Future protection for forests welcome

Thursday 31st January 2013

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Confirmation that forests in England will remain in public ownership is warmly welcomed today as the Government publishes its long-awaited response to the Independent Panel on Forestry.

The Government has committed to a number of positive steps towards realising the full potential of the Public Forest Estate (PFE) for wildlife and people.

The Wildlife Trusts are especially pleased to see that:
• The Public Forest Estate will continue to be managed by a public body.  The Wildlife Trusts will continue to work closely in partnership to ensure the Public Forest Estate delivers for everyone, and with a strong focus on conservation.
• The Government has recognised the need to restore open habitats such as areas of lowland heathland and meadow, which are vitally important for wildlife.
• The value of woodlands to people’s health, education and wellbeing is beginning to be realised and that the Government sees the potential of Forest Schools.

The Public Forest Estate currently provides around £400m of benefits for an investment of just £20m and there is potential for it to deliver even more.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, welcomed the response but warned that the Government must commit the long-term funding needed to put the vision into practice. He said:

“Defra’s statement demonstrates that it has listened to the thousands of people who want to see a better future for our woodlands and public forests.  Actions speak louder than words, however, and so we await clear signs that the right action is being taken.”

The Public Forest Estate currently provides around £400m of benefits for an investment of just £20m and there is potential for it to deliver even more.

Paul Wilkinson added:

“The Public Forest Estate is exceptionally good value for money, especially when compared to the £85m cost of the controversial Bexhill-Hastings link road or the £33bn cost of HS2.  Although it is good to hear some funding will be made available for certain initiatives, the entirety of the Estate and Forest Services will continue to need proper funding in the long term.

“The Forestry Commission and government conservation agencies have already had funding cut to such an extent that they are struggling to function.  We want to see the Government move away from the outdated approach and recognise the true value of nature, as quantified by the UK National Ecosystem Assessment.  Otherwise there is a danger that this vision will not be achieved.  The millions of people who care about the natural environment would be justified in asking why.”

The Independent Panel on Forestry
The Independent Panel on Forestry was established on 17 March 2011 by the Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman MP, to advise government on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England.  The Panel was chaired by the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool.  Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, sat on the Panel in a personal capacity.  The panel’s final report was published on Wednesday 4 July 2012.

The Wildlife Trusts engaged with the Panel at every opportunity.  Our recommendations reflected our vision for A Living Landscape and enshrined the thinking about nature’s recovery in the Lawton Review and Natural Environment White Paper.  The Wildlife Trusts submitted a response to the Panel’s call for views, which can be downloaded at http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/living-landscape/woodland-and-forestry/independent-panel-forestry-england

The Natural Environment White Paper
The Government’s White Paper, published in June 2011, emphasises the intrinsic, economic and social value of the natural environment.  It also endorses the need for a landscape-scale approach to securing nature’s recovery.

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA)
The UK National Ecosystem Assessment, which was prepared and peer-reviewed by over 500 experts, is the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s natural environment and resources ever undertaken.  Its key finding is that the benefits that we derive from the natural world and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to human well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in economic analysis and decision-making.

The NEA values the social and environmental benefits of woodland in the UK at £1.2 billion per annum.

Forest School
Forest school is a unique educational experience using the outdoor environment as a classroom.  Encouraged by trained Forest School leaders, children have the freedom to discover and experiment, developing imagination and practical skills by making fires, building dens and using tools.  The Wildlife Trusts have embraced the Forest School concept.

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT) www.wildlifetrusts.org/woodland
There are 37 individual Wildlife Trusts in England. The Wildlife Trusts have more than 740,000 members in England including 140,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch.  Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas.  Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.

As a charity concerned with protecting wildlife sites and securing nature’s recovery, The Wildlife Trusts’ key interest is to ensure places rich in nature are identified and protected for the future.

The Wildlife Trusts’ vision of A Living Landscape is a recovery plan for nature which involves enlarging, improving, creating and joining up wildlife-rich areas of land to create a connected ecological network across the UK.  Woodlands are a key part of that ecological network.  The Wildlife Trusts want to see all of the existing native woodlands safeguarded.  In some areas conifer plantations should be restored to their former glory as heath, bog or broadleaved woodland habitats.  To fulfil our vision we are committed to securing the best use and management of all land, including forests and woods, for the benefit of people and wildlife

Historic background on The Wildlife Trusts’ work in woods and forests
World War II saw large-scale felling of ancient broadleaved woods and their conversion to conifers to grow and supply timber for the war effort, as we were no longer able to rely on timber imports.  In the 1950s and 60s, to secure long-term supplies of timber, there was extensive planting of conifers on semi-natural habitats such as heathland, grassland, bog and wetland.  As a result, during the 20th Century, 40% of England’s ancient woodland was converted to plantations.  Woodlands have also been lost or damaged through urban and agricultural development and now, ancient woodlands cover just three per cent of England’s land area.  Of the remaining ancient woodlands, 80% are less than 20 hectares in size and half of these are even smaller - less than five hectares.

For many decades Wildlife Trusts have tried to stem the tide against forestry practices destroying key habitats such as bogs and heathlands and have safeguarded precious ancient woodlands against destruction.  The Wildlife Trusts care for more than 16,000 ha of woodland in England alone.

We're also involved with many community woodlands and help to advise on woodland creation projects.  Many Wildlife Trusts are also involved with increasingly large-scale schemes to create and restore other wildlife habitats such as heathland and wetland within woodlands.  Find out more about The Wildlife Trusts and woodland conservation work with community woods, nature reserves and restoration schemes.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes