How dramatic! The Prime Minister kills off his own policy in a brutal and public manner (BBC, Guardian, Independent).
The RSPB is quoted as follows in the Independent: "If the Government abandons the policy, that is fine by us. This whole debate has shown the public care about forests and how we are going to have better ones in the future.".
The consultation on the future of forests will be scrapped (does that mean government is not interested in our views on the subject any more?), some of the clauses from the Public Bodies Bill will be removed (but it remains an awful Bill) and a panel of experts will be set up to look at access and biodiversity issues within publicly owned woodland (and presumably non-woodland areas owned or managed by the Forestry Commission).
This story has a long way to go. After such a public outcry the status quo is no longer an option, but government no longer wants to know what you think on the subject. Hmmm.
This is a defeat for Big Society as an idea - isn't that the Prime Minister's big idea? If a forest sell-off is no longer going to happen then the State is going to remain as a major player in the business of growing commercial timber crops. What happened to Small Government and what are the implications for all other aspects of the Government's Small Government/Big Society programme?
The Public Bodies Bill will be amended - but remains a fundamentally awful Bill which would allow any future government huge powers to abolish, merge or amend public bodies, many of them Defra bodies, into the future. At least Defra was consulting on its radical Big Society plans for forests - the Public Bodies Bill would allow many equally dramatic and controversial measures to be made without public consultation.
Are forestry sales now halted? I'm not sure we know. Will those sales that were put on-hold be allowed to proceed now? They were put on hold because it was thought foolish to go ahead with sales when government was consulting on the added safeguards that were thought to be needed to protect their wildlife, and access to those woods. Government is no longer consulting on that issue. So...?
And what does this mean for Defra's budget? Were the projected income figures from forest sales built into Defra's CSR settlement with the Treasury? I suspect they were. So is there now a hole in Defra's budget? I suspect there is. What will be the knock-on environmental impacts of that budgetary shift?
And the status quo is rarely good enough. The mixing up of making a buck and delivering a public service that is the current Forestry Commission is too peculiar to last. We welcome the setting up of an expert panel, and the RSPB would be keen to play a part in its work, but we will have to see what is its remit. It should be allowed to look at the role of the Forestry Commission and see whether its current remit is well-suited to the delivery of public access and a richer wildlife in our publicly owned forests, heaths and grasslands.
And what does this mean for National Nature Reserves? What is their future now?
As I say, this issue has a long way to go. How many people will stick with it for the long run? The RSPB will.
The Government has two options: to try and kick this into the long grass with a toothless, hand picked 'panel' whilst persecuting the Forestry Commission for thwarting it. If it does this its likely it won't sell another forest this parliament.
Or it can be Statesmanlike - accept the people have spoken, forget the trivial amounts of money involved and listen to what people want - including putting our favourite forests out of reach so that they're successors in 15 years time aren't tempted to make the same mistake as their predescessors in 1994.
We need a new remit for FC - and I'm voting for a Forest and Wildlife service with a clear public benefit remit; inalienable legal status for the nations favourite forests and we can even solve the timber problem - lrets get our woods back into management for carbon-freidnly wood fuel and at the same time reverse the decline in woodland birds - caused by lack of management. I estimate that could generate £200m a year of new business, mainly in rural areas - way beyond the gains that could ever have been achieved by selling.
So there's a win win out there and all the forest supporters need to stick with it to get the forests they want.
I think your proposals (and my comments ) on your earlier blog this morning Mark are just as valid in all this temporary turbulence and I knew the RSPB would stick in there and be playing its part.
Regarding the Public Bodies Bill which seeks to grant much too much power in the hands of just one, or a few ministers, without proper consultation, or the opportunity to publicly debate each important change, I gather there is now a Government web site where the general public can comment on any bill or bills proceeding through Parliament. However, I am not sure of its web site address. As you say Mark, at least DEFRA consulted on the forest issues much to their credit. Lessons should be learnt from the "forests" and the Public Bodies Bill scraped, preferably, or as minimum at least be subject to full public consultation in a similar way. With the debate about forests there is the danger this bad bill will sneek through without much public notice.
