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What do you think of the forestry commission sell-off? ~ by Angus

What do you think of the forestry commission sell-off?

This government proposal has raised enormous public interest and a large amount of misinformation: celebrities seem to be taken as the experts and the forestry commission officers sometimes treated as the villains of the piece.  Two months ago we decided to research the issues and the history of Forestry Commission sell-offs in the last 20 years and we have produced a very factual report which we hope will help the debate. It includes figures on which parliamentary constituencies are most affected, likely financial receipts and past history of Forestry Commission sales.  We also quantify the amount and type of forestry land which may be sold and examine the sorts of buyers who may be in the market.

You can see the full report here at: www.woodlands.co.uk/reports
The report is entitled, "Encouraging wider ownership of woodlands"

What the study concludes is that the debate so far takes too little account of private ownership by families and individuals as a solution to the future ownership and management of these woodlands.   It seems to us unlikely that charity groups will be able to take on very many of these Forestry commission woodlands - important though their work is, charities have neither the financial reserves nor management resources to take on a very large percentage of the woodlands that may be sold off.  Whilst we do not support the selling off  100 % of the Forestry Commission woodlands, and not all will be suitable for private owners, our experience is that where private owners take on ownership of woodlands it usually leads to a very useful alternative model of ownership - private owners of smaller woods tend to be very hands-on managers and very active in conservation and learning about their woodlands ; whether there is public access or not.

Please do comment here on our blog, letting us know what you think of our report and your thoughts on the sell-off.

Posted in: Community use, Energy, sustainability & economics, Woodland Activities ~ On: 1 February, 2011

36 comments so far

Simon J A Wolfers
2 February, 2011

I believe our forests are priceless public property and not for this smash and grab government to sell off.

seb corall
2 February, 2011

A very informative report- confirming what I had already deduced. With CROW and other safeguards for public access I do not see the problem. Woods that have been dedicated under CROW cannot be removed from the scheme, so any future woodland purchaser would have to give the public the right to roam- I was interested in purchasing a woodland very near to us in ashford, that is dedicated and the wood was nice, the trees were quality commercial specimens and the publics right to roam all over the woodland would only be a problem at harvesting time- but our bid was not successful. The report is very good though, and anyone who thinks the FC selling off woodlands is a new thing in the last six months is kidding themselves. The only problems would be where a woodland is not dedicated under CROW and then footpaths through the wood could be fenced, or mountain biking trails removed.

Robert Brown
2 February, 2011

It’s time to stop whinging and think positively about this issue. This is a chance to make the big society idea happen. The government has to reduce the deficit and wants to raise £ 100m. Take the members of National Trust, RSPB, Woodland Trust, etc – say 4 million people (I know there will be some duplication of membership) Each of us donate £ 25. Job done. It’s ours (I know strictly speaking we, as tax payers, own it already, but this would put us in control)

John Bolton
2 February, 2011

If the goverment want to reduce the deficit, then why not take the money directly from the one’s who caused it?? Big society, do me a favour, we are all pawns in the game. Anything a politician, especially this lot, suggests has got to be treated with the utmost suspicion.

Keith Hallam
2 February, 2011

£25 each? If only ‘twer so simple….

tom bannister
2 February, 2011

i must admit i am sceptical, owners of land like bounderies and i suspect they will use this to fence off areas, and by leaving gates unlocked would suggest unrestricted access,
i think the government should leave well alone it is not a great deal of money in the scheme of things.

kevgen
2 February, 2011

keep private woods private,public woods public, no to any massive sell off

Pauline MacLean
2 February, 2011

The forests that still remain in this country should be left in the country’s ownership. It belongs to all of us. Too many of the county’s assets have been sold off as it is.

The current system of forestry management and public access to these ancient tranches of land works to the majority’s advantage so why on earth look to change it?

What will the politicians look to want to sell off the next time the government overspends I wonder? This latest suggestion shows just what a shower of money grabbing imbeciles all politicians truly are.

