05. 02. 2011

Environmental NGOs betray England’s Forests

The campaign to put an end to the Government’s proposed sell-off of the Public Forest Estate is building nicely. A combination of growing public concern (evidenced by the 450,000 people who have now signed the 38 degrees petition), more and more local action groups, and a sudden realisation on the part of the Lib Dems and even some Tories that they are on a hiding to nothing with this one, tells me that this campaign is eminently winnable.

Especially if you bear in mind that not one of the major environmental NGOs has so much as lifted a finger in support of the campaign. A few cautious ‘words of warning’ when pressed, but nothing that anyone else would recognise as a campaign.

Why not? Is it vested interests? Some of them do after all stand to gain from the very small percentage of deals that will involve either community groups or NGOs. Is it inertia, simply not understanding the significance of the Public Bodies Bill? Is it ‘political sensitivities’, not wanting to put the boot in on the ‘greenest government ever’ before they’ve had a chance to show their mettle in this regard?

Whatever the reason may be, it represents a massive failure of collective leadership. It demonstrates to me how completely out of touch our environmental NGOs have become with the people that they purport to speak on behalf of.

And they’ve made themselves look foolish and irrelevant as one of the largest grassroots protests this country has seen for a long time grows and grows without them – indeed, despite them.
So here’s my synopsis of where the NGOs stand:

Very little on the website. Namby-pamby press release on Jan 25th: “we are waiting to see the content of the consultation, but we recognise and value the grassroots campaigns to save our forests”. Ohh, how very gracious of you!

So what is the RSPB hoping to pick up in the great sell-off? Some heathland areas, perhaps currently or formerly under Forestry? Who knows, but it’s difficult to disentangle this interest of theirs from the overall campaigning stance.

(It would be good, for instance, if the RSPB could at least acknowledge that the Forestry Commission manages its woodlands more cost-effectively than the RSPB does, and that a higher percentage of the Forestry Commission’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest are in ‘good condition’ than is the case with the RSPB. Why not tell it as is, to counter some of Caroline Spelman’s crass misrepresentations of the Forestry Commission’s work and value for money?).

2. The Woodland Trust
The Woodland Trust is into some very deep stuff, and is being effectively manipulated by Defra to put some flesh on its ‘Big Society’ bones. I suspect that means that the Woodland Trust will want its pound of flesh in return.

It’s hard to imagine a clearer case of an NGO running with the fox and hunting with the hounds. It set up its own petition last year, which is ostensibly about ‘protecting our forests’, but it is actually just a front for its own (perfectly legitimate) campaign to persuade the Forestry Commission to do much more to restore remnant ancient woodlands that were submerged in earlier days by the ‘coniferisation’ of the public forest estate. I’ve no problem with the petition, but one can’t help but think that it was also there to take the sting out of the much bigger and much punchier petition organised by 38 Degrees.

The Woodland Trust will probably claim to be ‘neutral’ on ownership issues – but the question is a simple one. Do they actually care for any woodlands beyond their own 22,700 hectares? Little sign of it at the moment in anything they’ve said.

3. WWF
WWF is currently working hard with the Forestry Commission to find imaginative ways of celebrating the UN’s ‘Year of Forests’. ‘LoveForest’ is the strapline.

But there’s zero sign of any ‘love’ from WWF in the UK for England’s forests. No statements, no mobilisation of its massive membership, no recognition that this is an absolutely critical issue for the future wellbeing of conservation in the UK. Nothing.

4. Friends of the Earth
“Not our issue these days” is probably what you’ll get from FoE. As if our precious NGOs get to choose every fight that they need to get involved in. Needs must and all that.

The briefing they’ve produced for their local groups is about as anodyne as a briefing could be, although they do generously authorise their local groups ‘to take part in other organisations’ campaigns on this matter’ – subject only to having ‘satisfied themselves as to the accuracy of campaign information’. That’s telling them!

5. National Trust
I’m not sure what’s going on here. There’s a wonderful headline to its press release last week: “National Trust rallies nation for joint action to save forests”. But unfortunately, that simply isn’t true.

