Our forests will stay in public hands


As the Independent Panel on Forestry's report is released, The Wildlife Trusts welcome Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman's pledge that 'our forests will stay in public hands' and broadly welcome the Panel's recommendations. But, vitally, The Wildlife Trusts urge the Government to adopt the Panel's recommendations for a changed remit for the Forestry Commission to ensure it gives nature, people's enjoyment of woodlands, and sustainable woodland management a higher priority. There is much more to do to build on the potential of the Public Forest Estate and The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the Government to invest in England's woods and forests to secure nature's recovery.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: "The Public Forest Estate is a tremendous national asset and has the potential to deliver even more benefits for wildlife and people. We currently invest £20 million a year, which provides an estimated return of £400million. At 20:1 this is a phenomenal return on this national investment, providing huge benefits to the nation. The Public Forest Estate has the potential to help achieve the objectives of last year's Natural Environment White Paper through the integration, better protection, reconnection and restoration of woodlands. That's why we had hoped to see stronger recommendations from the Panel, specifically the reconnection of woodlands at a landscape scale. We want to see stronger protection for existing woodlands, especially ancient woodlands, and more urgency in the restoration of open habitats. We believe areas of lowland heathland, meadow and other internationally important open habitats planted with conifers should be restored with urgency. It is critical that the Government takes this opportunity to release this potential within the Public Forest Estate."

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, undisclosed site, Cheshire (Photo: Steve Round)

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The RSPB has also welcomed the report. The report urges "greater protection and continuing restoration of habitats identified as being of high priority" and highlights the pivotal role that woods and forests have in our lives, in providing vital space for plants and wildlife, keeping people healthy and connected with nature, helping to keep our air and water clean, helping us adapt to climate change and driving a move to a greener economy. Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, says: "If woodlands are healthy and well managed then they are one of our greatest natural assets, and we're pleased to see the report focus on making it a priority for new and existing woodlands in all ownerships to benefit people and wildlife. But, whilst the recommendations are pleasing, they won't help if our woodlands are starved of funding and effective management. The report points out that we all reap benefits to the value of twenty times the amount Government actually puts in to public woodlands, which makes it an incredible investment opportunity."

In a recent public survey asking why people value woodlands, wildlife was the top response. However, woodland wildlife is declining at an alarming rate, faster than almost any other habitat. Martin continues: "We've already lost three in four Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, nine in ten Willow Tits, and more than half of our woodland butterflies, and that's only a snapshot of the full picture. If things don't change, we will lose the diversity of life that makes our woodlands so special. It is now up to the government to decide how to take these recommendations forward. The RSPB will continue to make the case that any changes must lead to greater benefits for woodland wildlife and for people."

Written by: The Wildlife Trusts/RSPB