Don't sell off our trees, urges long-awaited report

The Government has been told bluntly not to sell off the public forest estate to make a fast buck but to spend more money nurturing trees in a long-awaited report.

Caroline Spelman said stewardship of forests and woodland will remain in the hands of those who are passionate about it - image: Morguefile
Caroline Spelman said stewardship of forests and woodland will remain in the hands of those who are passionate about it - image: Morguefile

Recommendations in the Final Report of the Independent Panel on Forestry come as a slap in the face to environment secretary Caroline Spelman who caused anger last year by announcing plans to sell off some of the Forestry Commission’s woodlands.

The panel, set up last March to advise government on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England, calls for the country’s woods and forests to be re-valued for all the benefits they provide including recreation, clean air and shade.

One of its main recommendations, however, was that the public forest estate "remains in public ownership and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation". Furthermore it should be protected by a charter and a group of guardians.

"The charter should be created for the public forest estate, to be renewed every ten years. It should specify the public benefit mission and statutory duties, and should be delivered through a group of guardians or trustees accountable to parliament."

Caroline Spelman said in a short Defra press statement:

"Our forests will stay in public hands. We will not sell the public forest estate. We’ll be talking to all those who are passionate about our forests to decide how we will manage our forests for the future."

Another key recommendation was to shake up management of woodland to give more statutory duties, powers and functions than those already held by the Forestry Commission. The future of the commission however has not been spelled out.

A Defra spokeswoman told Horticulture Week:

"We need time to properly consider the work of the panel. We expect to respond more fully in January 2013 and will be working closely with stakeholders to inform our response."

Panel chair the right reverend Bishop James Jones said the 15-month review involved sifting through over 42,000 submissions. His team included National Trust director-general Dame Fiona Reynolds and Woodland Trust chief executive Sue Holden.

"There is untapped potential within England’s woodlands," he said. "Government investment is now needed to kick start these changes, which will repay itself many times over in terms of public benefit."
Forestry Commission chairwoman Pam Warhurst called the report a landmark document. The commission and Defra now had to work hard to do "justice to this effort" for businesses, wildlife and communities with strong bonds trees.

Other recommendations included:

  • Ensure woodland creation, tree planting and maintenance is part of the green space plan for new commercial and housing development.
  • Encourage local authorities to take aboricultural management and professional forestry advice where planning applications affect trees and woodlands.
  • Government to commit to an ambition to sustainably increase England’s woodland cover from 10% to 15% by 2060.
  • Government, wood owners and businesses to strengthen the supply chain and promote the use of wood more widely, set out in a wood industry action plan.
  • A policy approach to support the carbon price is needed with Government establishing a single recognised methodology to account for the full greenhouse gas benefits of using wood and timber

View the report at

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