United Kingdom government does U-turn on forest sell-off

Back on January 27 we reported that the government of the United Kingdom was planning on selling all of England’s publicly owned forests. Well, the English love their heritage (at least those English outside the government) and there was a huge public outcry. Half a million people signed a petition in opposition to the plan. Now the Guardian reports the government has backed down.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman stood up before Parliament and apologized for her “wrong” decision. The forests will not be sold and new laws allowing them to be will be struck from the books. The previous law allowed for 15 percent of forests to be sold, and Ms. Spelman wasn’t clear what would happen to the forests recently put on the auction block. Apparently this isn’t a complete victory for sanity.

The sale would have affected all forests owned by the Forestry Commission in England but not the rest of the UK. The Commission owns 18 percent of all forests in England. Now the Environment Secretary will have to find another way to slash her department spending by a third, the goal she set for herself.

[Photo courtesy user tomhab via Wikimedia Commons]

England plans to sell all its public forests

English environmentalists, hikers, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and pretty much everybody else is up in arms about a UK government plan to sell off all the woodlands managed by the Forestry Commission in England, the BBC reports.

The Forestry Commission manages 18 percent of all England’s forests, some 2,500 sq km (965 sq miles). A portion of the forests are already being sold to raise £100m million ($159 million).

A public poll this week found 75 percent of the public against the move.

The plan will not affect forests in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This is the dumbest idea the UK government has come up with since selling the Royal Mail. Forests are a national heritage, not something to be sold off by privileged members of government to their old classmates from Eton. The government says that environmental and public use rights will be protected but, to use an English phrase, that’s a load of bollocks. Once the forests are in private hands, it will be much easier for private interests to undermine the laws governing them, or simply ignore the laws if the fines come out to less than they’d make turning the forests into shopping malls and housing developments. This is already standard practice in Spain, and it has ruined some of the best stretches of the Mediterranean coastline.

As a hiker who loves England’s woodland, I have grave concerns over what this will mean for people from England and around the world who go to the woods to see some of England’s most beautiful spots. A few hundred million pounds in the government’s pocket will not solve the economic crisis, or save national health care, or pay off the national debt, but it will mean that the heritage of the English people may disappear forever.

[Image courtesy user ntollervey via Wikimedia Commons]