Plan to sell-off forests comes under spotlight

MPS have been discussing controversial proposals which could see England’s forests sold to the private sector.

Parliamentary figures debated an opposition motion which will call on the government to halt the plans.

Ministers want to off-load land that is currently run by the Forestry Commission and have come up with various options that will put it into the hands of private companies, community groups or charities.

Documents have shown that areas classed as small commercial woodland, such as Abbot’s Wood, which runs between Wilmington and Hailsham and Friston Forest near Seaford, are the most likely plots to be put on the market.

Chief executive of Sussex Wildlife Trust, Tony Whitbread, said on his blog there was no stragety to this particular sell-off and said, “Every now and then government tries to work out why we have a public forest estate, but even when it satisfactorily answers the question it can’t resist the urge to sell-off some of the family silver to fill a short-term financial hole.

“To some extent this is quite reasonable.

“We have had changing needs from forestry over the last few decades.

“So it might make sense to look at the resource again to see if it is satisfying its purpose.

“This may result in selling, or buying, some sites to make sure it is still delivering public benefit.

“Unfortunately this sort of logical thinking is rare and it is not happening now.”

But Mr Whitbread added that the lack of strategy was its biggest flaw and added, “Government is writing a Natural Environment White Paper and early signs are that this could be quite good.

“The logical thing would be to publish the white paper and then see how the public forest estate is delivering its objectives.

“Government might then have some rationale for deciding what to do with our public forest estate. Instead, however, we are given the answer – to sell the estate – without really knowing what the question was!”

If plots are not privatised in the first wave, they will come under a second set of plans for the forest estate that will mean the community is given first refusal on taking over control of the land. If that option fails then private firms will have the chance to take them over on 150 year leases.