What it’s doing is rallying the nation ‘to enter a dialogue with all who care for our forests’. It’s listening, discussing, mediating – anything to avoid some real campaigning.

Fiona Reynolds, National Trust’s Executive Director, gave Mrs Spelman a hard time on Radio 4 the other day – but so what? That’s not difficult. But she does seem to be playing a very dangerous game: “If the Government is determined to pursue the course of action it has outlined, and the public wishes to, we are ready to play our part in giving them (the forests) a secure future. We are ready to step in”.

Dare one mention the bigger picture here? It’s fine for the National Trust to cherry pick a few ‘precious places’, but what is the Trust’s overall position on the sell-off, and on the Public Bodies Bill in particular?

6. Wildlife Link
Wildlife Link is an umbrella body for 34 of the UK’s main conservation/environment NGOs. It has a wonderful record on forestry issues, having lead the campaign to stop afforestation in Scotland’s Flow Country, and very effectively opposing the Tories’ earlier privatisation initiatives in 1993.

But this time around, there is nothing directly relevant on its website, and nothing going on behind the scenes as far as one can see. Perhaps they were indeed waiting for the consultation, even though it was blindingly obvious to every one of their 34 members that the consultation was going to be nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up the Government’s real intentions in the Public Bodies Bill.

To be fair, it has produced some very eloquent Principles for ‘disposal of public land’ – all nine of which are being systematically disregarded by Defra, week after week. But no commentary to that effect from Wildlife Link.
Wildlife Link is just celebrating its 30th Anniversary. It’s difficult to imagine it lasting another 30 years if this is how it interprets its current responsibilities.

7. Wildlife Trusts
The Wildlife Trusts just seem to have accepted fatalistically that the proposals will go ahead, and that there’s nothing they can do about it – or, at least, not without jeopardising the somewhat cosy relationship they have with Defra. This is particularly the case as they are clearly hoping to pick up some of the National Nature Reserves that will be ‘disposed of’ once the Government has finished eviscerating Natural England.

8. The Ramblers
Who? Oh, you mean that organisation that so dynamically led the campaign to scupper John Major’s privatisation proposals back in the 1990s? Yes, that’s the one. So where are they 20 years on?

Very belatedly, reminding themselves of their honourable record on forests, they are at last starting to stir the Ramblers beast. Better late than never.

9. Campaign for the Protection of Rural England
Bill Bryson, CPRE’s President, did sign the recent ‘celebrities' letter’ attacking Government policy, but his organisation has as yet demonstrated no awareness that protecting rural England might actually include protecting England’s forests.

By all accounts, they have just had their first meeting with DEFRA Ministers, making full use, no doubt, of its much-vaunted ‘inside track’. But inside tracks only ever have any value if you can point the army of people you’re about to mobilise on the ‘outside track’ if the inside track isn’t working.

10. Greenpeace
We probably have to exempt Greenpeace as this has never been their bag. But even so, John Sauven’s press comment on 27th Jan was pretty pathetic: “The Government must now guarantee not only the complete right of access to all our forests, but also the budget for their protection and restoration”.

I think Greenpeace has at last realised that their members might be expecting rather more of them than that kind of rubbish, and on Friday Greenpeace launched its own petition in opposition to the forest sell-off. Again, better late than never – but it would have been good to have had that out there weeks ago.

So there we are. And the implications of this for the Green Movement – such as it is these days – are highly significant. If they have all decided to give the Coalition Government an easy time of it while they get the hang of being in government, then they’re mad.

This is a Government that has already made its intentions very clear: apart from the sterling efforts of Chris Huhne in DECC, and some eloquent whimsy from Oliver Letwin, there’s not a green bone in their collective body.

So might it not make sense for our NGOs to get used to the idea of another four years in the trenches, rather than repeat the errors of their predecessors back in 1997 when the whole lot of them (with the honourable exception of Friends of the Earth) were into deep, fawning sycophancy in the court of King Tony.

So put it right, guys, while there’s still time. Commit your organisations, uncompromisingly, to campaigning for the complete withdrawal of this sell-off including the withdrawal of the relevant clauses in the Public Bodies Bill.

