The CIWEM is concerned that the Government’s plans to sell England's public forests and woodlands will be detrimental to the nation’s environmental, conservation and social interests.

The Forestry Commission costs every taxpayer 30p a year. The Government’s proposals to abolish the body that protects our trees and sell off forests worth £250 million may help Defra’s meet its target of 30 percent saving on its annual budget by 2015, but CIWEM believes that selling off the forests will make only a small contribution to the economy. This latest proposal risks the loss of a vital environmental and social resource to the private sector for good and subjects a valued public asset to the whim of the market that could change the face of our landscapes forever. Although community groups and charities will be given first refusal, it is unlikely that they will be able to compete with commercial enterprises wanting to buy the land for investment, financial gain and the enrichment of their shareholders. And any charity that does take on the land will be required to find its own funding after initial government help, so this could mean charging the public for access and the introduction of inappropriate income generating activities.

Therefore CIWEM has concerns that our woodland may be threatened if they are fully privatised, coming under threat from developers or be used for timber production. And whilst CIWEM welcomes the Government’s assurances that heritage forests will be protected, it is deeply worried that there are no apparent measures to protect the many other forests and woodlands that are also important for wildlife, conservation and recreation. CIWEM wants long-term guarantees that any change in ownership will not undermine the quality of the landscape, biodiversity or the public's ability to enjoy our forests.

For their proposals to work, CIWEM calls for the Government to guarantee not only the complete right of access to all our forests but also the budget for their protection, restoration and robust regulation.

CIWEM’s Executive Director Nick Reeves OBE argues that, “The coalition’s proposal to privatise woodland ownership as part of its smaller state, Big Society agenda, feels like old-style Tory ideology. Only eight percent at most will be available to charities and community groups for the public benefit. The remainder will be offered to the private sector which will want a return on its investment and will run scared of a forestry regulator that puts the environment, amenity and public access before commercial opportunity. This means that private companies will want fiscal incentives or tax breaks to encourage them to buy or lease our woodland.  And they will want a relaxation of planning regimes to enable them to create holiday parks, caravan sites and theme parks that could be to the detriment of biodiversity and wider environmental interests.”

“People who care about Britain’s historic woodland heritage will have every right to be concerned if private companies are allowed to profiteer from a vital natural asset whilst being subsidised by the Treasury. To avert such concerns, and to prevent a raid on our woods, the Forestry Commission will have to become a tough regulator putting the environment and the public first.”

Source: The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)

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