Woodland groups call for Forestry Commission England to remain independent

The Woodland Trust and forestry body Confor have brought together 17 signatories to a letter to Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson, calling on him not to merge Forestry Commission England with Natural England or the Environment Agency.

The letter stresses the importance of retaining a body, Forestry Commission England, that can focus on the threats to, and opportunities from, forestry, "not least pests and disease".

The letter also notes that Forestry Commission England has evolved in recent years to become less regulatory and more of an enabling partner, working with the private and third sectors, and that this evolution should continue.

They point out that, while the future path of the public forest estate is clearly described, there is uncertainty over the future of the remaining element, normally referred to as Forest Services:

"We look to the Commission as a partner in the new forest policy for England and the recently announced Grown in Britain initiative that aims to reconnect people with woodlands and the wood products they produce, helping develop a low carbon economy".

Confor has communicated its opposition to a merger to the UK Government on a number of occasions, but is still concerned that a decision to merge may be made.

"Any financial savings from a merger are likely to be tiny at best and will be accompanied by upheaval at a time when we need FCE working with us on tackling pests and diseases, promoting woodland management and planting and driving forward the Grown in Britain initiative.

"In a merged body, professional forestry expertise would be lost over time and our sector would be regulated by people who have no affinity with or knowledge of forestry", explained Confor’s Stuart Goodall.

Woodland Trust chief executive Sue Holden said: "We need a strong voice for forests to help lead the way towards a woodland culture in England. Trees, woods and forests need a dedicated body to promote their unique role in delivering a healthier society, economy and environment."

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