And if the Government then wants to think again about intelligent ways of extending ownership and getting local communities more involved (real Big Society stuff), then let it start again, untainted by this ideologically-driven proposal that has absolutely nothing to do with the sound management of our forests and the wellbeing of those who are served by those forests.

And if you then get it right, just think of all the glory that will come your way for having shown the ‘greenest government ever’ an early signal of what that claim might really mean.

Add your comment


05. 02. 2011
Matt Prescott

Well said Jonathon!

The big environmental NGOs seem to have trouble putting their full moral authority, membership and resources behind shared goals and with supporting campaigns which cannot be solely owned, and this is another good example.

The forest sell off has also shown how slow many of them are at addressing new issues.

If you look at the above organisation's website you'd be hard pressed to know most of them have a pulse, let alone influence.

The National Trust website at least has a picture of some trees, but then offers to play its part in the break up of the Forestry Commission?

The Ramblers website mentions woods and provides some links to MPs and Peers but doesn't look particularly fired up.

FoE (no mention of woods) and Greenpeace (no mention of woods, but at least owner's of an otherwise engaging website) are both busy with other things.

05. 02. 2011
Paul Beevers

Absolutely agree. I have personally complained to the Woodland Trust, WCL, National Trust and Wildlife Trusts about their utter lack of action and apparent collusion. I have not had any response. As you say they seem to me more interested in what crumbs they can pick up than dealing with this issue as a matter of principle. Openness does not seem to feature in their vocabulary even though they rely on supporters to pay subscriptions.

05. 02. 2011

Well said Jonathon - exactly what a lot of us have been thinking and talking about. This could be a critical moment for the government, the people and the green movement.

I don't believe that all the NGOs will be able to stand idly by but how do we mobilise the big guns in to helping the save the forests camapaign?

05. 02. 2011
Alan Kennedy

Jonathon asks "Does the Woodland Trust care about woodland beyond its own?"

On behalf of the Woodland Trust, let me answer with an emphatic YES, and offer the following evidence:

We are a vigorous champion of native woods and trees within the UK, regardless of who owns them.

In response to the consultation on the future of the Forestry Commission, we are campaigning strongly and have collected 100,000 signatures to our petition calling for safeguarding of public access, protection for ancient woods and restoration of ancient woods planted with conifers.

You can add your signature at

We have persuaded Minister Jim Paice to halt sales of Forestry Commission planted ancient woods which were already underway; and are continuing to lobby hard.

More generally,
We have fought more than 850 cases of ancient woods threatened by development in the last decade and worked with a wide variety of landowners to persuade them to restore thousands of hectares of planted ancient woods.

Given that the UK is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, we champion the planting of more woods and trees through our More Trees More Good campaign (moretreesmoregood.org.uk). In 2010 alone, we worked with landowners, over 400 community groups and over 17,000 schools to create over 500 hectares of new native woodland and plant 600,000 trees on their land.

Hopefully this shows that we really do care

Alan Kennedy
Director of Communications
The Woodland Trust

05. 02. 2011
Barry Thomas

Thanks Jonathon.

This is one of the most stimulating articles I have read on the issue.

I will now be contacting the Ramblers and the CPRE, which I belong to, and ask them to raise their profiles on this matter.

05. 02. 2011
Tom Franklin, CEO,, Ramblers

A provocative article, Jonathan, but not an accurate one.

The Ramblers has been clear from the start: unless the Government can guarantee access at least as good as it currently is, Forestry Commission land should not be sold.

The Government's consultation document makes no such promises. Only rights of way, and legally enforceable access under the Right to Roam legislation, is secure under the plans. So-called 'permissive access' which covers much forestry land, is not secure, and there is no intention for the Government to dedicate this land with a legal right of access.

So we've been urging members and public to contact MPs with the message: "no access, no sale". You can do this via the Ramblers website: www.ramblers.org.uk Members have responded in droves.

Tom Franklin
Ramblers CEO

05. 02. 2011

WELL SAID JONATHON. Thankyou for for saying so well what I've been saying for months. I've been rubbished by the Ramblers and Woodland Trust on their facebook pages when I mentioned this from last October. Again, well said and many many thanks to you. Keep up the good work and I have no doubt that we will win this one as long as we keep applying the pressure.

