Environment secretary says forest estate ‘will stay in public hands’ following recommendation from expert panel. The Guardian reports
England‘s publicly owned forests and woodlands will not be sold off, the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, said on Wednesday, after the independent panel she appointed recommended it remain in public ownership.
The panel said the sell-off had “greatly undervalued” the benefits that woodlands provide for people, nature and the economy and that investment would repay itself many times over in terms of public benefit. It called for the forests to be held in trust for the nation and for public investment to manage and expand the woods.
Spelman said: “Our forests will stay in public hands. We will not sell the public forest estate.” The move completes the U-turn – brought about by huge public outcry against a wholesale sell-off – by ruling out the sale of the 15% of England’s public forests that had only been suspended in February 2011.
James Jones, the bishop of Liverpool and chair of the panel, said: “Our woodlands, managed sustainably, can offer solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing society today. There is untapped potential within England’s woodlands to create jobs, to sustain skills and livelihoods, to improve the health and wellbeing of people and to provide better and more connected places for nature.”
The panel, made up of the heads of countryside and conservation bodies and forestry and rural business interests, called for the forests to be held in trust for the nation. “Forest management should be taken out of the sphere of direct political interference. The tree cycle is wholly different to the electoral cycle: that is what has blighted the management of woodlands. We have to look to the next 50-100 years,” said Jones.
The panel proposed an organisation with a 10-year legal charter governed by trustees, akin to the BBC.
Spelman had wanted to raise around £100m by selling off the nation’s woodlands, after her department suffered the greatest budget cut in Whitehall in the 2010 comprehensive spending review. But protests across the country led her to tell parliament in February 2011: “I am sorry, we got this one wrong.”
The panel found that the £22m cost to the state of maintaining the forests was “very modest and delivers benefits far in excess”, estimated to be at least £400m a year in increased health and wellbeing for people, clean air and water, flood protection and timber. The benefits of woodlands was estimated at £1bn-£2bn a year by the government’s ownlandmark assessment in June 2011.
Spelman said the government would respond more fully to the panel’s report by January 2013.
Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “Over half a million people signed a petition against this out-of-touch government’s plans to sell off England’s forests. Our forests will play a pivotal role in the green economy and our low-carbon future and we look forward to working on a cross-party basis to protect them.”
The panel said it was struck by the “heartfelt connections” between people and woodlands and received 42,000 communications from the public and interested parties. The panel said the government must invest a further £7m each year until 2020 to give it “financial breathing space” in safeguarding the public forests.
“At the moment the Forestry Commission is paying for the public benefits and to do so they are selling off land. That is a contradication in terms,” Jones told the Guardian. But the panel also said the government should encourage “new markets” to secure its long-term income and Spelman said: “We need a new model that is able to draw in private finance, make best use of government funding and facilitate wider community support.”
“We have made real, substantive progress but we are not out of the woods yet,” said Jonathan Porritt, one of the leaders of the Our Forestscampaign. “There are some weasel words about appropriate sources of private funding that leaves an awful lot to worry about.” Porritt had accused some NGOs of “betraying” their members by initially expressing interest in acquiring woodland the government wanted to sell. “But they have now moved a long way. It will not be easy for the government to play fast and loose with the forests now.”
The panel said woodland cover should be expanded from the current of 10% of England’s land to 15% by 2060. Data published this week shows that just 13% more trees were planted in England in 2012 than in 2010, contrasting with Scotland and Wales which have expanded their wooded areas by increasing planting by 233% and 250% respectively over the same period. It noted that just 20% of the nation’s timber comes from the UK, stating there was a “big opportunity” for the forestry sector to deliver more.
The panel also called for greater public access to privately owned woodland. England contains about 1.3m hectares of woods and forests – an area about twice the size of Devon – but the 82% in private hands provides just half the accessible woods. “If private woodland owners benefit from grants there should be a condition that their land is accessible,” said Jones. He also said more must be done to protect ancient woodlands, only 15% of which are protected as sites of special scientific interest.
Jones stressed the international significance of England’s forests. “We cannot lecture the rest of the world on deforestation if we don’t put our own house in order. We have 9% woodland compared to 38-39% in Europe.”
The report was widely welcomed by NGOs and countryside groups. “We’re delighted government has agreement to give their privatisationplans the chop,” said the Friends of the Earth campaigner Paul de Zylva. “England’s woodlands are precious national public assets that provide real value for money.”
Simon Pryor, at the National Trust whose chief executive sat on the panel, said if the government implemented the panel’s recommendations: “The nation’s protest last year will not only have saved the public forest estate, it will have triggered a step change in the way we treat woodland in England.”
