Forests

West Sussex County Times Article

I am writing ahead of a debate in the Commons on the Government's proposal to sell part of the Forestry Commission Estate.

I've received many e-mails this week from constituents expressing concern about this.

I'm passionate about protecting the countryside and I'm privileged to represent a beautiful rural constituency that contains wonderful woodlands.  In fact, West Sussex is the second most wooded county in England.

So I completely understand and share people's desire to protect our forests, woods and trees.

But I'm afraid that the Government's proposals have been seriously misreprented - including by some groups who started campaigning before they knew what the plans were.

People have clearly been given the impression that ancient trees are going to be felled, woodlands lost and access to the public denied.

But a key purpose of the proposals is to devolve management and ownership of our state owned forests to civil society.   

The Forestry Commission has also always bought and sold land.  The last Government sold off 25,000 acres of woodland with a bare minimum of protection. 

By contrast, the Government is putting in place secure safeguards.  There will be regulations governing felling and replanting, and guarantees to protect public access, the natural environment and the interests of local communities in any future sales.

Ancient woodlands, such as the New Forest and the Forest of Dean, will be kept out of commercial hands and instead be managed by charities, with access rights preserved.

We all value the National Trust and the work it does to protect the countryside and historic buildings.  So why should we fear excellent organisations like this owning woodland rather than the Government?

And commercially valuable forests will only be leased to companies under very stringent conditions that guarantee they continue to deliver public benefits.

I understand that many people feel very strongly about what they've been told is in these proposals, and the consultation is an opportunity for everyone to have their say.

But I hope that when people see what's actually proposed they will be reassured.

As David Cameron said in Prime Minister's Questions, "this is worth looking at to see if we can produce a system that is better for access, better for habitat, better for natural England and better for the countryside that we love."


Document type

Articles

Published

3 February 2011

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