Keep our forests public – the campaign isn’t over!

We have included below, as a guest post & for general information, the press release from Sussex Keep Our Forests Public after the rally in Friston Forest + the photos of participants – look out for the film that was made of the event probably on YouTube at some stage:

We had a lovely, energising & inspiring day in Friston Forest on Sunday.  Here’s the press release & couple of photos.  Remember the next walk date is Saturday 9th April, St Leonards Forest, more details soon, we hope you can come.

Sussex Keep Our Forests Public
Press release 21st March 2011

Forest lovers celebrate first victory in a long campaign against public forest privatisation

Exactly 100 people enjoyed a ‘grand day out’ of celebration, discussion and forest rambling to mark the government’s climb-down from its proposal for the total privatisation of the English Forestry Commission’s estates, and to steel ourselves for a long year of campaigning against job and funding cuts and backtracking on the no-sales pledge by the government.

People came from Seaford, Eastbourne, Lewes and Hastings, as well as from Brighton, and a contingent from Red Rope, the socialist walking and climbing network, came down from London.  Supporters from 38 Degrees and from Save Our Woods, the new on-line campaigning organisations, joined the event and filmed it !!

Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary of the Open Spaces Society, and Tony Whitbread, Director of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, spoke at the rally, with Dave Bangs, KOFP’s co-founder.

Tony stressed the way that the Forestry Commission managed their woodland ‘multi-functionally’ to provide a range of ‘ecosystem services’ – from supporting and enhancing wildlife in as naturalistic settings as possible, to access and recreation, and local climate amelioration, flood risk reduction and water resource management. He argued that the substantial size (one in fifty acres, nationally) and diversity of the public forest estate was necessary to deliver these services. The Forestry Commission, he said, was very different nowadays from the past, when they had been forced to confine themselves to the simple planting of serried ranks of conifers.

Kate said that although the government now has no immediate plans to sell the estate, it may starve it of cash by severely reducing the Forestry Commission’s budget, which could put the management and protection of these wonderful woodlands at risk. She saw a great opportunity in the government’s appointment of the new ‘Independent Panel on Forestry Policy’ (which reports in the autumn) for us to press for a statutory right of public access to ALL woodland, whether private or public, such as already exists for mountains, moors, heaths, downs, and commons under the CROW Act (Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000). The new Panel’s terms of reference oblige them to give consideration to just such public benefits.

Dave argued that the members of the government’s new Independent Panel had a majority of representatives of organisations that had a conflict of interest with the Panel’s independence because they represented landowning conservation NGOs or private landowning interests that stood to gain by ‘cherry-picking’ the Forestry Commission’s estates. Not a single representative of the array of forest defence organisations or of the Forestry Commission’s trade unions was on the Panel. The government’s climb-down on privatisation was because of the huge grassroots campaign of opposition, he said, and the conservation NGOs had “not so much as lifted a finger to support our campaign”, quoting Jonathan Porritt, the environmental campaigner.

After the rally we walked up through the Forest to its northern part, where a partnership of the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Forestry Commission is overseeing the creation of a large area of ‘wood pasture’ grazed by the Trust’s white park cattle, to enhance the wildlife interest of the Forest.

Tony then led us to a high viewpoint on Fore Down, looking over Lullington Heath National Nature Reserve, where he explained the management and enhancement opportunities for Friston Forest and its neighbouring downland.

It was a grand, exhilarating, and hopeful day.


ACTION FOR ACCESS
walking and working for a people’s countryside

Facebook  – “Downlanders -Action for Access”

AFFILIATED TO THE OPEN SPACES SOCIETY

Friston Forest Rally & ramble, East Sussex: 20th March 2011

Friston Forest Rally

UK Forests still under threat

What follows is from a flyer distributed by  Keep Our Forests Public & Action For Access. It outlines the need for continued campaigning if we want to avoid what could turn into piecemeal privatisation as jobs & funds are cut. We didn’t write this but we share its sentiments & are posting it here in order to publicise both the events mentioned  & the issues raised. There are email contact addresses included below if you would like further information.

