Sale of English Woodland suspended

The Coalition government of the United Kingdom has decided to abandon its policy of a large scale sale of the forests owned by the government quango, the Forestry Commission.  Many people regard this as good news because access to forests for the public will be secured. I think that there is a more important issue than public access.

About 18% of the English woodlands are owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. As far as I know they do their job well and are reasonably efficient. There may be efficiencies that can be brought about by selling off some woodland, but in the grand scheme of things I doubt that these efficiencies are significant.

I rather suspect that the driving force behind the desire to sell off woodland was the belief that woodland form a good source of biomass fuel, and the conversion of trees into wood pellets would support a domestic biomass industry, to fuel wood burning boilers. Anyone who owns woodland knows that it is long term investment because usually you can only sell the trees to the paper pulp industry or to the wood industry where the trees will be used in building and furniture industries. Biomass adds a prospect of a faster return on your investment.

Most private forest owners have bought woodland knowing that the returns are small and long term. Biomass as a cash crop changes this and selling off woodland would probably provide a new type of buyer who would be primarily concerned to maximise the cash crop especially if the Renewable Heat Incentive makes it worthwhile to turn trees into ash and smoke.

The government has now decided that the existing rules for selling forests can stay in situ for the time being. Some forests would be sold, in any event under the existing regulations.

Many people signed the petition organised by the Woodland Trust and this, as well as strength of popular feeling, has led the government to change its mind. I suggest we should never criticise a government that changes its mind; it is sensible to do so when it is clear that a policy is unpopular and wrong.

Many notable people such as Dame Judi Dench, Melvyn Bragg, Annie Lennox, and the Archbishop of Canterbury have loudly opposed the plans to sell the forests. Their job has not yet been done. They should be concerned that even now there will be some sales of woodland and if these notable people believe the sales to be opposed to the public interest their course of action is clear.

These celebrities can do what other environmentalists have done; they  can buy forest from the future sales and simply dedicate them to the public or keep them in their own ownership and managed properly for biodiversity and public access. The cost to them would not be significant and they would be actively putting their money (or a small proportion of it) where their mouths are.


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