Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests

The government has opened its consultation today on plans to sell-off the national forests, writes David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees.

David Babbs is the executive director of 38 Degrees

The government opened its consultation yesterday on plans to sell-off the national forests. Over the last week, plans to put forests up for sale have been widely rejected by the public, with a quarter of a million signatures demanding to keep them safe in public ownership and a YouGov poll revealing that 84 per cent of the British public support the idea to keep forests in public ownership for future generations.


The Public Bodies Bill, put forward by Tory Minister Jim Paice, would allow for the sale of up to 100% of England’s forests, after similar proposals were blocked by the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament. Clauses in the Bill, currently being debated in the Lords, give power to government ministers to put national treasures such as Sherwood Forest and the Forest of Dean under the hammer, and also to sell off local woodland used by walkers, horse-riders and cyclists.

When questioned in the Lords last year, Jim Paice had said,

“Part of our policy is clearly established: we wish to proceed with… very substantial disposal of the public forest estate, which could go to the extent of all of it. In order to have substantial disposal, we need to change the law.”

Public opposition to the auction of national forests has stopped similar plans before. The Labour government’s forestry consultation in 2008 was overwhelmingly in favour of keeping land in public hands. Proposals put forward to save money in a recession in 1992 by John Major’s Conservative government also planned to put forests into private ownership. Those plans crumbled in the face of widespread public opposition.

Secretary of State Caroline Spelman defended the sell-off plans on Newsnight on Wednesday, arguing that the Forestry Commission could not act as both a land manager and regulator of publicly-owned forests. These arguments don’t hold up to scrutiny, as the UK imports more than 80% of its timber, and the prices at which they are bought reflect the global timber market.

In fact, having the Forestry Commission as a producer of sustainable timber allows local sawmills around the country to stay in business. The Forestry Commission has a duty to maintain supply, a lifeline for small businesses who would otherwise suffer from the irregularities of a global community market. And unlike only 24% of privately owned woodland, 100% of public forests achieve the Forest Stewardship Council standards for responsible management.

20 Responses to “Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests”

  1. manishta sunnia

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests writes David Babbs: //bit.ly/fAuT2S @38_Degrees

  2. Michael Turner

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests writes David Babbs: //bit.ly/fAuT2S @38_Degrees

  3. Graham Galloway

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests writes David Babbs: //bit.ly/fAuT2S @38_Degrees

  4. benedictsouthwo

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests writes David Babbs: //bit.ly/fAuT2S @38_Degrees

  5. Adrian Wale

    ConDem vandalism extends to the ‘green and pleasant’ as they plot privatisation of England’s forests. //bit.ly/gUcgyf

  6. kate

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests writes David Babbs: //bit.ly/fAuT2S @38_Degrees

  7. Chris Jones

    #NewsShare Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests – Left Foot Forward //bit.ly/gbtcjT

  8. Pat Needles

    Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests – Left Foot Forward //bit.ly/fp3SHH

  9. John Baxter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests writes David Babbs: //bit.ly/fAuT2S @38_Degrees

  10. Neil Mc

    The Evil Tories have no mandate to do this. It is quite obvious that the public in overwhelming numbers, which must also include many Tory supporters are resoltely opposed to the Forest sell-off. There empty rhetoric is just a cover for a scheme which is aimed at enriching their wealthy freinds who must be hovering like vultures over these precious assets.

  11. Syzygy

    This sell off is simply to provide inheritance tax avoidance for the extremely rich! We should oppose on those grounds alone but how dare this government with no mandate suggest selling off the common land owned by us all.

  12. L DTUC

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests writes David Babbs: //bit.ly/fAuT2S @38_Degrees

  13. Steve

    Nearly everyone in my office is about to sign a petition to stop this. The people it seems don’t want this policy.

  14. John77

    There are “Lies, damn lies and statistics”.
    Statistics do NOT tolerate the claim that the plans permit selling off 100% of England’s forests. As the Forest of Dean is specifically excluded, you might want to do a tiny, tiny amount of homework before posting rather obvious lies.

  15. Paul Nelson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests writes David Babbs: //bit.ly/fAuT2S @38_Degrees

  16. Mr. Sensible

    Apart from the obvious importance attached to Shirwood Forest here in Nottinghamshire, my Tory MP and I expect several others came to office in a blaze of green, promicing to protect our green spaces.

    Now, it seems that another pledge is about to be broken.

    And Syzygy I read about that a couple of weeks ago. If the aim is to save money, doesn’t that make it a bit of a faulse economy?

  17. Stephen W

    This is total nonsense. Heritage woodlands like the Forest of Dean, and the New Forest are not being sold. There are plenty of coniferous, biologically devoid pine forests that have no real access to the public anyway, and would be better off in the private sector making some money rather than held as nationalised woodland. Nationalised tree farming makes no more sense than nationalised steel or coal. The forestry commission should not exist to act as some sort of socialist timber supplier.

    //www.johnredwoodsdiary.com/2011/01/28/save-our-trees

  18. ceedee

    “Nationalised tree farming makes no more sense than nationalised steel or coal.”

    And the private sector has looked after both *so* well…

  19. John77

    Please do just a *little* bit of homework before posting so that you don’t look an utter idiot. Since the UK is the major importer of softwoods, the European timber market reflects the UK rather than vice versa. The global timber market is not uniform thanks to the differing demands for types of wood in different regions and the massive cost of shipping relative to the value of unsawn wood intended for planks, rafters etc.
    You do not need the Forestry Commission to continue owning the softwood plantations (no, they are not proper forests) to keep the local sawmills in operation – there are local sawmills because that is economically efficient – the further you transport waste before sawing, the more it costs so private owners of conifer plantations will want to use local sawmills. UK demand for timber exceeds supply so small businesses are *not* subject to the “irregularities of a global community market” because there isn’t any such thing as a “global community market”, but they could be squeezed by a monopoly supplier whereas competing private sector suppliers would have to offer them a fair or at least acceptable price for the work they do. Long-distance transport costs mean that once a private investor has sunk capital costs then there is no positive fob price for Russian softwoods that will mean that the sawmill cannot cover its costs and leave some value to the plantation-owner for the trees that he/she/it needs to crop each year. It is only if the monopoly demands a non-market price that the sawmill is forced out of business.
    Sherwood Forest, New Forest and the Forest of Dean are not up for sale, so “100% of England’s forests” is just plain rubbish.

  20. Tories leave rural workers stuck in the mud | Left Foot Forward

    […] Government pushes through new powers to sell off our forests – David Babbs, January 28th […]

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