ResPublica’s Peter Shand reflects on the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report, and asks whether its recommendations go far enough
This week has seen the Independent Panel on Forestry publish
their long awaited report
into the future of England’s forests and woodlands, with particular reference
to the Public Forest Estate, an area which provides just 18% of Britain’s
woodland – but, astonishingly, 44% of all accessible woodland in Britain. The
panel had been set up in the aftermath of the Government’s abandonment of the consultation
on the future of the public forest estate, due to the raft of negative feedback
towards its proposals. So, what was proposed by the Panel, and do their
recommendations go far enough?
In sum, the Panel recognised the importance of access to
woodlands for society, citing the benefits to health and wellbeing of people
that have interaction with woodland, themes and benefits that were highlighted
in ResPublica’s Natural
Policy Choices report, which called
for a wider recognition of the social benefits of woodland, to go hand in hand
with the economic benefits.
The Panel report outlines the ambition to cultivate a
‘woodland culture’ in the UK, whereby the benefits of our natural habitat would
be widely known, and sustainable management widely understood. Enhancing the solid foundation of social
capital of woodlands in the UK would be a big part of encouraging a ‘woodland
culture’, and it is a task that charities such as the Milton Keynes Parks Trust
undertake by engaging an army of volunteers to help maintain its land, who
describe their experience as enabling them to "do something which makes a
The Trust was one of the projects lauded in ResPublica’s
report, and its underlying sentiments adhered to in the recommendations of the
Independent Panel, but this week’s report doesn’t venture further in
seeking to recognise the benefits that can be found in a more meaningful
engagement of communities in their local woodlands, with communities becoming involved
in the management of their woodlands, enhancing the societal benefits that the
natural asset offers, and the economic benefits for society.
In the forward to the report, the Bishop of Liverpool, James
Jones, states that: "We should be
realising the untapped potential of existing and new woodlands to lessen our
dependence on fossil fuels and other imported commodities. And at the heart of
this we should be focused on creating the right conditions for thriving
businesses centre on woodlands and wood products."
Woolhope Woodheat in Herefordshire is a Community
Co-operative which is looking to become one such business centre. It supplies
heat to the local community, through installing woodchip boilers and sourcing
the fuel from local, sustainable woodlands. Members of the community are
invited to invest in the co-op, and the projected return on investment is 6.1%.
Such a project involves the whole community in the management and production of
the woodland, and thus ensures a future for the woodland that is both
economically, and environmentally, sustainable – as well as teaching the next
generation about how valuable a source the energy that they consume has become.
The panel state further in their report that: "We know that both new and existing
markets are unlikely to deliver the full range of public benefits we
require…therefore public investment will be needed, particularly while these
markets develop." It is proposed that a new public
be created within the existing Forestry Commission, independent from the
political process, which would have the responsibility of ensuring that
England’s public forest estate is sustainably managed, and to ensure its
economic development as a public asset.
whilst the report calls for the new organisation to "engage communities in
developing and achieving the estate’s goals" it makes no provision for meaningful
community based engagement, a process which could be stimulated via the medium
of community-asset based models, such as the Herefordshire project. Simply tasking
the created organisation with the incentive to "get as much value as
possible from its assets" will not deliver the long-term social and
economic benefits that could be gained from other models. The Independent
Panel’s recognition that the public need wider access to woodlands is
commendable and indisputable, but does it go far enough? There is a need to
move the debate from one of public access to a debate surrounding meaningful
public involvement with our woodlands and forests.