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Forest Sales – What Next?

February 19, 2011

I am sure that everyone who loves the countryside is breathing a sigh of relief that the government has backed down on the sale of OUR forests. Please note the capital letters there.

OUR forests.

They don’t belong to the Conservative Party or to their rather loaded supporters. They belong to us. They are the People’s Forests.

The battle against the sales was never, or should never have been, completely about public access. It should have been about the very principle of the forest sales.

Maintaining access to forests is vital, but it should only ever have been one focussing point in the campaign.

Green Lane near Southerton

Access to forests owned by private companies is compromised in that you may still be able to walk, but the woodlands around you could be compromised to such an extent that you might not wish to.

The paths could be fenced in, leaving mere access alleys. Paths that were not rights of way could be lost or obstructed, or have access forbidden. The trees might disappear. You could be enjoying your walk surrounded by paint-ballers or pheasant shooters. You might not be able to wander so freely away from the paths. You would probably not be able to mountain-bike, or do the thousand other activities that go with forests.

A lot of guff was talked by Cameron and Minister Caroline Spelman about flogging the forests to community groups and charities.

It would hardly have happened. Such groups would never have found more than minimal funding to buy the woods, let alone do the work on conservation and recreation carried out by the Forestry Commission. I don’t believe that even national groups would have had the resources to hold and maintain many of our woodlands.

No, the majority of woodlands would have gone to Cameron’s pals in the private sector, to be used for their own profits and entertainments.

Not ours.

I remember the sale of forests under Thatcher. One awful example comes to mind from that ghastly era. Brooke Wood, south of Norwich. 180 acres. Free public access. Sold by a Conservative government. Closed to the public. That would have been the reality of these forest sales.

It is important than any groups represented on the proposed consultation committee look beyond the access issue.

None should embrace any idea of ever selling the forests. That idea has had its day.

David Cameron has a near pathological hatred of anything being owned by the many rather than the few. He loathes the thought of the peasants being in control of any part of the countryside. That was what the forests sales programme was really about. It was only when he realised that potential Tory supporters in middle England liked our forests the way that they are, that he backed down. Such an outdated attitude has no place in considering the future of our countryside.

As forbidden landscapes go, then woodlands are the most verboten acres in England. Despite any promises given, I believe that access to many of the forest estates would have been lost had these sales gone ahead. Cameron’s financial backers would not have wanted it any other way.

Is it not time that we had a right to roam through ALL of Britain’s woodlands?

I believe it is, in the same way that we now have legal access to mountains and moorland.

Why shouldn’t the people of Britain have a stake in wider parts of our countryside? Particularly the woodlands that were filched from our ancestors?

The forest sales campaigners should now switch their attention to this wider campaign. I have put some background to this greater woodlands campaign on my website www.johnbainbridgewriter.com If you signed the forests petition, or protested at a forest site, then why not start the agitation for access to ALL our woodlands?

How much longer is our countryside going to be the preserve of the few rather than the many?

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