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Were not out of the woods yet, RSPB warns


The RSPB has cautiously welcomed news that protecting and enhancing wildlife is to be a key test for how the Government plans to dispose of Englands Public Forest Estate,

However, the charity has warned that the fight to save vital wildlife habitats is not over and it will be scrutinising Government plans closely.

Today the Government launched its consultation over the future of the Forestry Commission England estate.

RSPB conservation director Mark Avery said: Protecting wildlife and ensuring public access is a key test for any change in ownership of our forests. But the sheer scale of the changes may make this very difficult to achieve in practice.

We remain open minded about these proposals but we need to be reassured that whoever manages former state run forests, whether private individuals, companies, leaseholders or trusts and charities, will protect our native wildlife.

The Forestry Commission needs to regulate and oversee this management by providing the right support and advice, otherwise this looks like Government offloading its responsibilities to nature.

We welcome the assurances that heritage forests such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest will be protected but there are many other areas that are also important for wildlife which need to be secured, including those with the future potential to support a range of threatened species.

We would like to see the restoration of heathland and native woodlands which have been damaged by the planting and replanting of conifers for commercial timber. Lowland heathland is one of our most endangered habitats and supports Dartford warblers, nightjars, woodlarks and a range of rare butterflies, reptiles and amphibians.

We remain unconvinced that the correct safeguards and support mechanism have been built into the proposals for commercially valuable forests and woodlands that include lowland heathland and native woodland.

This process of redefining the state forest and the wider role of the state in forestry needs to be robust and in depth, with a clear vision for securing public benefits on remaining the state forest as well as the sold land. We are all eagerly awaiting the outcome of this consultation but it makes no sense to rush ahead and produce a plan which fails to take the needs of people and wildlife fully into account.

The RSPB will be holding the Government to account through the consultation on publicly owned forestry with a set of guiding principles drawn up to ensure the needs of wildlife are met. (See editors note 2).

The RSPB welcomes the commitment from Government announced today on protecting and enhancing biodiversity in our forests . However these worthy intentions risk being undermined by proposed fundamental changes to forestry law in the upcoming Public Bodies Bill. (See note 3)

1. The Government consultation document on the future of the Public Forest Estate can be found here –

2. The RSPB guidelines for Government on the sale of forestry in public ownership.

  • Woodland of high value for wildlife and people which could be called heritage forests – must have their public benefits protected and enhanced through appropriate funding and management. Heritage forests should be retained in public ownership and appropriately managed for priority wildlife species and habitats, and designated nature conservation sites.
  • Forests with the potential to produce high quality public benefits the future heritage forests for example lowland heathland and native woodland currently covered in forestry plantations – need to be restored and better managed. This should either be through public ownership, or leasing to appropriate bodies. Management must be appropriately funded to secure enhanced public benefits.
  • Disposals of forest land that is neither heritage forest nor future heritage forest must ensure public benefits are protected through existing regulations, compliance with the governments own UK Forestry Standard and requiring the continuation of UK Woodland Assurance Standard certification on sold land.
  • Receipts from the sale of state forest land should be used to secure and enhance the public benefits value of the heritage forests and future heritage forests. We have concerns that without such a positive funding mechanism these public benefits will be lost. We also have concerns that former state forest land of low public benefits will now be eligible for government woodland grants, to the detriment of support for the production of high quality public benefits on non-state woodland.
  • Forestry Commission England should offer all land to communities and environmental and social non-government organisations before placing it on the open market. This needs to be backed up by commitments, funding and advice to support long term planning and management to meet agreed public benefits objectives.

These criteria are explained in more detail in a joint position statement that RSPB and other leading environmental and heritage conservation charities have agreed. Butterfly Conservation, IEEP, National Trust, Plantlife, RSPB & Woodland Trust (2010) Principles to inform delivery models for public benefit associated with public sector land. October 2010. Website:

3. The Public Bodies Bill 2010 weakens the Forestry Commissioners statutory obligations to wildlife and sustainable forest management under Section 1 of the Forestry Act 1967, by the separation of these duties from the functions that they relate to. This Bill also enables the future abolition of the Forestry Commission, by placing the Forestry Commissioners on the holding list of Schedule 7.

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