£100 million is peanuts compared to the annual expense being incurred by retaining our membership within the EEC and yet this mammoth expense has never ever been audited. Perhaps a cost savings programme in this arena would represent a saner starting point in trying to balance the country’s books?

JACK ANDREWS
3 February, 2011

Yesterday the UN International Year of Forests was launched in NYCity “to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests”..This is a global platform to celebrate people’s action to sustainably manage the world’s forests And how do we in the UK respond to this? We sell off our woodlands! How perverse a reaction is that, you might wonder.

Keith Gray
3 February, 2011

I think it is absolutely outrageous and I am a Conservative voter, I cannot see what the conservative party expect to gain from this apart from alienate their voters.

Andy Matthews
4 February, 2011

Many thanks for increasing the light on this debate and, hopefully, reducing some of the heat.
I think one of the critical areas will be whether the Forestry Commission is adequately funded to perform its regulatory functions in the long term, and whether this can be safeguarded.
There is no doubt in my mind that some new private landlords will want to restrict public access. The question is whether they will get away with it.

Peter windle
4 February, 2011

The commission was set up to supply pit props and supports for trench warfare.Today there no pits and trench warfare is unlikely.The commission should have therefore been wound up 50 years ago!

Simon Ellis
4 February, 2011

Peter Windle has just taken the wind out of my sails – The Commission was established to ensure a ready supply of timber at the outbreak of war. The Commission attracts a great deal of public affection – rightly so – they do some very valuable work and research. The sale of woodlands will always be a very controversial topic. Providing there is adequate legislation, something our government does appear to relish, selling off woodlands to private individuals or charitable bodies could be a very effective form of future management as long as public access is maintained. Private ownership could also boost commercial forestry/tree surgery firms and put more money back into the private sector. The knee jerk and very emotive “Save our woodlands” reaction needs to be carefully considered in the cold light of day. Successive governments have brought this country to its knees – perhaps some woodland should be sold off to help clear the national debt.

Simon Ellis
4 February, 2011

Further to my comment above I would also like to add, that this is part of a greater argument concerning ownership and land access. We have a very unhealthy, medieval, feudal attitude to OUR land,woodlands, mountains and moor. We should be talking about stewardship not ownership. I live in a 350 year old cottage. I bought it but I certainly dont own it in a morale sense. I am just passing through for a few brief years in its history – I keep the cottage maintained and when I can afford it I do some improvements. In a few years I shall sell it and hopefully the next “owner” will take it on, enjoy it and care for as I have done. As it is listed the regulatory body is the Council and Planning Acts. Woodland can be in private ownership with full public access providing legislation is thorough and comprehensive.

Martin Scherer
5 February, 2011

Good report. Good to see a balanced view. It would be good to see the greater democratisation of woodland ownership.

Simon J A Wolfers
5 February, 2011

Some of the comments on here are so naive, no wonder we have this shower in power at the moment! It looks like some have copied and pasted directly from the Conservative manifesto.
To add to my first comment I would like to say that if we do not learn from history then we can not progress at all. Privatisation has taught most of us that services are pared to the bone whilst prices rocket. I can already see the reasons new owners of our land would be using to put up restriction signs on access eg for health and safety etc would they be able or prepared to pay for the insurance?
Obviously, for some in this society, there’s no shortage of money so it begs the question why? My answer would be plain Ideology.

Edward Tuddenham
5 February, 2011

I am in favour of more private ownership of woodland with the caveats in the report. For Simon Wolfers information the Forestry Commission has never made a profit in its history and now runs at a loss. Why should taxpayers continue to fork out for what amounts to hobby forestry subsidized at our expense. The Scandinavians, Russians and Canadians do serious forestry that undercuts us making those gloomy blocks of spruce in the uplands and within former ancient woodland the economic as well as recreational and ecological failure they are are. Sell them off to the highest bidder but mandate public access where it will be a benefit and not where it will not. Many tracts of woodland are actually unsaleable as they have in effect already reverted to public land any way and are impossible to run at a profit for any use within the zoning permissions.

