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