05. 02. 2011
Steve Niner

I have a theory that most of the people signing the 38 degrees petition live in the provinces.Were most of the NGO's are city based.just a thought

05. 02. 2011

The comments above from The Woodland Trust and The Ramblers are illuminating about the illusions of the big NGOs. They still can't bring themselves to be as radical in their demands as the public.

No NGO is asking for the removal of clauses 17 and 18 from the Public Bodies Bill. That is the united demand of civil society. The NGOs are muddying the water by ignoring issues of owenership in favour of what DEFRA might promise. Until that is our united demand the green NGOs are still fawning to this government - preferring 'back room' meetings (with nil result) to championing their members' concerns.

05. 02. 2011
Charles Keyes

I've just woken up! George Orwell had it about right, 1984 and all that.

06. 02. 2011
Mark Avery, RSPB Conservation Director

Jonathon - we're not really as far apart as you make out, and we're not nearly as spineless as you make out either.

To find corrections to your views, and comments on them, see my blog at www.rspb.org.uk/community/blogs/markavery and you are welcome to post scomments there.

best wishes


06. 02. 2011

WT Director of Communication comment: "we are campaigning strongly and have collected 100,000 signatures to our petition".

Are you prepared to communicate to the public and your paying members how many of those signatures were from duped people because you have been paying an american company to appear at the top of search results on this issue?

05. 02. 2011
Kate Ashbrook

I agree with Tom Franklin that it is the permissive access which is particualrly at risk, but even where there is legal access, a new owner can put up fences and prevent or deter people from getting onto the land to enjoy their access rights.

The Open Spaces Society has set tests for the government as follows.
Before any Forestry Commission land is sold, the prospective purchaser must sign an agreement, legally-binding in perpetuity, to
1. retain and manage the land as woodland and not allow it to be developed for any other purpose;
2. where there are legal rights of access, maintain and increase these, adding rights for riders and cyclists wherever appropriate;
3. where there are no legal rights of access, dedicate the land so that there are permanent rights of access throughout the wood or forest for walkers, riders and cyclists;
4. welcome informal access, free of charge, at all times.
Since it is evident that the government has no intention of providing these safeguards to all woods and forests, we are against the sales.
Kate Ashbrook
General Secretary
The Open Spaces Society

06. 02. 2011
Jockey Shield

Just come over from Mark Avery's blog [http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/blogs/markavery/]
For a man who is leaving the RSPB you would think he would add some fire to the situation. Add all these members together and the millions would make a difference.

06. 02. 2011
Kay Sexton

Jonathon, I couldn't agree more. My years spent working with or in tree planting charities suggested they were mainly supine to what was then MAFF - it's a disgrace bordering on an environmental disaster that they aren't fighting with everything they've got. And the smaller charities and NGOs, like the International Tree Foundation, are being just as pathetic about mobilising their membership base.

Somebody might like to point out the self interest issue: when the forests are gone, so is the reason many of these bodies exist. But then, most of them have paid little attention to their supposed charitable objects for decades, so maybe they won't notice.

06. 02. 2011
Red squirrel

Oh Jonathon - what a mean provacation!

Any one else you want to demolish?

Please dont conflate the future of our woods and forests with the future of the Forestry Commission. Who says FC is a progressive force?

I checked out the RSPB - have a look at http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/blogs/markavery/archive/2011/02/05/forests-nnrs-and-songbird-survival.aspx which seems to fully debunk your attack on that NGO.

I can go with your 'lets start again' theme, finding better ways to lock in public value. Why not build a progressive coalition to do just that?

Red Squirel

06. 02. 2011
Jo Voter

Why no tweet button? This article needs to go viral.

06. 02. 2011
Deborah Doane

Brilliant critique Jonathan. The same is happening with Development NGOS -- there is a fawning attitude over this government which belies belief. Many are acting in their own self-interest, at the behest of government, as they take significant funding from them, fearing cuts if they raise their head above the parapet in critique. So professionalised have they become, that they'e lost the view of the role they're meant to play -- to uphold the public good, and fight for the rights of the commons, by keeping government held to account.

