2010 and the amount of public support for the PFE, would have been a very popular action.  This sentiment was widespread through the Forest Campaigns Network, many of whom campaigned as hard as we did in the run up to 4 June.

The press release can be found here.  There was little take up by local print media, but we did manage to get a piece on BBC Radio Nottingham.

We have spoken with personnel from the Forestry Commission (FC) and DEFRA who insist that government is still committed to legislation that will protect the PFE from privatisation and provide it with a basis of proper financial support.  Both FC and DEFRA think that the lobbying has had a positive impact and they are keen to keep this issue high on the agenda so that the next administration will take it up in 2015.

The Future

However, at the end of the Queen’s Speech she says that other measures, not mentioned in the speech, may be put before parliament and there has been talk within the Forest Campaign Network of making a push to get legislation brought forward later this year.  There has also been discussion about using the opportunity of a Private Members Bill to promote a Forestry Bill.  On the face of it this seems quite attractive, but it might not be such a wise move.  If we’re successful and Government do take it up later in the year and the Bill falters, through lack of time, before the end of this Parliament it may be seen as a less attractive proposition for the new government post the general election: a new government may see it as the previous administration’s business and not want to take it up to completion.

Perhaps a better move will be to try to influence all the major parties to include the promise of a Forestry Bill in their General Election Manifesto and for it to be included in their first Queen’s Speech and business session.

Infrastructure Bill

This issue has been raised by Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF – Forest of Dean).  It is going through Parliament at the moment and could be one of the reasons why there was no Forestry Bill in the Queen’s Speech.  This may be a tad cynical, but HOOF write:

‘…the Bill proposes that the Secretary of State can hand over any amount of public land to the arms-length, non-departmental government body, the Homes & Communities Agency. This agency can then dispose of it to developers. There will be no need to go through local authority planning processes – the Secretary of State can give the green light without any local politicians or planners’ involvement, just by consulting a panel of two people. As for public rights of way, the proposed law allows any of them to be extinguished. There is no need for permission for easements (i.e. roads, power-lines, railways. drilling, tunnels, etc). And any existing laws that protect land and prevent it being built on, appear to be overridden by one simple enabling clause.

The Crown Estates are the biggest landowner and they apparently have been put outside the scope of the Bill.  However, there is no such protection for the second biggest holder of public land – yes, you guessed it – The Public Forest Estate.

A petition has been started by a HOOF supporter on 38 Degrees. If it gets enough signatures, the team at 38 Degrees may take it up and spread it around more: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/infrastructure-bill-allows-ministers-to-sell-off-public-land.

Please support this initiative and spread the word.  It would be really good to know if you have.

Your Views

If you have any comments or views on any of the above or would like to make an input into what we are doing please get in touch via sherwoodforestforever@gmail.com.

If you know people who would be interested to receive our updates please get in touch

Save Sherwood Forest

June 2014

New book on the Forest Vision

Roderick Leslie, co-founder of Our Forests!, has released a new book on the future of the public forest estate.

Timed to coincide with the Queen’s Speech, Forest Vision urges the government to cease stalling on the introduction of forestry legislation.  The author said: ‘This is the Government’s chance to end 3 years of uncertainty since the forest sales U-turn in 2011.’

Proposals put forward at the end of January, he says, should meet with wide support.  ‘They mirror the recommendations of Bishop James Jones’ Independent Forestry Panel and give the Government the opportunity to close this embarrassing episode – and ensure forest sales don’t become an election issue next year.’

Forest Vision tells the extraordinary story of how the Forestry Commission, managers of our nationally-owned forests, went from environmental pariah after the Flow Country controversy of the late 1980s to popular heroes in 2011.  ‘It looked like the end in 1988 when Chancellor Lawson removed the tax incentives driving upland conifer afforestation.  It is hard to believe that, 23 years later, over half a million people signed the 38 degrees petition against selling off the forests.’

The Forestry Commission survived because it recognised it had lost public confidence and set about changing the things people hated, completely re-designing its forests, embracing nature conservation and dramatically developing its already popular countryside recreation.  From England’s first nesting Ospreys for 100 years in 2001, to becoming the home of British mountain biking, the nationally owned forests have become part of more and more people’s lives.

Now, as the book describes, there are even bigger challenges for the future: Forestry Commission restoration of derelict land round our towns and cities opens up new opportunities for development and the environment, whilst forests and woodlands have a growing profile in tackling climate change, slowing the flow of flood waters and producing low-carbon woodfuel.

‘The Forestry Commission story proves that imaginative management can create a powerful synergy between the economy and the environment that saves money, creates jobs and increases the resilience of our environment to the increasingly frequent shocks of extreme weather,’ Roderick Leslie claims.

To obtain a copy of Forest Vision, please send a cheque for £12.99 + £2.50 p&p (UK only) to:

R.Leslie, 8 Somerset St, Bristol BS2 8NB.

For further information, such as BACS details and overseas postal rates, please contact the author on rodleslie@btinternet.com.

