Scores of celebrities – actors, TV chefs, even the odd archbishop – have written to the Sunday Telegraph to complain how our countryside would be ruined and made inaccessible by plans to sell off 15% of the UK’s state-owned forests. They’re talking utter, ignorant rot.
In the first place, the current plans would raise £100m for the taxpayer. Dame Judy Dench and company may not care about high taxes, but those of us trying to run homes and businesses do. Second, access and environmental conditions can easily be inserted into any sale conditions – just as we made British Telecom maintain free 999 calls when it was privatized in 1984.
Third, Dr Rowan Williams and disciples have an odd faith in the state forest quango, the Forestry Commission, when most of the forest it runs is completely inaccessible anyway – dense, ugly, upland pine plantations. What is to be lost by selling that? And in terms of the deciduous lowland forests of England, local non-state owners would have very much more incentive than a quango to make them more accessible and improve their leisure use and biodiversity dimensions.
Fourth, Ranulph Fiennes and party seem not to have explored the success of forest reforms in places like New Zealand, or the variety of different ownership models, from outright sales to local community trusts, that have produced benefits in other countries.
Fifth, not even Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall could rustle up such a dog’s breakfast as the Forestry Commission. It owns, manages, exploits and regulates forests – poacher and gamekeeper at the same time – and completely dwarfs and dominates the private sector. And, of course, the Department of Environment plus the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all butt in on it too . There are far too many cooks in this broth.
No: the entire forestry estate should be sold as appropriate to private, local, voluntary or community groups, and the Commission should focus on making sure that it is managed with public and environmental interests in mind. That would be good for taxpayers, good for forestry, good for the environment, and indeed good for everything these cocooned celebs actually want to achieve – or say they do.
Update: Simon Cooke has also blogged on this, which you can read here.