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.