The Conservative party has a history of selling off forestry commission land . I wonder if this change of policy is just unfinished business.
This whole unfortunate process came to public knowledge with the Forest Minister basically saying that the Govt could sell 100,000 acres of forests under current legislation but to sell off the rest would require a change in legislation. "That's the reason for it" he said. I am over the moon that the Govt appears to have halted the major element of this but there still remains that 100,000 acres (15%) that appear to be part of a sell off without consultation. According to the BBC, the opposition are saying that starts in April. As you say Mark, that is now without consultation. So 85% there. Now is the time to sit round the table and discuss 100% of the forests, Forestry Commission and everthing you refer to above.
BATS, BADGERS, BIRCH OR BANKRUPTCY?
“Bats scupper big wheel plan” - York Press
“PLANS to build a big wheel behind York Art Gallery have been dramatically abandoned - because of bats.
York Museums Trust has withdrawn its plans for a 53-metre wheel, because it couldn't guarantee that the scheme wouldn't destroy possible bat colonies in the existing buildings on the site.
Full bat surveys can only be carried out from mid-May onwards, so although the Trust may resubmit the plans, their hopes of operating by Easter are now quashed.”
THE MOB RULES AGAIN
Roll on Christmas!
PS - Wasn’t it Robbie Burns who said ‘if a bat can’t miss a slow moving ‘Big Wheel’ - what’s it doing flying about at night?
“This is a defeat for Big Society as an idea”
Now who’s talking rubbish?
Just a shade over-excited methinks – young Mark!
Mark - I hadnt seen your update this morning so have just written my own piece http://wp.me/p17KDu-1M.
I think this FC climbdown is a great opportunity to re-cast the role of the State as landowner. With the White Paper, nu England Biodiversity Strategy and the Government's response to Lawton coming up, now is the time for a radical rethink. We should collectively push for the FC land, plus other big State land holdings, like Defence Estates (the latest victim of slash and burn announced yesterday) to be at the heart of Lawton's proposals for Landscape-Scale action. These are the places which have almost entirely escaped the chemical revolution in farming, so they still have the wildlife habitats, and even under conifers, they still have the greatest potential for restoration to bog, heathland and grassland (thanks Mark!) as well as restoring ancient woodlands. Let's campaign to rename the FC as the landscape restoration commission!
Understanding “The Big Society”
Just to help you a little - The Big Society is an attempt by DC (with Steve Hilton’s help) to encapsulate a Tory philosophy. It’s nothing new – it happens now – and the RSPB is (already) a (significant) part of it!
David Cameron could have said -
“Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country?”
as JFK said as part of his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961 - after Gen Omar Bradley used in his "The New Frontier". BUT as you know – it’s been said before - The real original comes from Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Warren Gamaliel Harding (who?) [1865-1923] said , "In the great fulfillment we must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation."
The alternative and still current socialist doctrine is that the individual is an incompetent ward taken care of by the 'super-competent' State. (LOL)
Since the advent of socialism, government has had an increasing grasp on everyday life. It has to stop!
So Mark let’s not have any more misleading political point-scoring from the RSPB please.
This is a great victory (in particular for the people of the Forest of Dean and HOOF; the Dean's Speech House again gets a relevance for this generation). It is a visible fact that people love publicly owned space over private space; we get a sense of freedom and liberty from it; these are our modern Commons and invaluable because of that.
I very much hope that RSPB and the Wildlife Alliance takes note that "publicly owned land" is important to people; it is has nt been at all strong on this principle and has not come out well from this. The principle of public commons needs to be taken forward so that no government can ever again try and enclose them. It seems to me that this is more important than the niceties of wildlife management which posters to this forum, myself included, may find more important.
