FC sell-off abandoned: open habitats still threatened

I read through the debate following Caroline Spelman’s apology yesterday, confirming that the FC sell-off had been abandoned. I was struck by the number of times we were re-assured that protection of biodiversity would be enhanced, but that there was already plenty of protection in place.

The Secretary of State made statements such as “we Ministers have made it clear on a number of occasions that we want to increase protection for access and other public benefits“, “it is important to remember that a number of statutory protections-governing access, rights of way, wildlife protection, planning, the care of our woodlands and felling-are already in place” and “we together should have the ambition to do better for our forests and woodlands and to enhance and protect their biodiversity“.

It appears that, as usual, the focus will now be on the areas covered  by trees, even though a significant proportion of FC land, including some of its best areas for biodiversity, are in open habitats, such as grasslands, heathlands and bogs. These are still very vulnerable to damage and destruction, and the Regulations available, derived from the EIA Directive, are grossly inadequate.

So if the Secretary of State is really serious about doing better to enhance and protect the forest’s (indeed the nation’s) biodiversity, she could do no worse than start by reviewing the EIA Regulations and making them stronger, more effective and better enforced.

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About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
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2 Responses to FC sell-off abandoned: open habitats still threatened

  1. Paul Beevers says:

    I can understand your concern but what I don’t then understand is why, for example, the WCL is not standing up as a representative of combined conservation groups to put all the arguments to the government as a shared platform? I appreciate that the Grasslands Trust is only small compared to RSPB or Woodland Trust but surely they see the benefits of working together and you are a member of WCL? Is it dog eat dog?

    I was also concerned about the CS statement because I got the feeling that she worded her statement in such a way as to rule absolutely nothing out in terms of woodland sales. Was that your take as well?

    Just one other thought that was prompted by someone I sent your previous blog to was the question of selling FC land that was coniferous. I see Kielder for example as important because it is, in UK terms “landscape scale” and could be reshaped over time, as I believe most other coniferous woods should be big or small i.e kept and reshaped. They also offer some revenue raising opportunities and frankly if we own them we should keep them, unless there is a very good strategic reason to dispose of them. So I would prefer to see Kielder kept but you don’t seem to see it in that way and I wondered why?

  2. milesking says:

    Paul – yes we work through Link a lot of the time. There was a huge effort to pull everyone together on a joint submission to the Natural Environment White Paper consultation, for example. Link did not produce a unified position on the FC sell-off proposals – perhaps it might have done if the consultation had run its planned course.

    As with every issue, there were differing views on the proposals from different conservation charities, so if a Link position had come out, it would only have reflected the common ground, not the divergence of views. But it’s certainly not dog eat dog! We emphasised different aspects of the FC sell-off from say the RSPB, but in many respects we had similar views on the issues overall.

    Yes the ministerial statement was more interesting in what it did not say than what was said. Of course now there is so much interest in the sell-offs, so they are much less likely to be able to get away with sales that reduce public access, for instance, than would previously have been the case. Of course the failure to protect biodiversity after a sale will not be affected.

    As far as Kielder is concerned, I think there is much greater scope for landscape-scale habitat restoration there without conifers. They haven’t been native in that part of Britain for several thousand years, and the habitats they replaced are far more valuable. So I would love to see Kielder retained as state-owned land, but primarily for open habitats, with some restoration of upland native woodland. Having said that, there is no sense in taking out commercial conifer timber without generating some income from it, and this could be done through a planned long term conversion away from conifer production, extracting timber at a time that maximises its commerical value.

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