Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Uniting with ramblers to oppose plans to change Forestry Commission structure

Uniting with ramblers to oppose plans to change Forestry Commission structure 

Taken from the Landworker magazine of Unite. 

A leading member of the Ramblers has praised the Forestry Commission for providing woodland access and joined with Unite in urging the government not to reduce its effectiveness through structural change.

Ramblers Ian Brodie shares Unite's worries over forest commission re-structuring 

Ian Brodie, who is now retired and living on the edge of the Lake District, has been a keen walker all his life. He is old enough to recall, “forty years ago finding places where the Forestry Commission  (FC) discouraged people not to walk in the woods by planting trees over public rights of way. “ 

Not so now, and despite only 18% of England’s woods being publicly owned they account for 44% of those that are accessible. 

All of which means the vast majority of private woodland remains out of bounds to the public. “That’s certainly the case locally as apart from land owned by United Utilities most privately owned woodlands tend to be inaccessible. High Dale Park, next to the FC’s Grizedale Forest Park, that provides so much enjoyment for walkers, does not have access unless you are on a public right of way.

There’s also privately owned woodlands on the lakeshores of Windermere and Derwentwater where walkers can’t walk off the path.” 

Having played an active role in the Ramblers campaign that was successful in winning the right to roam under the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000, Ian is “delighted” that the Independent Panel on Forestry’s Final report has recommended “measurably increasing the quantity and quality of access to (public and) privately owned woodlands.” 

According to Ian, “This would give walkers greater opportunities to enjoy nature whilst also keeping fit. Private landowners often argue that giving walkers greater access will restrict their commercial activities. But what’s to stop them adopting FC practices, whereby they put up notices when they are felling and workers even take time to explain the importance of good woodland management in protecting our natural resources? 

Private landowners that get public funds under the English Woodland Grant Scheme need to reach the same standards as the FC on providing public access.” 

The panel was set up in 2011 by a Government that was running scared of massive public opposition to its plans to dispose of all 258,000 hectares of the public forest estate (PFE) managed by the FC. Headed by the Right Reverend Bishop James Jones, the panel confirmed PFE provides ‘tremendous value for money.’ For an annual cost of 38 pence per person there is harvest timber for domestic industry, the regeneration of Brownfield sites, access to some of the countries most spectacular landscapes and the provision of outdoor recreational, educational and welfare facilities. There is also a huge spin-off for rural businesses from tourism. 

After such a glowing tribute Ian Brodie shares the concerns of Robert Beaney, Unite forestry workers’ committee chair, that the panel has proposed that the government consider a new structure for the FC. This would result in Forest Enterprises becoming a public body, an organisation that is part of the process of government but not a government department, and Forest Services could become a Trust. 

“I wouldn’t want anything that weakens the direct democratic link between the FC and the government as I fear this will make it easier in the future to dispose of publicly owned forests. We should use the Panel’s recommendations to ensure the owners of private woodlands come up to the high standards set by the FC, rather than change anything that works so well for the public at such little cost” said Ian Brodie. 

Successful meeting 

With the government still considering how to respond to the panel’s proposals, Robert Beaney and his PCS colleague Alan McKenzie within the Forestry Commission Trade Union committee, held a “successful meeting” with Labour’s shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh at the parties recent annual conference in Manchester.

“She listened to our concerns and promised to not let the Government off the hook on an issue that is very important to the members we represent and the general public as a whole,” said Robert. 

Photographs courtesy of Mark Harvey. Copyright protected. 

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