Forestry Sell-Off Update – 20th February 2011
I am delighted at last week’s news that the Minister’s has decided to rewind the decision over our forests. But we must not lose momentum: the fight is not over yet, and we need now to attend to the very pressing issue of the 15% of of sales that are suspended pending the report of the expert panel. Whilst the immediate threat may be at bay, the 4-year CSR has not been amended. There are now some key issues that we need to address, which include the membership and Terms of Reference of the panel. I and my Cumbrian colleagues in Parliament need to advocate tirelessly for Cumbria to be represented on the panel, for example in the form of Cumbria Woodlands, who have first-class knowledge in the field. We must also ensure that Defra addresses and reviews the proposed cuts to the Forestry Commission, and ensure they retain sufficient capacity and do not lose the essential skills we – especially private woodland owners – need in terms of grant advice and giving, the efficient processing of felling licences, training, and the teaching of best practice. And I will continue to learn as fast as I can about every inch of forest in Penrith and the Border, and why it matters. Government has listened to the people and it is a triumph for local communities, who know their woodlands better than anyone else. Thank you to all who have contacted me by phone, email or letter in the past days and weeks. Your input and opinions have been invaluable in helping me shape my opinions on a matter of such Cumbrian, and national, significance.
Amendment – 2nd February 2011
I voted on February 2 to reject an opposition amendment and support consultation on forestry. I am pressing for the full protection of Cumbrian heritage forests, and the full protection of access, and biodiversity in all our woodland. I have insisted on this with ministers and in a joint letter signed by me and all Cumbrian MPs. Following meetings with Save Lakelands Forests, the Forestry Commission and the National Trust, I am now bringing together a detailed submission for the government on forests in our constituency, on the basis of hundreds of constituents’ contributions.
This is the text of the amendment for which I voted:
This House deplores the actions of the previous administration in selling off 25,000 acres of public forestry estate with wholly inadequate protections; notes that the previous administration sought to go even further in finding ways to exploit the forestry estate for commercial gain as recently as 2009; welcomes the consultation proposals to guarantee the future protection of heritage forests by offering them charitable trust status; supports the consultation proposals for robust access and public benefit conditions that will be put in place through lease conditions, including access right for cyclists and horse-riders; believes the leasehold conditions regarding biodiversity and wildlife conservations will safeguard significant important environmental benefits; sees these proposals as important in resolving the conflict of interest whereby the Forestry Commission is the regulator of the timber sector whilst being the largest operator in the England timber market; considers that debate on the future of the forest estate ought to be conducted on the basis of the facts of the Governments proposals and believes that under these proposals people will continue to enjoy the access and benefits they currently have from the woodlands of England.
Forestry Debate – 1st February 2011
I am writing this having been in the Forestry debate today, 1st February, 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.