- Forest panel expected to back public ownership of England’s woodlands (guardian.co.uk)
- Controversial plans to sell off England’s public forests abandoned by Government (independent.co.uk)
- Government pledges not to sell public forests (independent.co.uk)
- No sell-off of forests, promises Caroline Spelman (bfreenews.com)
- Advisers to publish forest review (bbc.co.uk)
- National Trust reaction to forestry panel final report (ntpressoffice.wordpress.com)
- Public Forests Will Not Be Sold Off (news.sky.com)
- The end of the beginning – looking to the future for forests (wtcampaigns.wordpress.com)
From Michael McCarthy in The Independent today
I wasn’t suggesting for a second that anyone should go hungry; but I was suggesting there will be serious consequences for the planet of this intensification, and of many other aspects of the exploding scale of the human enterprise, as it threatens to overwhelm the Earth’s natural systems in the decades to come.
Are there any limits on what humans can do? Asked rhetorically, the question invites the smiling, triumphant answer, No!, complete with happy-clappy exclamation mark. But to ask it the other way – that is, to ask it simply, in all seriousness – seems to me something that doesn’t happen any more. In fact, the absence of this question seems to be a great gap at the heart of our current creed, which we might term liberal secular humanism, as we approach one of the climaxes of human history, which is the coming clash between humans as a species, and the Earth which is our only home.
I wrote about this three weeks ago, asking how much room there will be in the 21st century world for non-human creatures, using as an example the future fate of insects, which may well have to be sacrificed wholesale, if intensive farming has to be doubly intensified to feed nine billion people by 2050. I wasn’t suggesting for a second that anyone should go hungry; but I was suggesting there will be serious consequences for the planet of this intensification, and of many other aspects of the exploding scale of the human enterprise, as it threatens to overwhelm the Earth’s natural systems in the decades to come. There was an animated reader response to this, so I should like to return to it.
Climate change is only the most dramatic (and controversial) of these consequences. There are many others visible already, about which there is no dispute, ranging from the worldwide collapse of fish stocks to the disappearance of wildlife abundance from the British countryside. Liberal secular humanism certainly acknowledges these disturbing trends; it is greatly concerned about them, shakes its head sadly and strives to prevent them; but what it does not do, is put the whole picture together.
It does not allow the conclusion to which the rapidly increasing degradations of the natural world are all pointing: that a fundamental conflict is looming between the Earth and Man (I use the term in the biological sense of the species Homo sapiens).
This failure to recognise the fundamental nature of the clash will, at the very least, greatly handicap our response to it. I think it arises from our current creed’s greatest failing, its deficit of spirituality, by which I mean a failure to see existence as anything other than human-centred. Liberal secular humanism, which you could argue has been our belief system since the Second World War, has a single, honourable aim: to improve human welfare. It wants people everywhere to be happy, and free from want and fear and disease, and to live fulfilled lives.
What it doesn’t do is allow that there might just be a problem, an intrinsic problem, with people as a species. That is absolute anathema.
You can understand why: poverty is terrible enough without suggesting that people as a whole are in some way flawed. Yet for the Greeks, the founders of our culture, this idea was central to their morality.
There was a continual problem with Man. Man was glorious, almost God-like, and continually striving upwards; yet only the Gods were actually Up There, and if Man tried to get too high, as he often did, the Gods would destroy him. The Gods represented Man’s limits.
The principal fault of Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, remember, was not that he murdered his father and married his mother; those were incidentals of his fate. His real fault was that he thought he knew everything, he had answered the riddle of the Sphinx, he was Mr Clever. The Gods showed him that he wasn’t (and in the greatest of all tragic ironies, he puts out his eyes to punish himself for having been blind to his true situation, which now he can see).
In the modern consensus, in liberal secular humanism, this spiritual view of Man of having limits, of not being able to do everything he chooses, and of potentially being a problem creature, is missing entirely. There is no trace of it whatsoever. Still less, of course, is there any trace of the more recent, Christian version of it, which is Original Sin. Just the opposite: in our current creed, Man is not Fallen, Man is Good; so, as they used to say of General Motors and America, what’s Good for Man is necessarily Good for the Planet.
Except that it isn’t. What’s Good for Man may wreck the planet, and with the mushrooming expansion of humans numbers, increasingly seems likely to. Yet so forceful is our creed that it stamps on the very formation of the thought that Man may be the Earth’s problem child. Suggest it and you will be met with a sigh, and a knowing chuckle; or even more likely, indignant confrontation. So the fundamental conflict which is coming between Us and the Earth, this major moment of history, which evidence everywhere increasingly points to, is not recognised in our dominant belief system; and thus is not addressed.
