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.