New legislation is needed to ensure that England’s public woods and forests are safe from future attempts at a Government sell off, warns Caroline Lucas (1)

In an EDM inspired by a growing movement of grassroots and community groups (2), the Brighton Pavilion MP is calling for a strong commitment to public ownership of the Public Forest Estate, so that the land can remain under the stewardship of the Forestry Commission.

The Government’s announcement of plans to sell off the forest estate in October 2010 caused a huge public outcry – with over half a million people signing a 38 Degrees petition in protest – and ended in an embarrassing u-turn for the Coalition.

The recommendations from the Independent Panel on Forestry, established by the Government in the aftermath of the fiasco, are due to be published on 4 July 2012.

Caroline said:

"The huge success of the cross party campaign against the proposed forest sell off showed that the Government completely underestimated the strength of feeling about public protection of our natural heritage.

"Rather than allowing history to repeat itself, Ministers must now take on board the concerns of the many thousands of people who took a stand against this misguided policy and act to keep the Public Forest Estate (PFE) in public hands.

"Our national forests are a bargain to the taxpayer – managing the entire estate costs each of us a little less than 30p a year – while research by Economics for the Environment Consultancy (EFTEC) found that the 258,000 hectares of the PFE generates around £2bn annually in public goods & services, far more than what is delivered by the private or NGO sector.

"Forestry Commission woods are also much more likely to be accessible than private woods. The PFE represents about 18% of woodlands in England, but this amounts to about 44% of the publicly accessible woodland.

"If this Government is truly committed to protecting the rich cultural, historical and natural diversity of our forests and woods, it cannot sell off the land to the highest private bidder whose primary interest will be turning a profit."

Caroline’s EDM comes as research shows that the public is ready to make a stand once again if Government fails to meet demands over public woods & forests.

In a survey carried out by Our Forests with 38 Degrees, just under 90% of respondents said they would campaign against the Government if their hopes for England’s public woods and forests are not met.

Nearly 90% of respondents felt that the Public Forest Estate merited on-going taxpayer support.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1) The full text of Public Forest Estate EDM 267:

That this House notes that the Independent Panel on Forestry is due to publish its report and recommendations to Government on the future of our public woods in early July; believes that public ownership of the Public Forest Estate must be secured, through new legislation; further believes that the rich cultural, historical and natural diversity of our forests and woods, and full access to them, is best protected under the continued stewardship of the Forestry Commission, fully resourced to sustainably manage and expand our multi-purpose Public Forest Estate now and in the future. 

2) Save Our Woods, Our Forests, HOOF, and 38 Degrees are amongst the groups campaigning to protect the Public Forest Estate.