Are forests in the UK for sale?

Posted by jamie — 6 December 2010 at 6:11pm - Comments

Image by Lee Jordan

The government recently announced it is considering selling off large areas of woodlands. Forested areas in the UK are important for local biodiversity, and while Greenpeace campaigns are focused on tropical rainforests, the Woodland Trust is all about our own trees. Guest blogger Kaye Brennan from the Trust explains what's going on in our own backyard.

For the latest news on the proposed forest sell-off, visit the Woodland Trust's website.

First of all, let me say that yes, we are worried, and no, we're not campaigning... yet!

Shocking news burst our peaceful Sunday bubble recently, as the Guardian and several other newspapers announced that Defra were considering the mass sale of at least half of the public forest estate.

Several petitions were swiftly started, between them gathering signatures from hundreds of thousands of concerned people and they are still growing in numbers. Online, views were made clear in the hundreds of comments left on articles, blog posts, Facebook pages and tweets.

As the UK's leading woodland conservation charity, we were inundated at once with emails and calls from people who wanted to know if we'd heard the news and whether or not it was true. And then, what we were doing about it. Truth is, at that point the answer was not much.

We are always concerned about what the future might hold for woods and forests in public ownership, especially planted ancient woodland sites which need urgent restoration; if this happens it would make a massive contribution to improving the future for Britain's woodland wildlife. The press were reporting one scenario - mass disposal - amongst the many which might yet emerge.

We know there will be sales of forest land - but how much, what kind and where will the money end up? The answers to these questions will determine the future of our woodland, and the Woodland Trust will continue to lobby at all levels of government to influence environmental policy and strategy.

We anticipate seeing a concrete opportunity for the public to really influence that response soon, through formal consultation in the new year. Using official vehicles we can send our supporter's thoughts and views straight to the heart of government - in fact our Dear DEFRA campaign, which ended recently, did just that.

Our ongoing work behind the scenes can help us to make reasoned, balanced reactions to headlines like the ones we were seeing. This does not mean the Trust is complacent about the future of the forest estate. Even if mass disposal is one possible scenario out of many other possible scenarios, it's still a scenario Defra might consider.

Rest assured though, when the time comes to take action on this we'll be right on it! We'll look forward to having you with us - it looks like the UK's woods and trees will need a voice that is louder than ever...

@WENDEANNE I'm really sorry for the delay in responding - we've had huge problems with our IT systems for the last 3 days until now. Thanks Jamie for your reply, I'd just like to add a bit more info to what you've posted.

I can totally understand people's alarm and frustration about this and what the Trust is perceived to be doing about it. As we've been saying, a sale is one option of many - but yes it is still very much an option. Rather than being naive about what is happening we are acutely aware of what these proposals could mean to the long term future of the estate and how some of the ideas in the FC's review, which have been bandied about for years, might impact.

It's true that we've been pretty quiet when it comes to mobilizing the public to respond - but while it might seem on the surface as if we're not acting I promise you we have not been sitting on our laurels! Campaigning groups like our friends at 38Degrees and Greenpeace have already gathered voices in huge numbers. We are talking to these guys directly about how we can work together as this evolves. Together we could turn this into a unique opportunity to take things forward rather than backward.

In the meantime, the Trust is extremely busy behind the scenes. We were at the front of the queue pushing for answers and lobbying on behalf of woods and trees, and for the last 6 weeks and more we have been sitting firmly at the table with all the right people. We are still there and we won't be leaving anytime soon. We have made our views known formally and our Chief Executive continues to meet face-to-face with senior decision-makers in DEFRA and the Forestry Commission and in Parliament.

As we maintain this presence at Government level we are putting the finer details to the public side of our campaign plan, which our Head of Campaigning is doing literally as I type. We want to offer people a way they can be heard as effectively as possible and which can achieve the best outcome possible for the long-term future of the UK's public woods. As these incredibly complex events continue to unfold so will we need to adapt our response and actions, but we will keep everyone up to date when we have more news through Greenpeace and our own networks. Your support will be all the more vital when the time comes.

overwhelming proportion of the public want the public forests to remain
in public ownership. They do not want them sold off, mainly to the
private sector, with a few little areas given to what government refers
to as civil society organ isations
or Big Society. The coalition government on the other hand would like
to see them sold, supposedly to raise money to help address the budget
deficit. Remember, it was the bankers, speculators and financial
pirates that caused the current economic situation, not the Forestry
Commission or anyone who enjoys the multiple benefits of the public

 You say the Woodland Trust have been “pretty quiet” and you promise us that you are “not
sitting on your laurels.” You also mention the Trust is “working hard
to see the best possible outcome for the public's woods.” You say,
“This continues to be a rapidly evolving issue and so complex.”

