Below are the campign updates issued by the Friends of Thetford Forest (FoTF) Save Our Forests Campaign during 2014. Click on a heading to expand the section and reveal the update. You can view the latest update here
Although the Government failed to seize the initiative by bringing forward legislation in this Parliament to protect our publicly owned woods and forests, the issue refuses to go away. Until that legislation has been put in place, concerns about the security of the Public Forest Estate will remain. The strength of public support for the PFE is as strong as ever - as the Government were reminded during the debate on the Infrastructure Bill when a national petition highlighting a perceived threat to the PFE from the Bill gained hundreds of thousands of signatories in a matter of days. This led to a public statement from Lord Ahmad, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, part of which is reproduced below:
"The Government has no plans to dispose of the Public Forest Estate and the powers contained in Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill do not present a threat to the future of the estate in public hands. The estate is not surplus, it is not owned by an arm’s-length body and very little of the Public Forest Estate would be suitable for housing development under the Homes and Communities Agency’s remit.
The Government recognises, however, the strength of people’s concerns about the future security of the Public Forest Estate, and commits to:
While FoTF is pleased to see this most recent public re-statement of assurances already given to us personally by Elizabeth Truss, (Secretary of State for the Environment) and Dan Rogerson, (Parliamentary Under-Secretary with responsibility for Forestry) it underlines the importance of securing legislation to protect the PFE for the nation. (See Autumn/Winter Newsletter)
Friends of Thetford Forest call upon all political parties to commit to honouring in their manifestos the commitments given by the current Government in its Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement (2013). (See our letter to all parties)
We encourage everyone to do the same and drive home to our politicians the passion we all have for our forests and woodlands!
Many of you will recall the Government's proposal three years ago to sell off our Public Forest Estate, including Thetford Forest. Not surprisingly, there was a nationwide protest and the Government backed down, instead setting up an Independent Panel for Forestry whose recommendations were welcomed by DEFRA, forest campaigners, conservation groups and forest industries.
Friends of Thetford Forest campaigned in the East of England against the threat to our forests and, as a member of the Forest Campaign Network, has continued to be involved in shaping the draft legislation which will protect our Public Forest Estate for future generations. It is therefore very disappointing that the Queen’s Speech, setting out the bills for the final session of this Parliament, did not include a draft Forestry Bill.
Such legislation is needed to give lasting protection to England's public forests and woods which are enjoyed by 40 million people annually. Without it, they remain at risk from sell-off and other forms of disposal, including the privatisation of forestry functions and amenities.
For the immediate future, Friends of Thetford Forest and all the members of the Forest Campaign Network call upon the Government to adopt and fully resource the Forestry Commission through a Payment for Ecosystems Services model which is based on a comprehensive audit of all the services the Forestry Commission provides for public, cultural, heritage and conservation benefits. This amounts to £22 million per annum from the Treasury, equating to approximately 40p annually per taxpayer, which would enable the Forestry Commission to continue its efficient and effective management of our Public Forest Estate.
Until there is legislation which secures the Public Forest Estate for us and for future generations, Friends of Thetford Forest and the Forest Campaign Network will continue to lobby the Government, MPs of all Parties and the House of Lords, to ensure that they honour their commitment to the sustainable future of the woods and forests that belong to us all.
In March the Friends of Thetford Forest wrote to the prime minister, David Cameron. The letter expressed FoTFs wish that draft legislation should be brought before Parliament at the earliest opportunity.
This follows the Forum Meeting that took place at Nobel House on the 29th January. FoTF, among other attendees, were given the ten principles on which the new Public Forest Estate Management Organisation is to be founded, with reassurances that funding, linked to an eco-systems services payments scheme, will be put into place.
FoTF hope that this legislation will be able to bring forward so that it can be included in the Queen’s Speech.
Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Dan Rogerson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Water, Forestry, Rural Affairs and Resource Management were also sent copies. The Rt Rev James Jones, chair of the Independent Panel on Forestry, also received a copy of the letter.
FoTF attended the latest National Stakeholder Event in London, at Nobel House, on 29th January.
Before the stakeholder meeting, FoTF were able to meet with Dan Rogerson MP and afterwards continued a discussion with Tony Williamson of DEFRA.
The main Stakeholder meeting was focused on detailing progress so far on the implementation of the Government's Forestry Policy, along with some brief presentations by various organisations of their own contributions to making the forestry sector's action plan 'Grown In Britain' work, this included a presentation by FoTF.
The main points were:
At a pre-Forum meeting with Dan Rogerson MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary with responsibility for Forestry) FoTF were told of ten principles that will underpin the new PFEMO. These are:
The report on the Governments progress on the thirty six commitments made in the Forestry and Woodlands Statement a year ago can be found via the link here.
The future of Forest Services looks more secure than previously thought. The Forestry Commission will remain as a distinct entity within DEFRA, with FS remaining to deliver the Government’s forestry functions.
All now hinges on the legislation. It is hoped that it may still be included in the Queen’s Speech in May. If that happens, then legislation will be available for pre-legislative scrutiny around the same time, as will the draft Charter that will underpin it. Time is very tight and the Government will not entertain the idea of putting anything forward that will attract controversy or criticism in the last year before an election.
FoTF feel this is essentially everything that FoTF have campaigned for (with the proviso that the legislation proves sufficient enough to give all the legal protection the PFE needs). With this in mind, our recommendation is that FoTF backs the proposals and pushes the Government to move ahead with the legislative process.
There still remain concerns over subjects like biodiversity and the right level of business activity, the threat of mineral extraction etc but with Guardians and a community position on the Executive Board FoTF will now be a better position than ever before to protect the PFE. We must always remain vigilant, however, and be prepared to act as local Guardians if necessary.