Government set to sell off Britain’s forests

Up to 150,000 hectares of state-owned forests and land could be sold to private investors, under a new government strategy to raise funds towards decreasing the Budget deficit. The Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman is expected to announce details of the plans later this week, amidst warnings from conservation organizations and opposition parties that it could be a ‘costly mistake’.

Yesterday Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, said the plans would be an ‘unforgivable act of environmental vandalism’. She added that: “Rather than asset-stripping our natural heritage, government should be preserving public access to it, and fostering its role in combating climate change and enhancing biodiversity.”.

Currently, the Forestry Commission looks after around 1.85 million hectares of forest, up to half of which could be partly-privatized by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in one of the largest sales of land in British history. Landowners have expressed concerns that the most profitable land could be sold too cheaply for a quick sale. Representatives from both the RSPB and the Woodland Trust have indicated that the sale price for the ancient forests would not match its environmental and social value and that industrialists have no incentive to provide the same level of care as the Forestry Commission. RSPB conservation director, Mark Avery stated: “The future ownership and management of land that has high public value should be carefully considered. The proposed land sales are driven by the need to generate quick cash, but they must not be at the expense of protecting our natural capital, which is irreplaceable.”

However, whilst government ministers hope for up to £250m to be raised at current land values, sources in Whitehall insist that it would not be a complete sell-off of forestry land.