We humans have always thought ourselves different in kind from other creatures, principally for our use of language and our possession of consciousness. There is another reason, which is becoming clearer; we are the only species capable of destroying our own home (which you might think of as Original Sin in its ecological version).
It seems to me that moral account needs to be taken of this, in the heart of what we believe and understand about ourselves; all the indignant denial of it – as the noble struggle continues to raise so many people from misery to decent life – will not prevent it from being so.
From The Guardian newspaper
Veteran presenter says nature classes should be on a par with maths and English for children ‘estranged’ from the natural world
Classes on the environment are just as important as lessons in maths and English for today’s children, veteran natural history presenter Sir David Attenborough has told the Guardian.
Attenborough, the voice of television natural history programmes for more than 50 years, said most children now grew up with “very little” direct contact with the natural world and were “estranged” from non-human forms of life.
The 84-year-old naturalist said learning about nature should be “on a par” with lessons in maths and English in schools. “As our children’s world is changing, our planet is also in increasing peril,” Attenborough said.
“Climate change and habitat destruction are problems facing our generation and those of our children. In order to equip the next generation to face these problems, it is crucial that children grow up with an understanding and respect for our planet. Human beings depend on the natural world for everything. We are going to have to make increasing demands on people to care for the natural world.”
He said teachers had “enormous power” to influence the thoughts and actions of their pupils. “Bringing nature into the classroom can kindle a fascination and passion for the diversity of life on earth and can motivate a sense of responsibility to safeguard it.”
Many children used to get to know the natural world in the countryside, but now many learn about nature at school, he said. “School grounds are absolutely invaluable if they can be used to give children things like ponds, places where children can grow their own plants and see animals.” But, he said, unfortunately some urban schools had playgrounds that were just tarmac.
Attenborough yesterday told teachers how the national curriculum could be used to inspire children to learn with nature. He was speaking at the Association for Science Education Conference, held at Reading University, where he launched an encyclopaedia about life on land to be used in schools and universities.
South Africa maps first deep-sea preserve
Underwater canyons, deep-sea coral reefs and sponge banks are part of a unique ecosystem that South Africa wants to save within its first deep-sea marine protected area. After 10 years of consultations, South Africa has mapped the boundaries for the proposed reserve stretching 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the eastern KwaZulu-Natal coast.The mapping required synthesising the many divergent interests in the Indian Ocean waters, with 40 industries from fishing to gas lines to jet skis operating in an area home to about 200 animal species and their ecosystems.”All of this data was then entered into conservation planning software in order to identify areas of high biodiversity while avoiding areas of high (economic) pressure,” said Tamsyn Livingstone, the researcher who heads the project.The conservation area is being born in a spirit of compromise, which will allow people and companies to continue using the protected waters in zones designated as lower-risk threats to biodiversity.The scheme still needs to be passed into law, but would join South Africa’s existing network of marine preserves strung along its 3,000-kilometre (1,800-mile) coast stretching from the warm Indian Ocean to the cold southern Atlantic.South Africa has embraced this “participatory” method to protecting species living in its water, an approach pioneered in California and Australia.Global goals for protecting biodiversity have been debated for two weeks at a UN summit in Nagoya, Japan (
), in an effort to set goals on saving habitats which would help to end the mass extinction of species.Environmental groups want 20 percent of coastal and marine areas protected, they say China and India are lobbying for six percent or lower. Talks are supposed to wrap up on Friday.Part of the challenge is in protecting species that are more often than not still unknown. Only one quarter of the estimated million species in the oceans have been discovered.A global census of the oceans unveiled in early October uncovered prehistoric fish thought dead millions of years ago, capturing researchers’ imaginations about what else lurks in the deepest parts of the sea.”Offshore biodiversity is not well known,” said Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.Exploring the seas remains an expensive project, prompting South African researchers to reach agreements to share information with fisheries, coastal diamond mines and the oil industry.”South Africa’s plan is unique in covering all industry sectors to ensure that biodiversity planning minimizes the impact on industry,” she said.”Healthy offshore ecosystems underpin healthy fisheries and keep options open for future generations.”With growing worries about climate change, scientists say the deep seas could become an important source of protein for the planet, because water temperature changes less at great depths.That assumes that the growth of industry can be managed alongside the marine life, especially as oil companies find ways to drill in ever-deeper waters.The explosion of a BP oil rig in April off the Louisiana coast, rupturing a 1,500-metre deep well, highlighted the risks.It took five months to shut off the leak which caused the biggest the oil spill in US history, with 205 million gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf.
