The matter in hand is the government's proposal to sell Britain's forests or, to be quite precise, those that belong and are administered by the ineffable quango the Forestry Commission with a bit of interference from other ministries and regulatory bodies, to private individuals, organizations, companies and, if it is right, voluntary bodies. Shock, horror! Anyone would think that the total devastation of ancient hunting forests has been proposed.
As Eamonn Butler says in today's ASI blog:
From the sound of it, you might think that Britain's forests are going to be sold off to keep Rupert Murdoch in paper, or maybe concreted over for car parking. Hardly. State forestry is a mess, and private ownership will revitalize it, and will actually extend the public amenity that our forests afford us. Private owners are actually more likely to encourage public access than the Commission has been – they can see more commercial potential in doing precisely that.In a previous blog Dr Butler referred to the various celebs who had signed a sobbing letter to the Sunday Telegraph as being "thick as two short planks" an obvious but still accurate description. Furthermore, he gives very good reasons why we should not assume that the celebs in question actually know what they are talking about. In this blog's opinion, a period of silence from all of them starting with His Bloviation, Dr Williams, would be very welcome.
The Forestry Commission already plans to sell small bits of its forest estate, which will earn taxpayers a useful £100m. The question mooted by the government today is whether it should sell the whole lot. That's actually no really big deal. The Commission owns only a fifth of England's forest land. Most of the rest, about 68%, is already in private hands. (Various government departments, like Defence, own other bits too.) Many of the celebs who are saying how much they love forests could well be thinking about ones that are already private.
And private forestry is already heavily regulated in terms of the owners' obligations to the protection of nature, logging schedules, public access, and development. Thos protections would remain, even if the whole estate were sold. And indeed there would be extra protections for ancient woodlands like the Dean, New, and Sherwood forests. As in New Zealand and other countries, there could be a mixture of commercial, non-profit, community and mixed ownership.