Two years of intense campaigning were rewarded on January 31st 2013 when the Government finally announced its official response to the Independent Panel on Forestry's (IPF) Final Report on the future of England's Woods and Forests.
Friends of Thetford Forest was among a small group of grassroots campaigners who met with Forestry Minister David Heath MP ahead of the main launch event.
FoTF regards the Policy Statement as largely positive and are particularly pleased that:
- the Public Forest Estate (PFE) will remain in public ownership and be held in trust for the nation
- the PFE will be managed by a body that is operationally independent from Government
- the piecemeal selling off of up to 15% of the estate per year will cease and that an additional £3.5 million will be given to the Forestry Commission (FC) this year to offset the loss of revenue from land sales
- an additional £2 million will be granted to FC to combat tree diseases such as Ash Dieback
- ordinary people will become more influential in the governance of the PFE
- the Government accepts the social, economic and environmental benefits provided by trees and woodlands
- there will be a drive to expand the woodland cover of England.
Some aspects of the Policy Statement and the future remain a cause for concern. These include:
- the fact that there is no funding settlement beyond 2015 - crucial while FC adapts to the new reality, particularly as mature timber stocks decline. This is also in conflict with the IPF's recommendation of funding of �22 million per year (currently �20 million)
- the balance between the potentially conflicting interests of business, conservation and leisure
- the future of Forest Services - the part of FC that deals with regulation and grants
- the Government's renewed commitment to the Open Habitats Policy
Over the next few months FoTF will continue to:
- monitor the implementation of the Government's Forestry and Woodlands Policy
- lobby for what we feel is in the best interests of the PFE in general and Thetford Forest in particular
- take all opportunities to meet with ministers, DEFRA and FC officials
- encourage public involvement with our forests
The full Policy Statement can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/rural/forestry/panel-response/
thank you to everyone who made the achievements of the last two years possible. Without the overwhelming public support for our forests, they may well have been lost to us all. We now stand at the threshold of an exciting time where together we can build a truly great national treasure.