Marine Reserves in UK
South African Biodiversity Inst
The Independent on Sunday reports: Government expects legal challenges from wildlife activists as it consults on how to tackle TB in cattle
Farmers in England are to be issued with licences to cull badgers under plans to halt the spread of tuberculosis in cattle herds, which will spark a storm of protest from animal lovers.
MY VIEW: Surely this is a clear case of humans, not being able to get the bottom of an issue, using a wonderful but inconspicuous creature – it’s nocturnal and unfortunatly not loved by all – being made to be a scapegoat! Just as well badgers are not a national emblem or they have no real voice… Hang on, that’s most plants and animals!
FROM THE INDEPENDENT BLOGS
How contemptuous to label people concerned about wildlife as a “Wind in the Willows” generation. I suppose people who concern themselves about the fate of gorillas could be called “Gorilla in the Mist” generations. Concerned about Lions? Then you must be a “Born Free” generation.
I am a concerned about wildlife generation and in particular, the most persecuted wildlife in the world..The British Wildlife.
Badgers may “Allegedly” carry TB but they don’t cause it, so why the hell don’t the government tackle the cause of this disease rather than slaughter innocent wild animals.
Our wildlife should be protected, by law, and only culled in circumstances proved by overwhelming evidence. Thereby setting an example to the rest of the world in good wildlife management.
I am absolutely disgusted with the abuse of our wildlife, with Foxes guts being used to lay scents, as the most disgusting example of abuse I have ever heard of.
This new cull has no supporting evidence as to its effectiveness and is being countenanced as a sop to the wealthy landowning friends of this incompetent government.
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, will risk legal action – and the wrath of generations of Wind in the Willow readers – to give the go-ahead for a cull in the areas worst affected by the disease.
The coalition will launch a public consultation later this month on the precise details of the scheme, which would allow landowners who can prove the measures are necessary to cull and vaccinate badgers over an area of at least 50 square miles.
As well as the distress to farmers caused by the slaughter of infected herds – 25,000 cattle were destroyed last year – the ongoing crisis which has gripped the countryside also costs the Treasury millions every year. Compensation payments totalled around £90m in 2009, with cases concentrated in the south-west of England.
The move will not be without controversy. Politics and wildlife rarely make happy bedfellows. Labour endured a storm of protest after bringing in a foxhunting ban which has proved almost impossible to police or enforce.
A senior source at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “This will not be popular with people who view badgers as something from Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter, but it is the right thing to do. We cannot go on not taking action to deal with this huge problem.”
While there is widespread evidence that badgers carry TB and can pass it to livestock, a decade-long study, costing £35m, by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, concluded that culling could not “meaningfully contribute” to control of the disease because it displaces the badgers, spreading the disease over a wider area. As a result, the Labour government rejected calls for a cull, and instead focused on vaccination. However, the issue remains contentious, with the former chief scientist Sir David King saying culling has a part to play.
A cull ordered by the Welsh Assembly has been dogged by controversy and legal challenge, costing the taxpayer £57,000. In July, the Badger Trust, which opposes any cull, won a court appeal to halt a planned cull of 1,500 badgers in north Pembrokeshire and parts of Ceredigion.
The coalition is braced for a challenge in England, where the cull is likely to be larger. Earlier this year, the Farming minister Jim Paice stressed the need for civil servants to “get absolutely everything sorted before we commence” because campaigners would challenge the plan through judicial review. “We must make sure that either they are convinced they can’t win, or we win if it does go to review,” he said.
Earlier this year, researchers from Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London suggested repeated culling of badgers reduces the incidence of TB in cattle, but the benefits disappeared four years after the programme ended.
To cull or not to cull?
Sir David King, the former chief scientist, believed the high cost of a cull would be offset by the reduction in TB.
Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said of a decision not to cull: “This is devastating for the farming families whose lives and businesses are being ruined by TB in cattle.”
A 2008 study by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB said culling could not “meaningfully contribute” to controlling the disease.
An Imperial College London and Zoological Society London study found the practice to be cost-ineffective.
Government trials have concluded that culling only works over more than 300sq km, otherwise badgers just move.
By Matt Chorley, Political correspondent
The Welsh Assembly Government plans to kill badgers in a vain attempt to eradicate cattle Tb. See
Save the Badger
Back off Badgers