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Saving our forests is seeing the wood for the trees
Save Our Forests

Defra Government Minister replies to Dr Janice Bridger

Richard Benyon, Conservative MP for Newbury and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Natural Environment and Fisheries), Environment, Food and Rural Affairs replies to Dr Janice Bridger, Regional BHS Officer for the South of England.

Defra Government Minister replies toDear Dr Bridger

Thank you for contacting me about forests. I, like you, regard this issue to be of paramount importance in relation 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 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 paper also sets out how heritage forests could be transferred to charitable trusts, while commercial land could be leased, with strict protections build into its clauses.

The Government’s key commitments in the consultation include:

  • Enshrining in law the commitment that no Heritage Forests such as the New Forest or Forest of Dean, can be sold to the private sector
  • Offering first refusal to community groups or civil society organisations in sales of local woodland
  • Guaranteeing access and benefits in any sales of commercial forests by only selling land on a leasehold basis
  • Preventing the sale of any site in which more than 10 per cent are Planted Ancient Woodlands.

The consultation has been shaped by these over-riding principles:

  • To protect and enhance biodiversity
  • To maintain public access for recreation and leisure for activities such as horse riding and cycling;
  • To ensure the continuing role of the woodlands in climate change mitigation
  • To protect nationally important landscapes.

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.

I would strongly encourage you to take part in the consultation process. The Government’s response to this will be published in the summer.

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

As a Minister in Defra who has a long standing commitment to forestry, and experience of managing forestry and woodlands, I can assure you I take this matter very seriously and will take no risks with the 18% of our woodlands that are owned and run by the Forestry Commission.

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

Yours sincerely

Richard Benyon

Richard Benyon

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