Generations of hard work, from the building of the NHS, to our forests are being undone in the current climate that says all public bad, all private good (a trend developing countries have faced for years, by the way). Whatever set of narrow issues an NGO might be working on, we need to stand up and defend the greater good wherever we work, and in whatever we do, and we should be doing so collectively.

06. 02. 2011

Thank you Jonathan. Thank God someone who CAN speak out with authority has done.

We urgently need clarification about how this will affect the New Forest - with Demond Swayne (NF West) backing the sell-off 100% and Julian Lewis (NF East) completely oppposed as we saw in their class in Commons last week. Menawhile, down here, Swayne supporters - and he has a huge majority are saying, "THe Forest is a special case: the sell-off is entirely right." ARe there any facts available?

07. 02. 2011
Brendan May

Thought provoking as ever. I have blogged on the forest sale myself, including reference to your NGO attack. Brendan

07. 02. 2011
M. Foster

I signed a petition for the Woodland Trust against selling off the forests. However, all they wanted was an e-mail address. That set off alarm bells. Since the response was an e-mail asking for donations to...the Woodland Trust, perhaps it was an accurate reaction.

08. 02. 2011

Excellent post Jonathon, I'm a Ramblers member and am really disapointed with the wishy washy approach they've taken on this issue. I think they've really misjudged the mood of their members this time.

You need to add Facebook and Twitter links to your blog so articles like this can get a wider audience.

08. 02. 2011

Round our way the FC are still addicted to the dreaded sitka spruce. Also not very interested in local opinion.

08. 02. 2011
T Paine

There is clearly more to this attempted selloff than the GOV are admitting.

I think possible reason for the sell off is the opportunity for generous tax breaks to the right buyers. The big friends of this Government such as the City bankers might find it very usefull owning a few hectares.

Well done jonathon

06. 02. 2011
Mike Mertens

I completely agree about Greenpeace UK; my tweeted riposte to them on 01 November last year: @greenpeaceuk if you are not prepared to support @Savebritforests, why are you called "Greenpeace *UK*"! Nature here faces exploitation too!
sums it up - yes, I take the point that it's 'not their bag' in a sense but what is the harm in their seeing what is happening in protest and lending it unequivocal moral support? It signals as you say a complete lack of being attuned to what people would expect of them. Even if some of them *may* want a slice of the pie, you'd think it at least politically astute of them to coax and assure the public, to see that leaving the forests in the hands of the NGOs would be a safe bet. But no, the NGO's appear to be wrong-footed and distant. The defence some of them have put up regarding 'facts' misses the point, and reveals them to be technocratic and bureaucratic, precisely the qualities that seem to have prompted the Government to embark on this policy in the first place.

07. 02. 2011

Jonathon, you disappoint me. You've become like a grumpy old man, complaining about "young people nowadays".

It's easy to sit on the outside and criticise others, but really you should concentrate your ire on the people perpetraing the proposed reforms, not the rest of the conservation/green movement. The NGOs didn't ask for these reforms, did they? And surely you need to appreciate that, when lobbying government, it is necessary to be a little constructive, rather than just standing on a soapbox and wagging your finger? I am quite sure that most of these organisations are lobbying hard. You told the Telegraph that they aren't. As Mark Avery says in his (infinitely superior) blog, how can you possibly know that?

You are, and always have been, a prominent theorist of green politics. You aren't, and have never been, a practitioner. You don't know what's involved in managing forestry. And in shooting people who are on the same side as you, you are clearly not interested in doing the right thing for the environment in your quest for publicity.

Shame on you!

08. 02. 2011

I'm sorry Mark (Avery), but I don't think Jonathon will find anything on your blog to change his essential, absolutely spot on and much-needed point. While you are scrupulously fair and polite to all posters, all I met when I posted there my heartfelt pleas for the RSPB to urge its members to sign the 38 degrees petition (I'm not involved with them in any way) was an attack from a forum regular and warm and non-committal words from yourself. A massive call to action from the RSPB could have put maybe 250,000 more signatures on this petition, which now seems to have slightly run out of steam. Without a big NGO push I think pretty well all the people that would have signed, now have. Remember we're up against real 'dead-to-nature' types here who have minds that make pocket calculators look civilised. Wake up RSPB! Wake up Wildlife Trusts and stop trying to be oh-so-shrewd with people who'd out-cunning the Borgias! Let's ALL get behind the 38 degrees petition - we need a rallying point and your back room deals are starting to make the large green NGOs look complicit and self-serving.

