Opposition grows to possible Forestry Commission/Natural England merger

The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) is calling on the Government to maintain a strong, focussed Forestry Commission in England and warns that it would strongly oppose any merger with Natural England.

Rumours of a merger have circulated for more than a year and as the Government prepares to announce its response to the Independent Forestry Panel, RFS director of development Simon Lloyd says the Forestry Commission is central to delivering the Panel's core recommendation to create a strong woodland culture.

He said:" Any attempts to merge Forest Services (the FC arm working with the private sector) with other bodies would dilute the voice of forestry in England. It is the exact opposite to what is needed and would undermine delivery of the Panel's ambitions from the start.

"Along with many organisations we fear that the mergers which will create Natural Resources Wales this spring will be detrimental for forestry there, and we would urge the Government not to go down the same lines in England.  

"We are not against change to make better use of existing resources, but we are looking for a strengthened Forestry Commission, not a weakened one. Many of the FC's woodland advisers are professional foresters and have worked as practical managers during their career.  Woodland Managers really value working with people with a practical understanding of the challenges they face - it is something that should be fostered by Government."

The RFS also fears that a major reorganisation would take the focus off  the vital challenges to provide effective controls against the threats of diseases and pests across the nation.

Lloyd added: "'The current tree disease emergency makes time consuming re-organisation the last thing the forestry sector can afford. Owen Paterson has shown commendable leadership to date and we strongly support his ambition to give more priority to tree health.

"This is not just about money, it is about leadership and with new Ministers and a new Director of the Forestry Commission in England it is the right time to re-focus our efforts through a strong and cohesive Forestry Commission."

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