I am writing this having been in the Forestry debate today in the House of Commons but having had to step out to take a call from one of many constituents who have been contacting me over the last few days to express their concern about the forestry commission. Yesterday, I was one of a group of MPs who met with the Secretary of State to discuss forestry. And yesterday morning I discussed the same issue with Fellow cumbrian MPs of all parties. Like most people, I am very concerned about this policy and the way it is implemented. For more than a decade, I have felt there has been no debate about strategic woodland policy – be it amenity, commercial self sufficiency or land use requirements. We desperately need this.
The Secretary of State has been very clear that the Government will not compromise on the protection of our valuable and biodiverse woods and forests.
That is vital.
There is no doubt that this will be a new approach to ownership and management of forests, with a growing role for the private sector and civil society. But the key point for me lies in how the land is used: the types of trees and habitats, the benefits for biodiversity and conservation – and of course access.
No sale should take place without incredibly detailed scrutiny of private-sector ownership plans. We must ensure that ownership agreements include guarantees of access (perhaps even greater access than already exists), and commitments to the protection of biodiversity.
The central question, I believe, for Cumbria is the question of which areas will be designated as Heritage Forest. It seems clear, for example, that Grizedale should be a heritage forest. Heritage forest can be transferred (with support) to an organisation like the National Trust but it should not be sold to them.
I would like to have ideas and feedback from voluntary organisations and constituents on what areas in Cumbria we should designate as heritage forest and which we should not. I will also be approaching the Forestry Commission, the National Parks, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and Save Lakeland Forest for their input and ideas and I hope to meet with these groups this coming week. I think this consultation process is a unique opportunity and we need to do all we can to get this right. Please send any details and suggestions. I am also attaching a link to the detailed policy document, please click here to read it.