08. 02. 2011
Ben Haworth

Brilliant Jonathon,
I am a member of the Woodland Trust and RSPB and have been puzzled as to why they have been so quiet over this sell off.

RSPB website is banal, all touchy feely and never hard hitting. For example farmers friendly to nature, I have seen what some of our local farmers do to help nature here in East Anglia.

I have a great friend who works for the FC and he says that they continuously get hassle from RSPB and the Woodland Trust and that they seem to forget that the FC has a remit to manage ancient woodland, to provide amenity for people and to make cash from timber, whilst these charities have only to manage small areas for specific purposes. A much more focussed and easier task.

08. 02. 2011
Stephen Lees

The problem is that conservation agencies are not recognising the role of forestry in the sustainable production of a renewable resource. There is too much dogmatic asertion of the values of native species, and not enough on structural diversity in a woodland. If wildlife organisations truely aspire to landscape conservation (and I believe they should), then it can not be achieved without embracing sustainable harvesting. Woodland management can not rely on volunteers coppicing with hand tools, which is really wildlife gardening. Selling timber is the best way to fund management and maintenance of our woods, and thus justify an expanding woodland resource. Multi-purpose management is what the Commission do best. Unfortunately, the RSPB seem to favour reversion of many sites to heathland (and heathland is not ecologically rich), whereas the Woodland Trust want to clear large swathes of productive conifers. Never mind, we can always import our timber needs from eastern Europe! A bit more support for continuous cover forestry, and uneven aged structures would not go amiss. Its not all unthinned Sitka in the uplands. Oh and Nightjars just love young conifers, and Dormice are also abundant in the Commission's south west woods

09. 02. 2011
Matt Shardlow

P.S. Stephen Lees - “heathland is not ecologically rich” not sure how you are defining ecologically rich, but lowland heathland is the only habitat that supports all of our reptile species and is stuffed full of rare invertebrates. Heathland is also much rarer, and is threatened by tree invasion and atmospheric eutrophication.

09. 02. 2011
Matt Shardlow

I have split my response into five bits in case that helps! This is just to check thta you got all five bits.



09. 02. 2011
Paul Byrne

One question for each NGO

Do you agree that the forestry provisions in the Public Bodies Bill should be removed pending a proper consultation. Yes or No?

09. 02. 2011

Great post Jonathon - I'm thoroughly fed up with the big NGOs that claim to be Green.

But then if FoE and Greenpeace can't even bring themselves to admit how serious a tale climate science is telling (apparently preferring 'political realism'), I guess we can't expect them to talk sense on other issues either.

09. 02. 2011
Lorraine Dunk

In response to the misleading comments from Kay Sexton above, for the position of the International Tree Foundation on the proposals go to http://internationaltreefoundation.org/our-forests-are-priceless-they-should-not-be-put-up-for-sale/.

This can be summarised as follows:
"The government’s proposals purport to offer a more efficient means of managing the nation’s forests. Sadly at present the proposals appear to be littered with loopholes and ill-conceived assumptions, rather than a coherent plan for England’s forests. In seeking to generate income and cut costs, the government has neglected to consider those values that cannot be shown on a balance sheet. Our forests are priceless, they should not be put up for sale."

Small we may be, but pathetic we are not.

Lorraine Dunk, Director of the International Tree Foundation.

