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Hampshire's public woodland should stay in public hands

Last modified: 04 July 2012

Man walking through deciduous woodland

The UK’s public forests including those found across Hampshire are a national asset that play a vital role for people and wildlife and should remain in public hands.

That was the advice to Government today [4 July] from an independent panel of experts in a report that has been welcomed by the RSPB. 

The Independent Panel on Forestry, which was established in March 2011 after a fierce public debate on the proposed sell-off of Forestry Commission land, was set-up to advise the Government on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England.

The report urges “greater protection and continuing restoration of habitats identified as being of high priority” and highlights the pivotal role that woods and forests have in our lives; in providing vital space for plants and wildlife, keeping people healthy and connected with nature, helping to keep our air and water clean, helping us adapt to climate change and driving a move to a greener economy. 

Steve Gilbert, conservation programme manager for RSPB South East, says: “The south east is the most wooded part of England, with approximately 153,000ha of broadleaf native woodland, which is 61% of the English total.

“If woodlands are healthy and well-managed then they are one of our greatest natural assets. We’re pleased to see the report focus on making it a priority for new and existing woodlands in all ownerships to benefit people and wildlife. 

“Woods and forests are crucially important for wildlife, people, and the rural economy. They are places where people feel connected with history and nature, and trees and woods are integral to the quality of our natural environment.”

Forests and woodlands provide important natural habitats for a wide variety of UK wildlife; from birds and bats to amphibians and insects, as well as many wildflower species, such as bluebells, wood anemones, and primroses.

In a recent public survey asking why people value woodlands, wildlife was the top response.  However, woodland wildlife is declining at an alarming rate, faster than almost any other habitat. 

Steve continued: “Since the 1970s, we’ve lost nine out of 10 pairs of willow tits and three out of four pairs of lesser spotted woodpecker – in Hampshire these species are now a scarce resident.

“Some woodland butterflies have declined by more than 60% and one in six woodland plants are now in danger of extinction.

“Often these declines are greater in the south east than in other parts of the country, and if things don’t change, we will lose the diversity of life that makes our woodlands so special.

“A key problem is the poor condition of existing woodland due to a lack of appropriate management.  Forests and woodlands need to be managed correctly to promote and enhance the rich variety of biodiversity that they can sustain

”So, whilst the panel’s recommendations are pleasing, they won’t help if our woodlands are starved of funding and effective management.  The report points out that we all reap benefits to the value of twenty times the amount Government actually puts in to public woodlands, which makes it an incredible investment opportunity.

”It is now up to the government to decide how to take these recommendations forward.  The RSPB will continue to make the case that any changes must lead to greater benefits for woodland wildlife and for people.”

For a copy of the Independent Panel on Forestry Final Report, visit http://www.defra.gov.uk/forestrypanel/reports/