Monday, 7 February 2011

Can’t see the wood for the trees

The single biggest recreation activity in the UK is walking. It’s something we enjoy with family and friends. We like being in the countryside. As well as exercise, we can see and smell the changing seasons.

The mass trespasses of Kinder Scout, seventy-five years ago, by walkers from Sheffield, Manchester and other northern towns and cities, highlighted how access to our countryside was being denied. They had a far-reaching impact, some of which is still playing out today. This culminated in the Labour Government’s Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which provided rights to walk on mapped access land – the so-called right to roam.

In addition, huge steps were made in opening up access to our trees and forests. For many communities, it is the woods - publicly-owned by the Forestry Commission – that provide the local opportunities for excellent walks. The Forestry Commission doesn’t just own big forests, like those in Northumberland; it also owns and provides access to woods in just about every part of our local area.

And, of course, it isn’t just walkers who enjoy the woods. So do mountain-bikers and runners, bird-spotters and

But now, the Government has announced plans to sell off the Public Forestry Estate in England threatening the future of over 1,400 woods in the country. Their supposed consultation was only published after they announced the sell-off: it does not contain an option to keep land in public hands or provide details on how environmental stewardship or public access will be funded in future.

Our forests and woodlands are an important part of England’s national heritage. Already, some woods that have been sold have had all public access denied. Gates have been locked shut and paths closed. It’s often only after we lose something that we realise how much we valued it.

The sale of our woods has nothing to do reducing the deficit. After all, they only cost each of us 30p a year to maintain. It’s actually just a total of £15 million a year now and, as the value of timber continues to rise, the cost is likely to reduce to nothing in the near future. It’s all to do with ideology.

If the government can’t see the wood for the trees, let’s hope the people cam open their eyes.