I like the idea that Miles and Nightjar have posted above re the great expanses of "unimproved" MOD land and feel that along with the Forest and Wildlife Service it is an idea that has legs; it has to include our National Parks and AONB's as well as Cannock Chase, New Forest and Forest of Dean etc etc but public including the idea of common land and rights, including perhaps fuel rights in return for woodland management. This will be important in the years to come.
Above all this is a victory for our commons which is as ancient in our culture as Boadicea and King Alfred and all outlined in William the Conqueror's Domesday Book; it rewrites the Big Society, if it is to have any potential at all, with a more traditional Tory theme with commons in our countryside.
Well done, the mob !
Miles says 'We should collectively push for the FC land, plus other big State land holdings, like Defence Estates (the latest victim of slash and burn announced yesterday)'
I didn't know of that one. So much is going on I think I have lost the plot. Or is it someone else. All we can now hope is that the end result is that between the Govt, NGOs and other interested bodies an outcome emerges that gives us (and most importantly future generations) a well protected and accessible environment.
Now that the U-turn has been confirmed by Caroline Spelman in the House of Commons I think it is timely to express our gratitude to the people of this country for fighting so hard to protect our public forest estate. There is no doubt that without this well executed campaign of protest we would have been watching the sell-off of our lands. This panel of experts idea worries me though. How do we know that these experts will listen to and reflect the views of the ordinary people of the land and not merely advocate their own self-interest. There has to be room for the public at large to continue to help shape the future of our woodland and heathlands.
Listening to the BBC news at 1.00pm, Mark, the current hullabaloo surrounding the forest issue may mean that politically, it will not now be possible for the Government to sell any forests, not even the commerial plantations. So while I would still strongly support your proposal (and my comments) on your earlier blog this morning, it may well be that some alternative thinking needs to be done on the basis that no woodlands or very few will now be sold. However as you say, this still has a long way to run, with, I am sure, lots of twists and turns to come, so it is excellent the RSPB will be there and ready with its expertise and inputs .
nightjar - thank you. The inalienable forests of England - sounds good to me.
Keith Fitton - this is the end of the beginning I think. So, have a breather but don't think it's finished.
Bob - you aren't the only one who has lost the plot - if you have - I'm not sure that David Cameron looked on the top of his game in terms of collective responsibility or seeing the big picture yesterday.
peter crispin - I'm glad that you are pleased. But this isn't the end of the game.
trimbush - interesting post but whilst the government is spending my money I have a stake in what they spend it on. And I try to be tolerant of all views here but even more so when the poster describes me as 'young man'.
CPAGB20 - or may I call you CP? There do seem to be cycles of this activity. What is different this time is that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act has reduced, but not totally eliminated, the angst over public access to FC land.
Miles - I liked your blog but I might not always let you pinch my readers!
redkite - thank you. I need to find that website.
I am not sure what the relevance of the Big Wheel in York is to the debate about selling off forests or not but for what it is worth (a) I don't see anything wrong with proposers of a big wheel having to take due account of its possible impacts on bats and (b) from the report I heard (on BBC Look North News) the Big Wheel proposal fell because it was deemed that it would adversely affect some views of York Minster.
Miles - rubbish - Why can the FC not grow conifers. Conifers provide a wonderful habitat for many woodland species like Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Crossbill, Woodcock, Goshawk not to mention the main habitat for Red Squirrel. Private Forestry will never manage their woodlands for wildlife other than game birds and then the Birds of Prey will be removed like Goshawk, Tawny and Long eared Owl. The old plantations of the past are now being changed into timber and wildlife corridors by FC. Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier and Black Grouse are the birds of the future. Vast areas of British Uplands have been left with soil erosion damaging lakes and rivers in many areas and causing flash floods many owned by the National Trust especially in the Lake District. Real management is needed. Look at Iceland turning eroded hill sides into forest. Non native trees encourage native trees to establish as the micro climate is established keeping out those Arctic winds. I just hope 'cowboys' will not end up on this panel to advise the government as they obviously did before.