By Matt Gaw
Thursday, January 31, 2013
WILDLIFE and forestry groups have welcomed confirmation that the Suffolk’s woodland estate will remain publicly owned.
The environment secretary Owen Paterson announced yesterday that a new independent body will be set up in the longer term to hold the UK’s forests in trust for future generations.
The shake-up follows the Government’s U-turn on plans to sell off the nationally-owned estate in 2011 which caused public outrage.
Julian Roughton, chief executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust said the announcement was a positive step towards realising the full potential of the public forest estate (PFE).
Mr Roughton, who also praised the commitment of extra funds towards fighting tree diseases like Chalara dieback of ash, added: “This is very good news. From our point of view it is great that the PFE is now going to be held in trust for the nation.
“By working with partners, such as ourselves and the RSPB, there is a possibility to get much more benefit out of the PFE.”
Mr Roughton added: “What we want to ensure that this body is set up with a clear priority that its purpose is to manage the estate for the benefit of public and for the benefit of wildlife. That is critical for us. Of course there will be commercial opportunities that they may be able to take up that will help them achieve that objective, but as long as the commercial objective does not override those other objectives.”
Mr Paterson told Parliament that he wanted to put the future of public forests on a “clear and firm footing” and pledged extra funding of £3.5million to the Forestry Commission, who currently manages the PFE.
An additional £2m will go towards dealing with pressure exerted on the authority by Chalara dieback.
The future shape of the Forestry Commission will be considered alongside a review of Natural England and the Environment Agency.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said the Government must now commit long-term funding needed to put the vision into practice.
He added: “Defra’s statement demonstrates that it has listened to the thousands of people who want to see a better future for our woodlands and public forests. Actions speak louder than words, however, and so we await clear signs that the right action is being taken.”
Benedict Southworth, chief executive at the walking charity Ramblers, said: “The announcement means we can finally breathe a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that our public woodlands will not be sold.”
Mr Paterson’s predecessor, Caroline Spelman, sparked national outrage when she put forward proposals to dispose of the PFE to businesses, communities and charities. As a result she apologised and set up an independent panel on forestry to examine the future of England’s woodlands.
The panel published a report in July urging the government to keep the forests in public ownership and said they brought about £400m of benefits to people and wildlife.