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CPRE issues a challenge to the government over woodlands

Gillham Wood, near Bexhill Gillham Wood, near Bexhill Photo: © Antony Chammond

Ahead of the final report of the Independent Panel on Forestry expected on Wednesday next week, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has issued a challenge to the Panel to be ambitious in its recommendations, and to the Government to take prompt action to make a positive and progressive vision for England’s woods and forests a reality.

Ben Stafford, CPRE’s Head of Campaigns said: “England is a comparatively lightly wooded country, but last year hundreds of thousands of people showed that we are fiercely proud and protective of our precious woodlands. Proposals to sell off parts of these treasured landscapes, with the threat that public access and proper woodland management could be lost, were met with dismay and outrage.”

England's woodlands must be better protected

“Ahead of their recommendations, we want the Panel to remember that profound public anger and ensure they set out a clear vision for both strong protection and future extension of England’s woods and forests. The Government will need to embrace the proposals the Panel makes, and take swift action to secure a better future for England’s Public Forest Estate and the country’s woodlands more widely.”

The Panel was convened in the aftermath of the Government’s U-turn on its consultation on sales of Public Forest Estate land, which led to a major backlash by hundreds of thousands of people around the country.

CPRE has outlined five key goals for the Panel’s report and is calling on the Government to take action to turn these aspirations into reality:

  1. Recommend specific extra protections for some of our most important woodlands. For example, CPRE has been campaigning for the Forest of Dean to be made an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This would ensure that this unique and much-loved area gets the stronger protection it needs and deserves.
  2. A competition calling for ideas on where to create a second National Forest for England, to follow in the footsteps of the successful Midlands National Forest.  This approach could reflect that adopted by the Government to identify the first wave of Nature Improvement Areas.
  3. An increase in woodland cover across England, with a focus on planting trees in areas close to where people live and encouraging community-based initiatives. This will allow more people to get out into woodlands and appreciate their special qualities.
  4. Greater access to private woodlands, alongside continuing good access to the public forest estate. Local authorities should be encouraged  to negotiate with woodland owners to open up access to the public, and this can also be agreed as part of Environmental Stewardship schemes.
  5. The planting of more trees in the wider countryside to enhance local character. In particular, more hedgerow tree saplings need to be nurtured to ensure that they can become the next generation of hedgerow trees. If we do not grow new hedgerow trees, our distinctive English landscape will be very different – and less varied and poorer for wildlife – in future.

The photograph of Gillham Wood is by Antony Chammond. Gillham Wood is a smallbut characterful oak woodland surviving within an area of modern housing to the west of Bexhill-on-Sea. The Friends of Gillham Wood group oversees the maintenance here.


1. The Independent Panel on Forestry was established in March 2011 following the Government’s decision to abandon its consultation on proposed sales of Public Forest Estate land. It is chaired by the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, and the other members are: Shireen Chambers (Executive Director, Institute of Chartered Foresters); Dr Mike Clarke (Chief Executive, RSPB); Tom Franklin (until recently Chief Executive of the Ramblers); Stuart Goodall (Chief Executive, Confederation of Forest Industries); Stephanie Hilborne OBE (Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts); Sue Holden (Chief Executive, the Woodland Trust); Dr Alan Knight OBE (Environmental Sustainability Director, Business in the Community); Dame Fiona Reynolds (Executive Director, the National Trust); Sir Harry Studholme (Forestry Commissioner); John Varley (Estates Director, Clinton Devon Estates); and William Worsley (until recently President of the Country Land and Business Association).

2. In England, only 10 per cent of the land area is forest and woodland (the figure for the UK overall is 12 per cent). This compares to 29 per cent in France, 31 per cent in Italy, 32 per cent in Germany and as much as 69 per cent in Sweden and 73 per cent in Finland. The average for the EU-27 is 37 per cent (all figures from the Forestry Commission’s ‘Forestry Facts & Figures 2011’).

3. More than 500,000 people signed a 38 Degrees petition opposing the Government’s proposals.

4. Nature Improvement Areas were a flagship policy contained in last year’s Natural Environment White Paper ‘The Natural Choice’ which set out  aims to improve the quality of the natural environment across England, halt the decline in habitats and species, and strengthen the connection between people and nature.


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