David Hankey
6 February, 2011

This idea has caused great unrest across the UK but folk really ought to look at and read just what the Government are intending to do rather than get exorcised over tabiold headlines and emotive language.

It is not a sell-off to ‘Joe Bloggs’ who knows little or nothing about forestry and woodland.

Sensible discussion and debate are on offer and I suggest people should find out the facts first before “taking to the streets”.

dave
8 February, 2011

hi people hope all are well. i’m dave, im a forester & i’ve been involved
in conservation most of my life. i believe this is a bad thing?
woodland management n conservation will suffer, the return in some areas of
anti social behavoir etc. can the new owners manage?
on the other hand i may find a wood of my own, bushcraft,cycling,walking
i do those things too & im becoming too let down & old to be told i cant walk somewhere.
wishing all good health n prosperity

Sue Groves
8 February, 2011

I am furious that this government want to sell off our woodland and forests.
This is a repeat of 17th century enclosure on a smaller scale and we know what happened as a consequence.Its not as though it will put a lot of additional funds in the coffers.
This is happening as part of this government’s hidden agenda for which they have no mandate.
Hands off!
I think the Forestry Commission do a reasonable job on the whole and ‘if it ain’t broke don’t mend it’.We have seen the Ramblers Association struggling to keep Rights of Way open when owners fence off the paths.
No. The People of Britain have an inalienable right across the land, increasingly we need this green lung to support our growing population.

Mike Rouse
8 February, 2011

Take away the inheriteance benefits and the land will be sold at a reduced price, and when the very rich die they will pay the tax to the state. At present one can put all the money they have into woodlands two years before they know that they are going to die and on their death their beneficiaries will inherit millions with no duties, so the goverment wins a little short term but loses big time long term.
So who is the sell us for, the government loses long term and the public lose another piece of land . Seems to me the very rich want the land back, and the surfs can suffer, because they are not making any more land and its time we knew our place.

Steve Guy
8 February, 2011

I am basically against putting big blocks of land into the hands of wealthy land owners. My experience in West Sussex is that it is always the interests of the land owner that come first. By the time the land has been closed for months for the shooters to wander about and then closed again so the fellers can move in public access will be just about nil. I am in favour of managing the woodland and work (volunteer) in a Museum coppice already. I know that the woods can be profitable and productive but using huge machines ruins the woods for many years. We are never sympathetic towards our land and woods and I cannot figure out why?

Jeremy Philp
9 February, 2011

Angus is right. Too much emotion and too many political bogeys seem to be getting in the way of good sense and science. The problems arising from any set of ‘rights’ is that the ‘obligations’ that should go with them are frequently forgotten. With the proposed Woodland sell off, the rights conveyed to the purchasers will automatically include obligations for them which will include good husbandry, if for no other reason than to protect their investments. Access can be enshrined in any sale through a covenant, although one suspects that the Right to Roam legislation could already provide a large part of this requirement. To balance this there should be the right of the land/woodland owner to restrict access either to agreed paths, or completely, should it be found (by an independant consultant) that public access is harming or damaging the woodland. This Coalition Government has realised that ‘money DOES grow on trees’, but the secure future of the woodlands in private hands can preserve the assets for the Nation at the same time as removing the cost to us all of subsidising the Forestry Commission. Protection of the Woodlands can also be ensured through Tree Preservation Orders. Lastly, good lessons can be learned from our French cousins, in the superb way they manage their woodlands, which are largely in private hands, except in the cases of the (large) National Parks…..and access is universal.

Tim Holter
9 February, 2011

I am all in favour of woodlands that can be enjoyed for their natural beauty and wildlife notwithstanding that a certain amount of commercial timber producing activity would take place.

