Friends of Thetford Forest (FoTF) Committee has read the Independent Panel's Report on the Future of Forestry, published on 4th July and believes that it contains a positive blueprint for the future of the Public Forest Estate.
It is particularly pleased that the Panel recommends that the Public Forest Estate remains in public ownership in perpetuity, an aspiration that has been at the heart of its campaign.
The management structures proposed effectively appears to continue the role of the Forestry Commission in an evolving form, acknowledging its exemplary stewardship of our forests and woods on behalf of us all.
This Board must be made up of those who understand the multi-purpose function of the Public Forest Estate and the value placed upon it by local communities.
In addition, it must have at least one representative of the volunteer community groups who help care for the forests and woods of the Public Forest Estate and are its users, so that it engages a wider group of people in its governance.
FoTF values the role of local communities to own, maintain and make use of the products of their local woodlands, whether long-established or newly-planted. However, FoTF does not envisage 'community leasing' of any part of the public forest estate. It must remain in public ownership and be managed by those who have been trained as skilled foresters.
Thetford Forest shows what can be achieved by the public forest estate working in a mutually-supportive partnership with volunteers and community groups. FoTF believes that this only works because there is the overall expert leadership of those who have been trained to manage our forests and that such complex management is far beyond the capacity or the skills of volunteer groups.
FoTF welcomes the vision of 'informal access being the norm in both publically and privately owned woodlands'. It was especially delighted that the Interim Report stated that 'the Forestry Commission sets a gold standard in recreational access' and that the final Report advocates 'greater investment' in this provision.
FoTF welcomes the vision of 'a landscape where our inheritance of woodlands and trees is well protected, where there are opportunities for nature to thrive. where the wildlife value of woodland and associated habitats is increasing'.
Heathland re-creation is mentioned several times in the Report and FoTF will be seeking clarification on the implications of this for Thetford Forest and indeed the other forests and woods in East Anglia.
Emphasis on woodland culture and making wood 'the product of choice for people and businesses' is exemplary. It is a renewable resource and has a role to play in climate change mitigation and has a long and rich history of use in this country.
The forests of the Public Forest Estate are working landscapes and as such, are following the tradition of cultivation of our agricultural land through millennia.
FoTF is especially delighted that the long-term nature of growing trees is at last being recognised.
FoTF thinks that a Charter to ratify the Public Forest Estate and thereby remove it from the control of individual governments is a sound proposition.
However, the statement that there should be a 'new public forest management organisation' is the cause of our greatest concern. From our experience of sixteen years volunteering for Thetford Forest, we know that the Forestry Commission has proved itself as the expert manager and steward of the Public Forest Estate.
With a proven record of delivery for timber production, conservation and recreation, there is absolutely no need to change the current manager. In fact, giving it the resources to invest, it will be able to deliver even greater public benefits, drawing on its demonstrable expertise.
In addition, FoTF is most adamantly against any change of name. 'The Forestry Commission' is recognised internationally and has a superb reputation as a world leader in sustainable forestry. It is the first forest service in the world to achieve Forest Management and Chain of Custody Certification from the Forestry Stewardship Council.
There is also the cost of 're-branding' and 'name-changing' to be taken into account. It could be seen as an injudicious 'waste of money' at a time of national financial restraint, particularly when such money could be spent in more practical improvements to our forests and woods.
FoTF sees the Report as the first true acknowledgement of the value of our forests and woods and trees for this and successive generations. Its recommendation that the public forest estate must remain in public ownership and never again be threatened by short-term policy or temporary financial gain is especially welcome.
FoTF believes that the rich cultural, historical and natural diversity of our forests and woods is best protected under the stewardship of the Forestry Commission, fully resourced to manage our public forest estate now and in the future.
To view the FoTF summary of the final report click here.
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