agree it is a rapidly evolving issue, but I do not agree with your
assertion that it is, “so complex”. It is quite simple really; the
government want to privatise Britain's forests and woodlands, reducing
or removing all together, the amount of forests and woodlands in public

Forestry Commission (FC) owns, manages and looks after 258,000 hectares
of the Public Forest Estate. These forests are managed for multiple
objectives, including timber, recreation and biodiversity conservation
motives. This is in contrast to some non-FC woodlands many of which are
under very little management, although many other forest owners do
manage under multiple objectives. Currently the Commission own about
18% of the nation's woodlands, the other 82% being in private ownership.
The cost of running the Public Forest Estate to each UK taxpayer is,
about £60 a hectare per year, or 30p per year for each person in
England. (note: 1 hectare = 2.47 acres)

have some questions for you on the position of the Woodland Trust
regarding the government's proposals for privatisation of the public's
forests. While you are being “pretty quiet” and promising us
that you are “not sitting on your laurels”, can you please tell us what
you ARE doing?
I have some questions which will help in this.

Do the Woodland Trust think that the public's forests should stay in
public ownership and continue to be managed by the Forestry Commission?

2) What do the Woodland Trust consider to be, “the best possible outcome for the public's woods”?

Are the Woodland Trust sitting quiet and hoping that the changes will
happen; with the vast majority of woodlands going to private
organisations and foreign companies, and the small remaining amount
being split up between civil society organisations, such as your own.
In other words are you keeping quiet on the issue hoping for a slice of
the pie?

4) Do you support the various campaign groups and their
aims, objectives and efforts, who are opposed to the proposed sell off?
Groups like these.

reason I ask these questions is that your post sounded like
politicians' waffle, full of good intentions and promises, but of no
substance. You said much but meant nothing. It was a good attempt at
dodging the issues involved, but not good enough.

I've a sneaking
suspicion you are keeping a low profile; saying little and complaining
even less, in the hope you will appease the government into letting you
gain a bit of our woodland for your own organisation. After all, if
you rock the boat too much you will spoil your chances of your share of a
government handout of our forests.

In other words, you are about
to do a Clegg on us all by saying what you need to say, to get what you
want for yourselves, at our expense Who's side are you on? What's
the score with you?  Oh and one other thing, at least the Forestry Commission's IT systems seem a little more robust than those of the Woodland Trust.

Thanks for your comment @Rogern. Our piece explained that we have been 'pretty quiet' in the sense that we are not yet running a public campaign. We have been busy behind the scenes in terms of several meetings with Ministers, senior Defra officials, and senior FC staff with active discussions on the CSR budget cuts for 2010, the Public Bodies Bill and the upcoming consultation.

This is a complex issue in the sense that there are various options government are considering with differing views within various parts of government about what could happen. We have told Ministers and senior civil servants directly that the Trust may well end up with a twin-track approach of a public campaign combined with private discussions - Government are under no illusion that we will be pussy cats on this. Our main aim at present is to have the right public campaign message which cannot be a purely anti-change one – it must focus on what is right for the future of woods and forests and FC (while a changed organisation in the last 25 years) is still reluctant to fulfil conservation commitments such as restoring ancient woods.

I’m sorry you felt I was dodging something when I meant to help people understand where we are with this. I hope this is clearer. In answer to your questions:

1. The Trust has long said that we do not think that all of the estate needs to remain in public ownership, especially those sites whose purpose is primarily the production of timber and which provide few benefits to the public, or where local community ownership is a viable option. If some of that money was reinvested in woodland conservation and woodland creation it would probably be a better use of the FC assets than hanging onto remote forests whose sole job is producing timber rather than public benefit.Our first preference for sites of high heritage value is that these should be retained in public ownership and that heritage sites should also include sites of POTENTIAL conservation value such as ancient woods planted with conifers.

2. When it comes to the best outcome possible, as I said we are still working to achieve this on behalf of woods and trees. We know that the shape of public ownership will change and Government’s mind is made up on that - but quite frankly none of the options available as far as we can conjecture at this stage look terribly promising so working out our approach is critical. Top of the Trust’s list though is ensuring the restoration of ancient woods, ensuring high quality stewardship of iconic woodland heritage sites and maintaining public access on leasehold sites which may revert to their non-FC freeholders, and hopefully increased protection mechanisms for woods disposed of through sales.

3. We have also already said that we are not interested in taking on any of the FC’s woods piecemeal. We own over 1,100 woods across the UK and currently do not have the funds or capacity for more. You seem against the idea, but here’s a hypothetical question: would it be so bad if a charity with clear conservation and public benefit objectives did take over ownership of public woods? As so many of the petitions you mention have pointed out, the alternatives could be worse.

