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.


  • Won’t say! Can’t say!

    Your silence (at its politest) is deafening.

    I take it then that both you and the RSPB are happy with paying out an increasing £100 million each year for allowing an ever-increasing number of Diseased Badgers to fatally infect cattle, alpaca, pigs, deer etc etc and do nothing

    Shame on you!  

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


  • Jockeyshield - thanks for reading.

    Why should the FC be in the business of planting conifers? There is no grassland commission spending taxpayer pounds growing grass to sell to the market; there is no beef commission producing beef to sell to the market. The FC existed because at a certain point in our history there was a strategic/military need for timber - specifically to produce props for mines and just in case we needed to shore up a large network of trenches (it was 1919) again. Those times have passed.

    We, the taxpayers, subsidise timber growers to produce timber  - several times actually, once at planting, then again during management, and finally through inheritance tax exemption on tree'd land. While there are obvious benefits to society (carbon storage, wildlife, recreation) to planting native broadleaves, do we really need to both subsiside state production of exotic conifers and subsidise the private sector? We can  make better use of the enormous estate that the FC own.

    We are told, by experts like Sir John Lawton, that our wildlife is ebbing away, because of the way land is managed. What better use to put to the FC estate than to manage it for wildlife, and for people to enjoy that wildlife, with all the benefits that derive.

    You say conifers provide wonderful habitat for many woodland species. All the evidence shows that those species would do better in native broadleaved woodland (with all the vital open space that management creates), where they used to live happily before woodland cover was reduced and woodlands ceased to be managed properly. Where do you think red squirrels lived before the advent of modern intensive conifer forestry? They didnt arrive with the Sitka.

    You suggest that planting conifers in the uplands will help remediate the damage caused by decades of mismanagement. It was the conifer plantations themselves which contributed to that damage. Carbon stored in peat soils in the uplands (this is where the vast bulk of carbon is stored in the UK) is released as a result of tree planting!

    I am all in favour of native woodland restoration in the uplands (juniper is one of my favourite trees), and yes the FC has been doing some good work restoring open habitat in their bigger upland plantations - one of the reasons why it was folly to sell them off. But conifers, apart from yew + juniper are, in England, not now native, and provide a significantly lower value wildlife habitat than the habitats the plantations replaced, whether it be ancient woodland, semi-natural grassland, lowland heathland, blanket bog or whatever.

    I have watched a number of sites recover their wildlife after industrial conifer removal, and it is astounding how wildlife can spring back after decades in the gloom. As I said in my blog (ok Mark point taken I won't put the link in this time!) the key difference is that FC land, like a lot of other state-owned land, has escaped the "green revolution" in agriculture, which for most sites means year on year application of nitrogen, phosphate and herbicide. These chemicals are great if you want to increase food production, but they alter the soil to such an extent that most wildlife cannot live there. That is why the FC land is so important if we are going to achieve the vision set out in"Making Space for Nature".

    Mark - I am extremely grateful for your readers and I hope you don't mind me commenting on your site - reading it is always a good way to start the day!

  • Hi Bob just quoted from what it seems was a short report in Telegraph so rely on it being correct but it did say as if Dr Murray Grant a conservation scientist with RSPB had come to that conclusion and he should contact Telegraph if they have reported wrong for sure less crows mean Lapwing chicks have a much better chance of survival and in the Peak District it is upsetting to see Lapwings going crazy trying to protect chicks from crows always to no avail.One type of bird done very well on farm land in last 60 years are Corvids and no matter what about habitat they would have a detrimental effect and there is good evidence that if numbers of a species goes down it becomes more essential to control there predators or numbers get drastically low.Think all birds that are in decline we are justified in helping them any way we can even if we go on about the habitat as quite often that is unlikely to go back to where it was especially with population increasing by perhaps 10 million in a decade in U K.It is very hard to accept but fact is a very big majority of population have as they see it much bigger things to care about than wildlife and I guess you see the same as me at any wildlife place it is almost exclusively senior citizens.  

  • Sooty,  Didn't see that one coming.  Read the project summary again.  

    "A new study exploring the causes of population change in upland waders has found that no single cause is connected with recent decreases in populations. Instead, the research by the RSPB suggests that different factors associated with varying land-use may be influencing changes in certain species.

    In the first country-wide assessment of its kind, the study looked at five wading bird species — Lapwing, Curlew, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Snipe — and explored changes in their populations across various upland habitats. 142 individual survey plots were identified for study within the following regions; East Flows, Exmoor, Lake District, Lewis & Harris, North East Scotland, North Pennines, North Yorkshire, South Pennines, Wales, West Flows. It found that where declines had occurred, they were linked with factors such as habitat cover, forest edge exposure, grouse moor management intensity and crow abundance."

    Yes predators do come into it but the report doesn't say lapwings do better where crows are controlled, it just covers crows as one option within land management. Get the land management right and the balance is likely to be better and crow numbers will go down.    That is no different from anything the RSPB has said before.

  • Think it was all a cover up for hiding lots of important other decisions made over the period this managed to get a measly1% of the population galvanised into a fury.It was never going to happen as it simply did not make economic sense and if the Government had intended it to happen then it would have,think the clever politicians laughing up their sleeves.See the RSPB done something of a U turn and their own study and report states that Lapwings do better where Crows are controlled,well there is another laugh,will not say I told you so but seems a few of us who make our living in the countryside know better than all these scientists who keep telling us we should believe their knowledge as us country bumpkins know nothing compared to them.