FORESTs MATTER: Save Sherwood Forest Update April 2014

Letter to the Prime Minister

The letter to David Cameron was sent out on 04 April 2014, along with copies with covering notes to Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Dan Rogerson MP, the Forestry Minister, Andrew Lansley CBE MP as Leader of the House, Ed Miliband MP and Maria Eagle MP.  You can read the letter here.

We are also going to send emails to all the members of the Cabinet so that the issue of Forestry Legislation gets put in front of them at least once before the legislative programme for the next session is decided.

We know that other members of the Forest Campaigns Network are also lobbying government on this issue and if you feel that you can support this campaign please write to the government and/or your local MP.

The best people to contact are:

Rt Hon David Cameron MP, 10 Downing Street, Landon, SW1A 2AA, and/or

Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR

Even though it is almost certain that any letter that goes to these two will be forwarded to Dan Rogerson for reply, it is important that Cameron & Paterson know about it.

Alternatively, please email them:

David Cameron – https://email.number10.gov.uk/contact.aspx – this brings up a form for emails to the PM’s Office.

Owen Paterson –  defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk

If any of you live in Ken Clarke’s constituency please write to him as he attends Cabinet Meetings and may be supportive. His email address is suggd@parliament.uk

Although I’m sure some of you will compose your own words please feel free to use anything from Save Sherwood Forest’s letter. It would be good to know if you do write and if you get a response.

EU Election Hustings

We’re helping Nottingham World Development Movement and Nottingham Friends of the Earth promote this meeting on 26 March, 2pm – 4pm at Friends Meeting House, Clarendon Street, Nottingham.

Please see this page for further details and please broadcast it to interested parties.

The Ramble in Beautiful Bestwood Country Park

Over 30 people came together on a bright spring-like 22 March to walk through Bestwood Country Park and celebrate World Forestry Day and another year of campaigning for the Public Forest Estate and all our precious woodland.

Many thanks to all who came and to Margret for organising and leading the walk and especially to the folk from Bestwood Women’s Institute running the café who not only provided good coffee and excellent cake, but also donated over £60 to Save Sherwood Forest from their morning’s takings. Many thanks indeed!

You can view the pictures of this Ramble here.

Woodland Policy Enabling Programme Update

Save Sherwood Forest were represented at a telephone conference on the progress of the Woodland Policy Enabling Programme.

The meeting covered the whole programme and not just the parts that are about the Public Forest Estate. However it all has a bearing on the future and security of our forests and woodland.  You can download the notes that were taken of the meeting here: FC_DefraTeleConf_Minutes_260314. We have highlighted the parts that refer to writing to the government.

Your Views

If you have any comments or views on any of the above, would like to make an input into what we are doing, or if you know anyone who would be interested to receive our updates, please get in touch via our Contact Us page.

Letter to the Prime Minister

In conjunction with other forest campaign groups we have sent a letter to David Cameron encouraging government to include the proposed Forestry Bill in the Queen’s Speech.  This was copied to Dan Rogerson, Owen Paterson, Andrew Lansley (as Leader of the House), Ed Miliband and Maria Eagle. The letter is copied below:

The Rt Hon. David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

Save Sherwood Forest was born out of our community’s concern in 2010 that government was planning to sell off a substantial part of our Public Forest Estate. Following a national outcry government listened, withdrew the plan and set up the Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF). This was an initiative that received wide support and to which Save Sherwood Forest contributed.

Since the IPF produced its final report in July 2012 we, along with colleagues from other community campaign groups, have had regular contact with the Defra Forestry Team and members of the Forestry Commission. We have greatly appreciated this opportunity to influence government thinking and help shape the future of the PFE. All through this process our principal aim has been to help create a thriving, properly funded and expanding Public Forest Estate held safely within public ownership.

To that end we broadly welcome:

  • The announcement at the recent Stakeholder Meeting of the ten core principles that will guide government’s legislative planning.
  • The focus on pursuing a triple bottom line as outlined in the IPF’s Final report.
  • The inclusion of representatives from all spheres of interest at board level and amongst the Guardians.
  • The safeguards afforded by the above to safeguard against privatisation.
  • The move to pay for the public benefits that flow from the PFE through a system of Eco-System Services.

Given the above, we believe that the time for talking is over and urge you to include a Forestry Bill in the Queen’s Speech in June so that it can be scrutinised and passed before the end of this Government in 2015. We feel that doing this would complete the work started by the Independent Panel, keep faith with all those thousands of people who fought to save the PFE from the sell-off and secure this much loved national asset for future generations.

Yours Sincerely,
Save Sherwood Forest

EU Hustings

Focussing on the environment, trade and development

Come and hear MEP candidates talk about the environment, trade and development, and answer your questions. 

Saturday 26th April, 2pm-4pm

Friends Meeting House, Clarendon Street, Nottingham NG1 5JD

Tea and coffee available from 1.45pm

Organised by Save Sherwood Forest, Nottingham Friends of the Earth and Nottingham World Development Movement

You can download a flyer for this event here: EUHustingsFlyer