Writing to an MP about Woodland

Text of my email to the (not ‘my’) Conservative MP representing the (not ‘our’) local constituency, subject: ‘Forestry Commission vote this Wednesday’:

Dear xxxxxxxxxxx

I’m writing to voice my opposition to DEFRA’s announcement that they plan to sell off up to 100% of the land currently owned by the Forestry Commission to private bodies. The important issues for me here are:

1) – Ecology. Britain has a mere 12% total coverage of woodland, compared to an EU average of 37% (45% if you include Russia) (1). Everybody seems to agree on the importance of woodland for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and health benefits – to humans as well as plants and animals. It seems insane to allow +any+ possibility of renewed impoverishment in this regard at a time when we face so many related global crises.

2) – Access. I realise the FC only owns 18% of the UK’s woodland, but this accounts for between 66% (England) and 91% (Wales) of accessible woodland (2). It seems blindingly obvious to me that an increase in private ownership will result in a proportional decrease in public access and yet more fences and signs saying ‘Private – trespassers will be prosecuted’.

Interestingly these plans might not even make sense economically. For instance Private Eye reported that:

“… the cost of regulating and dishing out funds to private forestry companies is likely to outweigh the money raised from land sales. Lorraine Adams, branch president for the scientists’ union, Prospect, which represents more than 200 researchers, cartographers, rangers and skilled Forestry Commission (FC) workers, has uncovered evidence of this since the FC already sells off land occasionally. When it recently flogged an area of woodland for £60,000, for example, the new landowner immediately applied for funds under the English Woodland Grant Scheme to grow and cut timber and was given assistance totalling £55,000.

The private landowner will also be able to come back and ask for more grants in future – as well as bidding for other environmental stewardship and rural development subsidies available to forest owners – while the government can only sell the land once.” (3)

So far as I know there is no electoral mandate for this plan. One national survey finds that 84% of the public oppose the sell-off and a petition run by the same group has collected over 330,000 signatures. (4) This does not give democracy a good reputation!

I understand these issues are being discussed in parliament this coming Wednesday. Please could you confirm your attendance and your intention to vote against these measures of national and international importance?

Yours sincerely,
Ian xxxxxxx

(1) ‘Forestry Facts & Figures 2010’ – http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/fcfs210.pdf/$FILE/fcfs210.pdf

(2) The Woodland Trust’s ‘Space For People’ report – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/pdf/spaceforpeople.pdf

(3) ‘Forest Chumps’ – http://www.private-eye.co.uk/sections.php?section_link=hp_sauce&issue=1280

(4) See: http://38degrees.org.uk/page/s/save-our-forests

38 Degrees have an easy-to-use template over here. If you use their pre-set message you can be done in five minutes. The Public Bodies Bill is being debated this Wednesday, so get your skates on! If you need something else to light the fire in your belly, read the SchNEWS report, ‘Fight Them on the Beeches‘ from a few weeks back. Sample paragraph, with a little more ‘nuance’ than the 38 Degrees crew’s analysis:

The Forestry Commission ain’t perfect but there does at least seem to be some commitment to the idea of public ownership and access. Right-to-roam legislation only applies to ‘freehold’ rather ‘leasehold’ woodlands, meaning that new owners, depending on the terms of the sale, will be able to restrict access. And of course any time that a more profitable alternative reared its head they’d have total freedom to change their minds and shut off access.

And a typically priceless image:

Conservatives - It's time for chainsaws...

I’ll post any subsequent exchange in the comments. So far the MP responses posted over here indicate a split between party lines, with Tory MPs mostly doing a cut-and-paste job of the same ‘Big Society’ message, with concessions and reassurances that I (perhaps unsurprisingly) found deeply unsatisfactory; Labour MPs giving short, cheap messages of support (at least they were personalised, I suppose); and Lib-Dem MPs strangely shy of voicing any opinion one way or another (I wonder why?)

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2 Responses to “Writing to an MP about Woodland”

  1. ondisturbedground Says:

    Reply came in through the post on Wednesday morning. Spoiler: it’s not personalised. I checked and 14 other MPs, all Tories, have gone with the same ‘I, like you…’ response practically word for word (mine didn’t come with the Government’s ‘key commitments’ bullet points). This compares to 41 ‘Contrary to some beliefs… Big Society … blahblahblah’ replies. H got the same letter too.

    Dear Mr xxxxxxx

    Thank you for contacting me about forests. I, like you, regard this issue as of paramount importance with regards to protecting the public’s access rights and enjoyment of our forests, and securing our natural heritage.

    The Government has published a consultation paper which sets out a range of options for ownership or management of the forests in England which are currently run by the Forestry Commission. The Commission is currently responsible for a fifth of England’s woodlands. The consultation itself can be found at this web-link http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/index.htm) and I would strongly encourage you to take part in this process.

    Over the last thirteen years, the Labour Government sold over 25,000 acres of forestry land with few protections. By contrast, the Government’s consultation paper guarantees protections on rights to access – our ability to take the dog for a walk, go cycling or horse riding in the woodland we know and love – and maintaining and improving biodiversity.

    The types of woodland held by the state, in the form of the Forestry Commission, generally fall into the following categories; heritage forests, small scale local woodlands and large commercially valuable forests. Clearly local people will have a strong view as to what category woodland near them falls into – heritage, local woodland or commercial sites – and they will have an opportunity to get involved. Any land transferred to a new ownership or management will be subject to the same strict legal controls that are already in place including country rights of way protection, planning restrictions, wildlife conservation laws and felling licence requirements.

    Please rest assured that this Government, with my full support, will protect our forests better than ever before.

    Thank you once again for taking the time to write to me on this important matter.

    Yours sincerely,

    xxxxxxxxxxxx

    There are some issues here about feeding the dead centres of power with popular energy, without which they might starve and die. I’m feeling a resistance to getting sucked into an argument with these types, as if being right might give me some kind of power/control over them or what they do. I worry that even in this small act I’m violating past articles of faith such as ‘Don’t Feed the Beast‘ or Dmitry Orlov’s ‘time-tested, time-saving approach to national politics‘. I want to stay away from ego battles. Like a wise person once said (approximately):

    I’ve had enough of being right. I want to win.

    Nevertheless I might parse the above for my own satisfaction/training, even if I don’t send it (thereby engaging, encouraging further). An initial reaction: I don’t want to be consulted on HOW you’re going to go about doing this. I want you NOT to do this!

  2. Forests Revisited « Frequently Found Growing On Disturbed Ground Says:

    […] criticising 38 Degrees for their lack of ‘nuance’, it seems my plea of basically indiscriminate […]

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