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Caroline Spelman promises to protect public access rights when the state relinquishes control of England's forests

By Jonathan Isaby

SPELMAN CAROLINE NW Today Enviornment Secretary Caroline Spelman has published her department's consultation document on the future of England's state-controlled forests (which account for less than a fifth of England's woodlands).

It comes on the back of a campaign already being waged by Rachel Johnson and a band of well known names - with the support of the Sunday Telegraph under the banner of Save England's Forests, as ConHome noted at the weekend.

The Government is proposing a mixed model approach to future forest ownership with several elements:

  • Inviting new or existing charitable organisations, to take on ownership or management of the heritage forests to secure  their public benefits for the long-term future; 
  • Creating opportunities for community and civil society groups to buy or lease forests that they wish to own or manage; 
  • Finding commercial operators to take on long-term leases for the large-scale commercially valuable forests.

As she emphasised in her Times (£) article this morning, Mrs Spelman is adamant that people's access to the forests and ability to enjoy them as they do now must not be hindred by any changes in ownership. She says:

“We will make sure that public access is maintained and biodiversity protected. The government is absolutely committed to the ongoing provision and protection of the public benefits provided by the public forest estate, and the consultation shows how we intend to achieve this. We will bring forward amendments to the Public Bodies Bill to create a strengthened framework to safeguard the natural and social capital our forests provide now and for future generations. This would apply to the powers of sale, lease and management of the public forest estate. The consultation proposes that conditions will be attached to leases so that access and other public benefits are protected.”

But in the 21st Century she insists that the maintaining the status quo is not an option:

“State control of forests dates back to the First World War, when needs were very different. There’s now no reason for the Government to be in the business of timber production and forest management. It’s time for the Government to step back and allow those who are most involved with England’s woodlands to play a much greater role in their future."

Below is Mrs Spelman's short video, launching the consultation.


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