National Trust backs public concerns over future of forests

The National Trust today (Tues) backed the public’s concern over the future of Britain’s forests and insisted that any change of ownership must protect public access to woodlands as well as their amenity, conservation and cultural value.

The Trust has agreed a set of principles which should guide any proposed disposals. These have been sent to Government and the key public bodies involved after consultation with other nature, wildlife and conservation groups.

The charity is publishing its views on the eve of the expected launch of the Forestry Commission’s consultation on the future of the public forest estate.

The three key principles are:

  1. That the conservation and public access value of any site being considered for disposal is properly safeguarded for the future under any new management or ownership arrangements;
  2. That if any land is transferred to conservation organisations or community groups, the sites should be adequately funded by government;
  3. If such support is not guaranteed, the Trust will argue that important conservation assets should remain in the care of the appropriate public body in order to fulfil the government’s responsibility to protect their public value.

The Trust’s views, shared by several other charities, have been submitted to the government ahead of the Forestry Commission’s consultation to be launched on Thursday. The full statement of the Trust’s standpoint can be viewed on the charity’s website.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the Trust, said: ‘“The public alarm over these proposals shows just how much people care about the nation’s woods and trees.  It is imperative that we protect what really matters to local people and that their voice is heard in the debate.”

David Riddle, Land Use Director at the National Trust, added: “Any transfer of publicly owned woodland must safeguard its public access and conservation value, including its cultural importance. Unless the government can guarantee this, without reducing the resources already available to conservation organisations, we believe important sites should remain in public care.

“However, if these safeguards can be secured there could be some exciting new opportunities for partnerships involving local communities, charities and business to work together to look after the woodlands they so clearly love.

“We hope that the consultation document will provide much-needed detail on how conservation and access will be safeguarded, and clarify the location, quality and type of woodlands and forests to be disposed of.

“As a conservation charity we look after 25,000 hectares (61,000 acres) of woodland and we know that caring for it properly involves considerable care, investment and expertise. Funding will be crucial to ensure that the excellent work that the Forestry Commission does for public access and conservation is continued. How these funding needs will be met is a key concern.

“We will also have to consider the potential knock-on effects that could impact on existing conservation and access work at other sites around the country – such as the increased competition for grants that will result from more woodland coming into the private sector.

“When we have absorbed the detail we will be making a full contribution to the consultation response.”