How dramatic!  The Prime Minister kills off his own policy in a brutal and public manner (BBC, Guardian, Independent). 

The RSPB is quoted as follows in the Independent: "If the Government abandons the policy, that is fine by us. This whole debate has shown the public care about forests and how we are going to have better ones in the future.".

The consultation on the future of forests will be scrapped (does that mean government is not interested in our views on the subject any more?), some of the clauses from the Public Bodies Bill will be removed (but it remains an awful Bill) and a panel of experts will be set up to look at access and biodiversity issues within publicly owned woodland (and presumably non-woodland areas owned or managed by the Forestry Commission).

This story has a long way to go.  After such a public outcry the status quo is no longer an option, but government no longer wants to know what you think on the subject.  Hmmm.

This is a defeat for Big Society as an idea - isn't that the Prime Minister's big idea?  If a forest sell-off is no longer going to happen then the State is going to remain as a major player in the business of growing commercial timber crops.  What happened to Small Government and what are the implications for all other aspects of the Government's Small Government/Big Society programme?

The Public Bodies Bill will be amended - but remains a fundamentally awful Bill which would allow any future government huge powers to abolish, merge or amend public bodies, many of them Defra bodies, into the future.  At least Defra was consulting on its radical Big Society plans for forests - the Public Bodies Bill would allow many equally dramatic and controversial measures to be made without public consultation.

Are forestry sales now halted?  I'm not sure we know. Will those sales that were put on-hold be allowed to proceed now?  They were put on hold because it was thought foolish to go ahead with sales when government was consulting on the added safeguards that were thought to be needed to protect their wildlife, and access to those woods.  Government is no longer consulting on that issue.  So...?

And what does this mean for Defra's budget?  Were the projected income figures from forest sales built into Defra's CSR settlement with the Treasury?  I suspect they were.  So is there now a hole in Defra's budget?  I suspect there is.  What will be the knock-on environmental impacts of that budgetary shift?

And the status quo is rarely good enough.  The mixing up of making a buck and delivering a public service that is the current Forestry Commission is too peculiar to last.  We welcome the setting up of an expert panel, and the RSPB would be keen to play a part in its work, but we will have to see what is its remit.  It should be allowed to look at the role of the Forestry Commission and see whether its current remit is well-suited to the delivery of public access and a richer wildlife in our publicly owned forests, heaths and grasslands.

And what does this mean for National Nature Reserves?  What is their future now?

As I say, this issue has a long way to go.  How many people will stick with it for the long run?  The RSPB will.


  • Mark

    Previous posts of mine have stated –

    “The Ancient Woodlands? – they’re mine”


    “The State shouldn’t be into timber production”

    The Govt has two (?) problems

    1 - Most People do not understand the phrase - BS!

    2 - DEFRA rushed into it – got some / most of it wrong – and the right bit is so small as to not bother with!

    No understanding! – Wrong priorities!

    You’ve read ‘B’ by Pro Tim Roper – have a look at David Selbourne’s “The Principle of Duty” – the guy asked by the Tories some while back to report to them on this subject!

    There’s a difference between having a one-track mind and having ‘focus’

    And I’m still very concerned over your fraudulent claim:-

    “The RSPB – Nature’s Voice – tackling the problems that threaten our environment”

  • trimbush - it's difficult not to see it as a defeat for the Big Society approach in that the Small Government/Big Society approach has been reversed because lots of people want there to be Big government on this particular subject and those potential recipients in Big Society (which I guess includes the RSPB) haven't expressed much enthusiasm.  So, yes, it's a bit of a rocky passage for big Society down in the woods.

  • This is a defeat for Big Society as an idea"

    I will if you will!

  • Hope so Mark feel sure you will clear up what seems a misunderstanding perhaps by Telegraph obviously having to shorten the report,sure you have plenty on your plate at the moment so if you do not find time will understand.Would at some time like to know if you will have a blog wherever you are going and if someone from the RSPB will take on this site.Know it is not relevant to this blog but see that massive wind farm proposed off of Dorset coast right on flight path of millions of birds migrating through that area,it really is a unbelievable number if anyone watches web site of Portland Bill and Dorset Birds.Time for bed,feel a bit sad tonight bringing home you leaving quite soon.Think we have had a good innings on here anyway,hopefully both of us a bit more knowledgeable of the others views.  

  • trimbush - you have a one-track mind.  This post is about forests.

    miles - you are very welcome

    Bob philpott and sooty - I will get around to blogging about this some time I hope

    jonathnwallace - thank you