4. Yes, in principle even though the petitions are about maintaining the status quo which is pretty unlikely to prevail; we have been highlighting petitions from 38 Degrees and the other petitions already out there you mention which have received such huge backing, to our supporters. I can’t disagree about on the state of our IT systems right now – our servers were brought to a halt by the weather last week, they are still not quite right but we’re getting back to normal.

I am pleased to say that I was one of the many
people who inundated The Woodland Trust with letters/emails about this. I
have to say that I'm very disappointed in this blog. Can you name one organisation that has been improved by privatisation?


I see on this blog and heard on 'You and Yours'  today that the
Woodland Trust think the Forestry Commission and the public forest estate
should be privatised.  (25/01/11, BBC radio 4)  

The Woodland Trust said in the programme that the Forestry Commission were
not doing anything useful in helping remove conifer plantations from ancient
woodland sites as one of their reasons why this should be.  As Lord David
Clark (Chairman of FC until retirement in 2008) said on the programme, the FC
have been doing this and it takes time to remove plantation conifers and
restore sites back to native species, it cannot be done at the flick of a
switch.  I think it was most unprofessional for the WT not to recognise
this and for them to use the plantation/ancient woodland argument in the way
they did.  So why did they do it?  One can only speculate on the
reasons why the WT are not supportive of the public and the forests in public
ownership.  Maybe it is the hope of more government funding or maybe the
WT Chairman is hoping for an OBE or some such reward for being putty in government
hands.  Here you will find FC information on plantations on ancient
woodland sites.$FILE/fcpg014.pdf  

Before you read further consider that the WT income is over £25 million to
manage just 22,700 hectares.  What do they do with the money?  Is it
mainly to fund office staff and buy up woodlands that used to be in public
ownership and then do nothing with them?

But what do the Forestry Commission really achieve?

Currently the FC in England
manages 258,000 hectares of land which represents 18% of all wooded land in the
country. Although only a small percentage of the country's total woodland area,
this accounts for 44% of all accessible public access and provides 60% of the
current production of home grown timber. [1] [2] Additionally the public forest
estate is independently certified to international certification schemes for
sustainable forest management. [3]


To achieve this the net operating cost to
Government of the Estate is about £15 million. This equates to about £60 per
hectare per year or 30p per year for each person in England. [4]


The private sector and other organisations
including charities, achieve roughly the same amount of public access as the FC
does, but on four times the amount of land area. This clearly demonstrates that
the private sector is lacking in its commitment and abilities to provide public
access to the high standard the FC does on the public forest estate.


The private sector only provides 40% of the
total amount of home grown timber, again utilising four times the land area
available to the FC. This clearly demonstrates that the private sector lacks
the commitment, skills and abilities to provide the UK timber processing
industry with the home produced raw materials it requires to conduct its
successful business enterprises.


Regarding the independent certification of
woodland to internationally recognised standards for sustainable forest
management, all of the public forest estate in England is currently certified
to the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification scheme. For non FC
woodlands in England, only 16% or 139,000 hectares are similarly certified.
This includes all National Trust and Woodland Trust holdings.[5] Here again we
see the public forest estate managed by the FC to be way ahead of the private
sector in its approach, skills and commitment to independent certification of


The FC provide more public
access, more home grown timber and more certified woodland, compared to those
woods in private hands. Clearly these figures demonstrate that the FC managing
the public forest estate has an impressive record of achievement when compared
to the private sector. How does the FC achieve this you may ask? They have
nearly a hundred years of continuous experience and expertise in managing
forested lands, applied through a cohesive skill base made up of well trained,
committed and professional forestry staff. As a result they have a world wide
reputation for excellence, and just as importantly enjoy a high level of
respect from the local communities they serve and involve in their activities.

Should the forests and
woodlands be sold off and the FC be broken up, all this would be lost. The
private sector operating in a disjointed, fragmented and self interested way
would never be able to replicate the successes of the Forestry Commission on a
local, regional, national or international scale.


Can you provide factual
evidence that the private sector can manage forests and woodlands for multiple objectives,
including timber, recreation and biodiversity conservation motives, in a manner
that would meet and exceed the performance of the Forestry
Commission's managing of the public forest estate?


To date I have been unable
to locate such information. Therefore I can only conclude that the Government's
reasons to privatise the public forest estate are based not on good solid
evidence, but either on an attempt to provide the privileged elite with
opportunities for tax avoidance [6], or on a fundamentalist ideology.