However, what is of considerable concern in this day and age are those who will have financial gain as their priority. Often the true financial aims are allowed to lie dormant until the right opportunity arises, no doubt long after the present hue and cry has passed. Then we will see all sorts of developments which are contrary to most peoples ideas of what woods are for. Ie building, airports, golf and other leisure complexes, etc,etc. It is for this reason that I would personally prefer the transfer (not sale) of ownership to national institutions that could be relied upon to conserve the woods and forests for the benefit of all including wildlife. The Woodland Trust and National Trust seem obvious but they would need to significantly increase their operating capacity to manage the new acquisitions. No doubt they could recruit the redundant Forestry Commission expertise. The significant cost implication would need to be met by an ongoing endowment. Perhaps the National Lottery funds currently directed towards the 2012 Olympics could be used to provide this funding. This may not raise any capital for the government but it would take the financial burden of management away from the tax payers purse.

The Summary above states ‘private owners tend to be very hands-on managers and very active in conservation and learning about their woodland’.

As a woodland owner I know this is indeed often the case but from my own direct experience, both from the state of the wood I have purchased and the ongoing state of adjacent woods, I know this is equally often not the case with management totally neglected. The resultant choked or dark deteriorating woods are no longer attractive to man nor beast. The only thing they have going for them is that in very many hundreds of years they will have reverted to wildwood. That is assuming that they have not been sold for development in the meantime having been deemed to no longer have any other value.

That is the danger. If all is to be sold into private ownership the policing aspect needs to be rigorous. The woods I refer to are part SSSI!?!?!?

Andrian Speelman
9 February, 2011

Moving away from the patronising comments we have here, I just cannot see how access can be maintained at without an increase in costs or major reductions in access.
Private owners have to make a living, even if they are charities.

Mark Curran
11 February, 2011

The National Forests are not the Government’s to sell! They belong to the people and should be kept for the people. Private owners will be in it for the profit and not the future of the woodland.

Hands off.

Mark

Ira Potter
15 February, 2011

The Government has already made their mind up that this selling of of public property will go ahead and the consultancy is only a marketing tool to see how they can make it more acceptable to the British people, in a few years time a future Government could make it possible for charity forest trusts to build houses on this land as a means to make it a financially viable operation.

Simon J A Wolfers
15 February, 2011

Indeed Ira, and you can bet they won’t be “affordable” houses either.

I was first to post on here and, it seems, there’s definitely a consensus of opinion. It is good to see something that can unite us despite the efforts of our great leader(s) who talk unity whilst creating division.

Martin
17 February, 2011

What a lot of hot air, clearly the vast majority of respondents against the government proposals have looked no further than the ill informed press comments.
Some of the best woodlands and parks in our country are privately owned and as long as the access rights are preserved I support the proposals. The Forestry Commission have never turned a profit in spite of their overall commitment to manage and sell timber. I live near Wareham Forest in Dorset, a forest dominated by fir, quick growing but so drab! Where are the deciduous tree? Over the past few years the Commission has erected many miles of wire fencing and you could not count the number of timber gates that have been erected barring cyclists, horse riders and walkers. There is currently the remnants of a ‘New Age Travellers Convoy’ that was abandoned in the summer of 2010 sitting on the side of a track. Is this good management of our woodlands? I don’t think so. I am not anti Forestry Commission but we should not be afraid to consider other forms of management of our woodlands, after all we all pay for them.

Michael Roseblade
2 March, 2011

I have heard a lot of arguments in this debate about the sell off from a lot of people with their own interests in mind. Be they the larger organisations EG woodland trust, National trust etc, or smaller groups and individuals Eg cycling/walking or riding groups etc. I have also heard a lot of arguments for and against the forestry commision.
Nearly all off the comments have been about either access to woodlands for leisure/recreation use in whatever form OR about wildlife conservation and ecology.

This is all very well and very valuable argument. BUT

Its an expensive thing to maintain. Hence in Governments eyes it will Allways be seen as a luxury that we as a nation cannot afford.

There is a big part of the argument for keeping OUR National forest reserve in Public hands and managed by an organisation like the Forestry commision.

Nowhere in the debate have I yet seen the building regs get mentioned.
Surely its an important element in the future of OUR forest reserve.

