Selling England’s forests: A cut too far?

At present, England’s forests are managed by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Ministers however, are now proposing to reform ownership and management of the estate by selling off large quantities of woodland to the private sector in an attempt to help tackle the deficit.

Current proposals suggest the introduction of a ‘mixed model approach’ to future management. This strategy suggests selling the most commercially valuable forests to timber companies on a long lease. Additionally, the reform aims to create a far greater role for civil society, businesses, and individuals when it comes to managing the environment by allowing communities, charities, and local authorities to buy and manage forests themselves; an approach in-keeping with the coalition government’s commitments to shift the balance in power from ‘Big Government’ to ‘Big Society’.

Plans to sell off England’s forests have caused controversy over worries that privatisation will create opportunities for timber and tourism development industries to move in, compromising both wildlife conservation and public access. The Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman however reassured that ancient woodlands such as the Forest of Dean and New Forest will be exempt from sale to commercial organisations, and that biodiversity and public access would not be compromised as environmental safeguards and rights of way would be maintained where possible.

The governments approach to forestry will be outlined in the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper due to be published this spring. The current consultation is open for response until 21st April 2011 through both the Defra and Forestry Commission website. A debate concerning the matter will be held at the Houses of Parliament tomorrow afternoon, of which the proceedings will be broadcast online at