09. 02. 2011
Matt Shardlow

Dear Jonathan
When ancient woodland, heathland and wetland were threatened with destruction by the Newbury Bypass the leadership you showed in defence of biodiversity was inspirational. So it is great that you are involved again in another issue that has great potential biodiversity implications.
To set the scene, woodland birds, woodland plants and woodland butterflies have been declining for the last 20 years. Woodland biodiversity, like most of Britain’s wildlife, is in trouble.
In the face of the proposed changes to forest ownership you perceive intransigence by the wildlife NGOs and ask ‘why?’. The answer is simple. The charities are dedicated to their wildlife causes, this is why they incorporate millions of supporters and tens of thousands of volunteers. Wildlife is their vested interest and if they thought that the best outcome for wildlife was for the Forestry Commission to continue as now, then this is what they would be saying. The deafening silence in defence of the FC has its reasons. Quietly leaders of wildlife organisations are dismayed that in the face of a biodiversity crisis and despite international conventions and ample encouragement and support from the charity sector the FC has managed to stay largely true to its post war forestry management roots. This is not to say that on the ground there are not wonderfully positive examples of the FC working with others to halt local wildlife declines. But on the big issues – conversion of significant areas of ancient woodland planted with conifers back into broadleaved woodland and the reinstatement of internationally endangered habitats such as heathland into the estate – progress has been woefully poor.

09. 02. 2011
Matt Shardlow

It costs money to manage these areas well and it would be wrong for people who gave money to a charity so that it can add benefit to what is currently being done, to find that instead their donations are being used to simply replace government efforts. Nor should we expect NGOs to lower their land management standards to fit with government spending priorities.
If the objective is a biodiversity rich series of open access national woodlands then the wildlife NGOs could do a better job than the FC, but not for free. Perhaps the private sector could run the large expanses of wildlife poor alien conifer woodland of primary commercial interest more cost effectively and sustainably than the FC as well?
Government is struggling to make the case for leasing out the management of FC forests, the fact that it is unlikely to result in significant savings was a blow, but resorting to the localism agenda is probably a mistake. Why on earth would people want to manage their own woods? What are they going to do if the site needs technically challenging or expensive habitat management, what if there is a fire or outbreak of a pest? Clearly it makes sense for forests to be managed by national bodies that have the capacity, resources and expertise to achieve the land’s objectives.

09. 02. 2011
Matt Shardlow

No mention of access? Well I think the job is done. There may have been some risk of infringement of permissive access rights beforehand, but politically this is now out of the question, any leases will have to maintain access.
Will all the current noise make our forests better for wildlife? Let’s hope so.
Aside from the forestry question, the powerful provisions of the Public Bodies Bill are pretty undemocratic. Should the Environmental NGOs be making a noise about it? Some are currently trying to mitigate the worst effects of the Bill by pointing out that responsibilities delegated to public bodies in the UK that originate from EU directives cannot be signed away by ministerial decree. We shall see if in due course they decide to take a public stance (I hope so).

Matt Shardlow
Chief Executive

Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust

27. 02. 2011

Thought that the whole privatisation of the woodland had been called off? Seemed incredible to me at the time but also aware that we are fed a lot of info from the media that ramp up the story to make it dramatic and I'm not sure that it was so dramatic as all of that as the Government were going to put in lots of clauses and the land was to be leased.

12. 05. 2011

I think the reluctance of one NGO I'm involved with was concern not to be associated with the 38 degrees stuff which did sort of imply that the whole campaign was to stop the forests being cut down - and it wasn't. But scare tactics work of course, as the Daily Mail knows so well.

Having said that I'm sure we could have done more.

As NGOs get big and older, they get a bit inflexible - if every press release has to be run by a tiny media team with rigid guidelines on language used and target audience then it's difficult to be quick, flexible, reactive and clever. I am quite sure it's often that rather than spinelessness that causes the problem.

13. 02. 2011
Dick Roebuck

The Woodland Trust’s behaviour in conspiring in the Govt’s illogical and totally anti-democratic plans for the public forest estate has caused me to completely revaluate my opinion of that organisation. As Jonathan says – never a clearer case of an NGO running with the fox and hunting with the hounds. And as for the PM’s recent assertion that the WT and NT could run our woods better – on what evidence is that sweeping statement based? All they would do is offer window dressing to the main trust of this policy –privatisation for the bulk of our woods. Access, biodiversity, and local accountability would all suffer – but then again some organisations might be more interested in empire building.

11. 06. 2014

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