So there you have it, the
private and charitable sector cannot compete.  They don't have the skills
on the ground in the quantities required, the commitment, professional
expertise or the economies of scale.  This is a proven point, much as the
Woodland Trust go tree planting at weekends, they don't generally manage their
woodlands and as a consequence the bio-diversity value of their unmanaged
woodlands is under threat..  So while the WT are quick to point the finger
at others they really should get their own house in order first.










The more I read on this subject the more apparent it is that the Woodland trust are the Governments advisors on the privatisation of the forests. They have whittled away at the forestry commission for years awaiting their chance to stick the final knife in. The Woodland trust are nothing more than a Wolf in Sheeps clothing, what we now need is a campaign to uncover these people as the enemy within, they are not the friends of woodland or the public or for that matter the FC. They see the opertunity to milk the system through grants to pay for their life style. DONT TRUST THE WOODLAND TRUST.

The Woodland Trust make statements and accusations but never back
them up with evidence.  Things like, they feel the public woodlands
would be better in private hands, and, the Forestry Commission damage
ancient woodland sites.  All this without a scrap of evidence.  What we
do know though is the Woodland Trust buy up woodland and do nothing with
it, effectively neglecting it.  Neglecting ancient woodland sites
rather than actively managing them leads to loss of bio diversity. 
Really the Woodland Trust are a private company with charitable status. 
They purchase woodland with members money, legacies left to them by
people, grants from companies and grants from taxpayers via the very
Forestry Commission they would like to see privatised.

With this
money apart from buying woodland and neglecting it, they staff lovely
offices with 'campaigners' who design and print pretty leaflets with
pictures of oak trees, fluffy animals, children playing and families
having picnics.  They then mail these leaflets to their members, who are
then fooled into thinking that something useful has been done with
their £33 of membership fees.  Shame people don't know the truth, as via
a public forest estate managed by the Forestry Commission people get more for just 30 pence a year for every person in England. Woodland Trust??? more like Woodland(not to be) Trust(ed).

When will the Government realise that it's NOT their's to sell off? When will the Politions realise that they are paid to represent the views of their constituents NOT to voice their own opinions?
What do the Government think the Private Section would want with a Forest, what possible use is it to them if not to take it away from the public for some commerical use????

I think the gov, private or who ever does not care about the future of human & creatures, life they just care about money.
They are take to much wildlife such as tree's main source what we need for the earth, creatures & ourselfs. The circle of life of the world is already coming uneven but its not to late to fix.

I am sure there is other places to build buildings, such as old factorys, old house's need knocking down & etc.
There is always more than one way to solve problems.

Save the world, forests, life because we are part of that circle.

Never mind "Clean Up Nigeria"!

What about sticking up for the people of Britain on this issue of our forests being sold off by crass politicians?

Every blog and forum is replete with indignation:-

There is a parliamentary debate this Wednesday and all British people should contact their m.p. via email about this proposed sell-off.

Are they really considering selling off Britains woodlands?? Jesus Christ, they've gone insane!! Whats the matter with them?? Are they completely stupid?

I just can't think of it. I grew up in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire. I am, owing to the love I developed for the countryside and the natural world during my infancy, bound, heart and soul, to mother earth. I can't imagine those woodlands where I played as a little girl with my twin sister being sold for government profit.

Its simply disgusting that their even considering it.
They must be stopped!!

I used to think of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne as three extraordinary fellas - now I realise they are extraordinary tree fellers

My LibDem MP, Duncan Hames, Chippenham, voted against the review of this sell-off policy last Wednesday.

I'm gutted.

I think it is quite clear that while a few LibDems (and a couple of Tories) voted against the review, which is nice, perhaps the greatest betrayal of all is the environmental NGOs.  Jonathon Porritt has this to say: "it represents a massive failure of collective leadership. It
demonstrates to me how completely out of touch our environmental NGOs
have become with the people that they purport to speak on behalf of.

And they’ve made themselves look foolish and irrelevant as one of the
largest grassroots protests this country has seen for a long time grows
and grows without them – indeed, despite them.
So here’s my synopsis of where the NGOs stand:"

For more, please see this link.


Error in above post.

This - " I think it is quite clear that while a few LibDems (and a couple of Tories) voted against the review,"

Should have read - " I think it is quite clear that while a few LibDems (and a couple of Tories) voted FOR the review,"

Sorry for any confusion.



how does green peace try and help stop waste management from effecting health?

So the government backed down and bowed before the people and said we was wrong we is sorry.. Tamsin Omond went on telly and said it was a victory for the protest movement.. If anyone believes that the need help!! The only reason that this idea has been shelved for now is because the private sector won't buy land unless it's got a building permit and the charity sector hasn't got any money in the current economic climate. As soon as they manage to word a loophole into the legislation they will try selling again. Third runway only shelved due to economic downturn too. Let's pray it doesn't ratchet up again.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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