I've already mentioned the Sunday Telegraph piece on non-sale and non-lease of National Nature Reserves but it's also covered in the Sunday Times. In both it's portrayed as a U-turn which is a little unfair as I don't think the decision had ever been made so it never had to be unmade. We welcome this clarification and we have said all along that state retention of NNRs (and forests - and the two are similar issues) is fine by us.
Charles Clover, writing in the Sunday Times, has at least the benefit of a long memory. He is right to point out the sins committed by the Forestry Commission in the past and is good enough to remember that the RSPB had a major part in fixing them in places like the Flow Country of northern Scotland (where we are still active - now as land managers and habitat restorers). Charles doesn't seem to like the FC too much - he bears a long grudge. I'd say that FC has improved hugely over the last 25 years, but is not the paragon that others are currently wishing to portray.
Clover is right to question what will happen to all those bits of FC land which are actually damaged heathlands. His suggestion is that people like the RSPB should buy them up and fix them - as we are doing in the Flow Country. But the difference is that the Flow Country forests are owned by private individuals whereas some of the damaged heathlands of Dorset, Hampshire and elsewhere are already owned by me and you. And the BBC has covered this issue on its website too - and it's good to see that Defra has clocked the issue at least.
It's so tempting to lock Jonathon Porrit and Charles Clover in a room together. And Jonathon hasn't posted my comment on his blog yet, but then neither has he come here to argue his case.
And also in the Sunday Times their correspondent Jonathan Leake (too many Jonathans and each with a different spelling of their name) has said that FC has speeded up sales of woodland ahead of the consultation. And these sales lack the protections that may follow from future sales after the consultation. So does that paint the FC in a good light or a bad light? Victim or willing accomplice? Or doesn't it matter that much? It's interesting and it might be important.
And once more in the Sunday Times, Martin Ivens covers the bigger politics of forests and Big Society in general. Is the FC part of a broken society? And if it isn't broken quite what needs fixing? From our perspective the FC is not in anyway wholly broken but nor are its environmental record or future plans perfect (see yesterday's blog for the way we see these things as shades of grey). This may stem from the fact that the FC always reverts to being about timber when times are good and about public goods when it is threatened. The quick retreat to growing timber, selling timber, the price of timber is never far away.
And Mrs Spelman has just given a brave and spirited defence of the government position on forests on the Politics Show. She is right to ask people to read the consultation and to send in their views. She is right that a lot of the public outcry came before the consultation was published and is a response to speculation. I don't know why I feel a bit protective of Mrs Spelman, she certainly doesn't need my help, I guess it seems a bit unchivalrous to take her to task for things she hasn't said and hasn't yet done. Having said that, there are, as is obvious, real concerns about the impacts of the government's proposals for forests and National Nature Reserves. And the RSPB will make its views clearly and publicly known on the whole of the consultation paper within two weeks - and ask our members to respond to the consultation.
I have to say that the idea of a Forest and Wildlife Service which picks up managing our forests and our best nature sites does seem to have some obvious attractions. But I'm still thinking about it.
The current stance of DEFRA (16 Feb) is that the NNRs will remain in public ownership - not necessarily in public management. Personally I find it surprising and disappointing that the NGOs - RSPB included - have not been vocally and specifically supportive of state management of important biodiversity areas. To retain some direct state involvement in this area is to demonstrate the states committment in a highly public, demonstrable way, and also spreads the load of biodiversity conservation, and thus lends strength. This current lack of any recognition of this value appears to be a reflection of the NGOs' wish not to predjudice any cherry picking of the NNRs they would like to get once the management is apportioned. To paraphrase one comment above, the RSPB should be guided by what's best for wildlife, and secondly by what's best for the RSPB. And that goes equally for the Wildlife Trusts, The National Trust, et al. This lack of support for state management of NNRs risks splitting the nature conservation movement in England and alienating memberships that recognise that diversity brings strength.
Mark, Will take issue on one comment that the Dean was about to axed was never on the cards. No it wan't as a place but the removal of protection for the Dean was definitely on the cards by taking that protection out of the Forestry Act and remains so at the moment if the Bill is not amended. I know that is a localised issue but is still dear to my heart.
Well may come as a bit of a shock for you Mark but do not think anyone should criticise you and RSPB about your attitude to forests as the RSPB do a fantastic job on a wide range of habitats and wildlife in general and to pick on one little thing that as they see it the RSPB should have acted more forcibly is quite honestly a hoax to put pressure on RSPB,think the RSPB have acted in this case like lots of others really well.By the way had a quick glance at Jonathon Porritts blog,crikey he seems to have it in for everyone,doesn't he like anyone in the world.
Everyone has their own agenda, as the comments here make clear. The RSPB should be guided by two principles: what's best for wildlife and what's best for the RSPB. Pragmatism is the way ahead.
Why is it that forestry alone is attributed with things it did so long ago that most readers couldn't even remember what poltical party was in power ?
Why isn't every comment on RSPB preceded by the suggestion that its time to move on from campaigning over Aigrettes (which is what it was probably doing in 1919 !) and how many members (a tiny number, I suspect, are aware that RSPB spent much of the interwar years fighting amongst itself.
We need to look at the present and future: in reality, the last decade has very much been FC's amongst Government Countryside Agencies - the Countryside Commission faded and died whilst an increasingly effective English nature was thrown in the air by Haskins. FC moved into the urban fringe, pulled in lots of European money to redevlop its recreation, launched some of the largest habitat restoration programmes in England, including ancient woodlands and heathland and led by example and influence in restoring our SSSIs.
BUT what it needs is a new remit - its hardly surprising it slumps back on timber when Government still seems to think its all about timber & that FC is really no more than an ineeficient business.
And the SoS amd the NGOs ? The suggestion that people 'should wait for the consultation' is no more than a bad joke as Government has twisted and turned to try and deal with valid points it never realised existed - the only positive thing you can say is that at least they aren't claiming to be evidence based ! And the NGOs need to focus more on outcomes and not following the twists and turns of organisation and structure which is starting to leave them looking wrong footed by public opinion.
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