Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The independent panel on forest policy

It’s good to be wrong sometimes! I mentioned, in a previous blog, that the proposed forestry panel was going to comprise just 5 people. This turns out not to be the case – in fact it will consist of 12. I had heard that it would be only 5 “somewhere” and had simply passed this on in my blog. This goes to show that I should always check back to an original reference rather than re-stating hearsay!

So – I was wrong, it is 12 people not 5 (or did someone change their mind somewhere!). However, this is good news as a panel this size is far more likely to cover a range of interests. It is also good news that key NGOs are represented, and I’m particularly pleased that Steph Hillbourne (CEO of the Wildlife Trusts National Office) is on the panel.

Some, however, have mixed feelings about the make up of the panel. And some grass-roots campaign bodies are less than happy with NGOs being there at all. They feel that these same NGOs were not active in opposing the government’s plans to dispose of the public forest estate and in effect have put themselves into position to “cherry-pick” the best sites for themselves. My view is that this is unfair; the NGOs were pretty active, although not as visible as some of the grass-roots campaigns, and are certainly not there top facilitate a government sell-off.

Nevertheless, it is a fair point that there is no representative from these grass-roots campaigns. With a panel of 12 it should be expected that at least someone from an on the ground campaign should be there. The representatives who are there need to bear this in mind. If local campaigns are not represented then at least us in the NGOs should be prepared to pass on their views.

I was reminded of this in an excellent example of local action in Friston Forest, Sussex, last weekend. A local group (Keep Our Forests Public) organised a rally and walk around the forest. Nearly 100 people turned up and we were fortunate to hear an impassioned, principled talk from Dave Bangs (who fronts the group) and a valuable overview from Kate Ashbrook (Chair of the Open Spaces Society). I felt particularly privileged to be asked to speak – bearing in mind that some there felt let down by the NGOs. No doubt some still feel that we have not been principled enough in our stance but I do hope that campaigns like this will realise that Steph, and other NGO reps on the panel, will be doing their best to get the best outcome for the nations estate.

It was a great day out in a site that is an excellent example of how a partnership in a forest can deliver great multiple public benefits. This is a privately owned site, managed by the FC and with a small area managed by us at the Sussex Wildlife Trust – so government, non-government and private all working together. It’s just the sort of partnership that should become “normal” in a positive new approach for the Forestry Commission.

1 comment:

hen said...

Really enjoyed reading about your day at Friston and watching the videos of yours, David & Kates speeches.

Couldn't agree more that partnerships are the way forward and the model, you have shown works at Friston, is a great example.


p.s. Not hearsay, they changed their mind... thank goodness!