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Reaction to plans for England's forests

Last modified: 31 January 2013

Woodland sunrise taken at RSPB Headquarters, The Lodge

Woodland sunrise at RSPB's headquarters in Bedfordshire

Image: RSPB Images - Stuart Geeves

We're encouraged by how the Government has responded to the recommendations from the Independent Panel on Forestry on the future of England’s woodlands, but they must now turn the positive words into reality.

In its response, launched this morning [31 Jan], the Government confirmed the future of public forests. However, the report leaves many questions regarding the long-term funding unanswered.

Encouraging proposals

Dr Mike Clarke, RSPB chief executive and former Forestry Panel member, said: “Whilst these proposals are encouraging, they won’t help if our woodlands are starved of funding and effective management in the long term. Healthy and well-managed woodlands are one of our greatest natural assets. England’s public forests cost £20m a year to fund, but the benefits they bring in terms of the environment and people’s health and wellbeing are worth £350m. Today’s announcement signals Government is starting to understand this wider value.  

“If money-saving decisions affecting our natural environment are made in a piecemeal way, we risk squandering our natural assets.”

New public body

The Government’s response includes proposals to create a new public body to oversee the Public Forest Estate held in trust for the nation. The new body will have a clearer long-term remit and be accountable to the nation for its use of money, delivery of wildlife, access and local community needs.  

Dr Clarke continued: “Giving more protection and financial flexibility to the Public Forest Estate is a commonsense approach. For the Estate to fully stay in public hands it needs to be managed by a public body with a long term funding commitment and remit to get a full return out of the land for people and wildlife.”

The future of the rest of Forestry Commission England, known as Forest Services, which provides woodland owners with vital advice, grants and regulation, has been left open.

“To get the most value for people and wildlife the provision of woodland advice, grants and regulation, currently delivered by Forest Services, must continue. We also need to take woods and forests outside their shrinking silo, hampered by budget cuts, and better connect them with the rest of the natural world.

Wildlife comes out top

“In addition to the key points announced today, the Government has provided us with a lengthy report, which I look forward to reading in much more detail.” 

In a public survey last year 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. 

“We’ve already lost three in four lesser spotted woodpeckers, nine in ten willow tits, and more than half of our woodland butterflies and that’s only a snapshot of the full picture. If things don’t change, we will lose the diversity of life that makes our woodlands so special,” said Dr Clarke.

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