England’s green and privatised land

New Forest Autumn

Image by danny george via Flickr

The Government is currently consulting over proposals to sell off a large proportion of our nationally-owned forests. As far as I can tell the plans are ill-defined, ideologically-driven and risk casting a scar upon the landscape of this land forever. In the consultation document Caroline Spelman describes them as ‘treasured woodlands’, but if thats so, why flog them?

Historically Britain – or at least England – has been one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe. Forests and trees are a strong central thread in British history – look at Robin Hood and his merry men hiding out in Sherwood Forest for starters. For hundreds of years the Forests sustained Royal Hunting, with plenty of lodges and a supportive infrastructure. And then we have the crucial role that Royal Forests played in supplying timber for the burgeoning Royal Navy. Not for nothing is the Royal Navy’s march entitled ‘Heart of Oak‘.

The Government, through the Forestry Commission, currently looks after 18% of Britain’s woodland – 258,000 hectares. The other 82% is privately owned (how much of it is on Tory MP’s and Peers estates, one wonders?). Near me there are a couple of ancient Forests – the Forest of Bere and the New Forest. The Forest of Bere was for hundreds of years an ancient hunting reserve. And the New Forest is an enigma all of its own. There are so many ancient customs going on there, and its a real gem of this country that we should be so proud of and protect to the hilt. Particularly at a time when so many people, especially young people, dwell in inner cities and never get to see the countryside – we should be encouraging them to get out and walking in the mud of the Forests. Maybe in this sense communities could take over and run small forests – particularly those on the fringes of urban areas. But only wealthy, well-adjusted communities will have the time, funds and resources to do so.

I cannot understand what the Government hopes to achieve, aside from saving a few quid. Actually, I’ve answered my own question there. Surely some things should be sacred beyond mere penny-pinching? I am in no way convinced about the safeguards in place to prevent private companies – in all likelihood foreign – exploiting and asset stripping the very fabric of our land. We were told before the privatisation of public transport that it would lead to better services and investment, and to be quite frank that was bollocks. The countryside is not an amenity, it IS part of the country. Are we to see ‘the [insert name of faceless company] New Forest’, complete with huge advertising hoardings, blocking access or charging for the right to visit, or exploiting the hell out of the Forest’s resources? We might not, but once control is handed over, what is there to stop it? The consultation talks about ‘alternative models of ownership’, but past experience shows us that this is window dressing for getting something off the balance sheet, and to hell with the consequences, and if someone can profit from it as well, even better.

Is anything about this country sacred? If we are being consulted about selling off our trees, heaths, fields and pastures, had we might as well consult about privatising the oxygen supply as well. For me this goes beyond politics, it’s just plain wrong. Yet only the other day a majority of MP’s in the House of Commons – aided by a large number of Tory MP’s who have rural constituencies and a vacancy in brain cells – actually backed the Government’s plan. Evidence, if any is needed, that MP’s will just go along with whatever their political masters tell them to vote for.



Filed under debate, News, politics, Uncategorized

7 responses to “England’s green and privatised land

  1. John Erickson

    I assume there is no equivalent to our National Parks Service, in that your Forestry Commission is simply a “maintenance” service? It sounds like you need a more aggressive service, something that seeks out and buys up private lands to increase the acreage available as parks. Or perhaps a goodwill initiative – get some of those far too well-to-do MPs and Lords to donate a few acres here and there. Nothing they’ll miss, I’m sure, and a wonderful PR tool. Or perhaps we should just look to England to serve as the trailblazer, so mankind can finally realise the title of an old 1960s song – “They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot”. 🙂 (Sorry, guess that last shoulda been Car Park, no? :p

    • James Daly

      I keep mulling it over, and theres no conclusion to come to other than that the Forests are yet another one of the crown jewels that the Government want to slash and burn in the incessant pursuit of cuts. The fact that some murky corporation and its rotund shareholders might make money out of it only adds to the ideological attraction.

  2. Edna Cahill

    Started with the woods and went on to the bloggs.
    I have been having a Sunday Morning Browse and found lots of interesting information – starting with Portsdown Hill (our Sunday walk from Stamshaw) and moving on to the pubs; my father, being exnavy, had several mates who were publicans.
    The first was at The Air Balloon, I believe his name was Montfort. We spent a night in his cellar, my father had been asked by his mate up at Ganges to take something to him but we got caught in a raid and could not get home. I went to school immediately opposite, in Flying Bull Lane Senior Girls.
    Another was The Morning Star, in Greetham Street; I couldn’t find it on your list. The landlord was Steve Cripps, a naval pensioner on recall, and his wife then ran the pub throughout the war.
    The Tramway Arms on the corner of Lake Road and Kingston road was another ex-navy landlord, whose family helped out when he was recalled to the colours during WW2.
    One or two others were known to us for different reasons; my late husband grew up in Somerstown and his dad used to visit the Mystery.
    The Mile End Cellars was notorious during the war, because of the ‘Red Shoes Murder’ which took place close by; I believe it is one of the famous unsolved crimes.
    The Mediterranean I used to pass when I went to Stamshaw Junior School; we were encouraged to walk Stamshaw Road and not Twyford Avenue because there was less traffic. When we did walk Twyford Avenue, we crossed at The Mother Shipton, on the corner of ?Gruneisen Road, where there was a ‘Belisha Beacon’ crossing.
    The Lord Roberts was on our walk way to Flying Bull Lane School
    The Green Posts was our return route stopping place on our Sunday walks, because it had a big garden where we joined the other families enjoying the evening air.
    Time to get lunch ready – I must return soon and seek some more! Thanks.

    • James Daly

      Hi Edna, several of those pubs ring a bell with this 20-Something Portsmouth lad – the Air Balloon closed only a few years ago. And the old Mediterranean pub sign is still there, I go past it every morning on the bus. We’re very lucky to live where we do.

    • Hi Edna
      I’m trying to trace my father. Can you tell me anything further about Steve Cripps? His build and complexion etc. Did he have a nickname? I would be most grateful.

  3. Edna Cahill

    Hi James,
    Have only just rediscovered this piece because I was led back to the Red Shoes Murder. It seems to have been lost in the mists of time. I suppose your Portsmouth History Adventures have never turned up any information? We need a cold cases team!
    Afraid I’m still very new to modern communication techniques.

    • James Daly

      Hi Edna, I’m vaguely familiar with the Red Shoes Murder, but will have to go away and do a bit of background reading 😉

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