With the issue about carbon use coming into our building regs more and more we all need to look ahead much further than government tend to do (I am talking about government of whichever party persuasion here).

If we are to build more of our houses and other buildings to much tighter carbon use limits are we not very likely to use timber rather than concrete or steel for far more of our construction work?

How will all this new demand for construction grade timber be met? By Imports?

I think you can see where I am going with this now.

In 50/100 years time when we might be wanting to build almost entirely with timber and other countries are upping the price/limiting supplies to cope with there own domestic demand etc, If we do not hold a national reserve of suitable timber we will be in much the same position as we were when the Forestry Commision was invented.

If the management (and therefore the selling) of OUR timber reserves is in private hands then we will be at their mercy.

How many privatised industries are now in foreign hands?

Surelly this must be a very important issue that as far as I can see simply isnt on the agenda.

I believe there the is a place for all diferent perspectives on woodland use/management but I would imagine that the best way to argue the case with government is to put a good economic case for retaining the forest in Forestry commision Hands.

Further more I would argue that the Forestry Commision has been blamed alot over recent years for mistakes in its early years in planting the wrong species of trees. However It may prove very soon not to have been such a huge mistake.

Ps I have no personal interest in the Forestry commision, i do not work for them nor do any of my family/friends.

Richard
2 July, 2012

Simple answer is to revamp the Forestry Commision and make better use of the forests and make them profitable with more leisure / public access combined with some grander scale wood production / planting schemes.

No need to sell them – anther golden goose – keep it & feed it!

Which reminds me – the Post Office is now making a handsome profit – why sell that?

Seems a bit daft to me!

Andy
3 July, 2012

Nice thought Richard, but where are the skills and investment finance for such a revolution?

Richard
3 July, 2012

Andy wrote “Nice thought Richard, but where are the skills and investment finance for such a revolution?”

The Forestry Commission already has the land management skills, and with specialist help have created leisure facilities such as ‘high ropes’ that proven popular and successful.

I would have thought suitable sections of forest could be leased for woodland holidays, and pockets / glades could be cleared to make wonderful woodland campsites at very little cost but bring the money in, without causes much damage and without selling the land.

Wood production needs to stepped up / made more efficient lean process, encourage/promote wood chip slow burn efficient home heating for example.

As I understand it the FC was set up during the War to ensure a good supply of wood for making trenches etc. The model/role of the FC just needs to change to become a profitable business model – just like the post office.

Andy
3 July, 2012

Yes, but where are the skills and investment finance for such a revolution? A few small scale projects won’t achieve the desired effect.
I think you underestimate the cost of clearing woodland to an acceptable environmental and commercial standard even for campsites. To be commercially viable on a significant scale these would need good quality facilities. Obtaining planning permission alone would be prohibitively expensive, even if it were achievable.
The UK simply does not possess the number of financially skilled entrepreneurs, knowledgeable in forestry, to create an undertaking, or series of undertakings, of sufficient size and scope to achieve the twin objectives of commercial profits and public access.
This is not to denigrate the efforts of owner occupiers who are doing such a good job of improving and preserving small woodlands, but merely recognises the skills shortage and lack of available finance for dealing with something the size of the publicly owned forestry estate.

Richard
3 July, 2012

Well it would seem the FC already has these ideas in hand with regional policy.

The Executive Summary is interesting (Yorkshire region) slightly dated stats but useful info:

Quote [source = http://www.forestry.gov.uk/website/forestry.nsf/byunique/infd-7bcflf%5D

“Headline Facts – Economic Issues
l/Timber production in the (Yorkshire) region stands at 270,000m a year and has the potential to increase to 340,000m a year
2/In 2001/02 the forestry sector supported approximately 320 businesses and over 1840 jobs
3/The non-market benefits of our trees and woodlands are estimated to contribute over £80m a year to the region’s economy”

I all politeness I think you may be underestimating the UK’s resources, skills, and potential.

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