A House of Lords debate on 12 February highlighted the Government’s slow progress on its commitment to increase opportunities to enjoy England’s woods and the risk to the future of our forests if the body responsible for looking after them doesn’t have public access at its heart.
It’s been over a year since the Government promised, following widespread outcry, that it wouldn’t sell off public forests in England after all and that it would aspire to greater access to woodland, but walkers won’t have noticed much change on the ground.
The planned new management body for our woods also still lacks responsibility for improving access to some of the nation’s favourite places to walk and enjoy the outdoors, despite recommendations made in 2012 by the Independent Panel on Forestry on which we played a pivotal role.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who lives in the Forest of Dean, said it was the Government’s “long silence” which had been the catalyst for questioning its plans for the expansion and management of public forests in England via the House of Lords debate.
“Everyone was delighted by the Government’s very positive response to the independent panel’s report and by the commitment to retaining the public forest estate in public ownership and to extending it, but what now?” asked Baroness Royall. “There is a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity.”
Baroness Royall also highlighted the importance that the new Public Forest Estate management body “promote, expand and enhance public access to woodlands”, calling it a “core duty”. “It is imperative that the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure that our public forests are truly secure” she affirmed.
Following the Baroness’ comments, during which she reminded the House that the Forestry Commission “is the largest provider of countryside recreation opportunities in England”, Lord Eden of Winton echoed her view that woodlands “have a real impact on the physical and mental health and well-being of the nation.”
“As these plans for the public forest estate come to fruition, increasing numbers of people, young and old alike, will experience the values and many benefits that can come from a walk along a path through the woods” confirmed Lord Eden.
We’re determined to make these aspirations a reality and are continuing to fight for our forests through our Branch Out campaign. To read the full House of Lords debate visit the Parliament website.