THE FOREST SELL-OFF

The privatization of the entire Forestry Commission estate has been cancelled, and the legal powers for this massive disposal – 2% of England – have been dropped from the Public Bodies Bill.

A BATTLE WON, OUR PUBLIC FORESTS ARE STILL UNDER THREAT

The Forestry Commission must still go ahead with shedding about 40% of their English employee’s jobs. That means all the forest management plans will be in chaos. The Forest Research part of the Commission – doing crucial work to tackle plant disease, monitor climate change and promote timber productivity – faces 25 % cuts. East Sussex forests could be run from Thetford, Suffolk, and their already bare-bones staff of five slashed.

The Commission may have to sell 15% of the estate, if the government demands it. Their DEFRA grant will still be slashed…and the panel of experts appointed by the government to pontificate over the future of our forests will include representatives of the same conservation NGOs who failed to campaign against the privatization, and partially endorsed it, as well as forest industry reps. Both groups share a potential interest in cherry-picking our public forests.

WE HAVE ONE OF THE BEST NATIONAL FOREST SERVICES IN THE WORLD

It harvests trees 150% more efficiently than the private sector and produces 60% of our home-grown timber on only 18% of our woodland.  It cherishes a vast range of ancient woodlands, whilst planting new urban fringe and brownfield community forests.

The Forestry Commission’s South East Region – from the Chilterns to Kent – own or lease 98 woodlands, ranging from the old royal forest of Alice Holt, to Bedgebury National Pinetum, and large downland beech forests. Most of these woodlands are ancient, with carpets of bluebells and a rich wildlife. The Commission plan to restore all their ancient woodlands to their former glory.

ALL OF THESE WOODS REMAIN AT THREAT OF PIECEMEAL PRIVATISATION

The proposed privatisation of our national forests stirred public anger to boiling point. Opposition groups formed all across the country. The 38 Degrees on-line petition has over half a million signatures.

WE NEED TO KEEP THE CAMPAIGN GOING, we’re not out of the woods yet!

What we stand for:

1. A positive role for an expanded state national forest service and public forest estate in delivering a range of public benefits. No land sales. No job cuts. No funding cuts.

2. Opposition to all conservation NGO acquisitions of privatized FC land. We will seek the compliance of the NGOs with this boycott position.

3. If there is to be a public consultation we want it be grass roots-led. There should be representation from trade unions and grass roots forest defence organisations* on any government advisory panel, and its meetings should be in public. There should be no representation on any advisory panel for organizations who stand to benefit from Forestry Commission disposals.

4. We need democracy in the Commission’s management. There should be public and staff representation at district, regional, and national level in Forestry Commission decision-making.

*The local grassroots forest campaign groups from across the country have formed a network to work together.

Email for any more info – Keep-our-forests-public@live.co.uk

RALLY IN FRISTON FOREST SUNDAY  MARCH 20TH

Meet:   Exceat car park Friston Forest at 12 noon

Located off the Litlington Road, near the junction of A259, by the Seven Sisters Country Park Visitor Centre.  Map reference: TV 518 995

Speakers: Forestry Commission trade unionist; Kate Ashbrook (Open Spaces Society);  Dave Bangs (Keep Our Forests Public).

The rally will be followed by a picnic together & 1.30pm guided forest walk with two stop-and-return points for those who do not want to make the whole ramble.

Maximum distance 6 miles.  Wear strong walking shoes, bring lunch & refreshments

BRING BANNERS AND PLACARDS, FRIENDS & FAMILY.

Transport: From Brighton  Bus 12/12A Station  10.38 or 10.53  – opp sea life centre 10.43or 10.58

Bus  13X Station 11.02   Sealifecentre  11.14

From Lewes – 10.28 train replacement bus to Seaford, 12bus.   Eastbourne -12 bus.

Car park £3.50 – please get in touch to offer lifts.

2 further walks with K.O.F. P. & Action for Access in support of the public forests estate: action4access@gmail.com

Saturday April 9th. St Leonards’s Forest, near Horsham

Saturday May 7th  “Access in Arlington”, Abbot’s Wood, north of Wilmington

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.” John Burroughs (1837-1921)