Reply from MP Mark Harper re: Selling the Forest of Dean..

(incl handwritten P.S.)

Thank you for contacting me about the Government’s proposals for the management of our Forests. I can understand you being concerned in light of some of the press speculation that preceded the letterfrom Jim Paice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, on what the government plans actually are.

To help make this clear and reassure you about the issues you have raised with me I have enclosed a copy of this letter which I am sure you will find both informative and reassuring.

As you will read in the letter the Government has explicitly committed itself to the protection “of our most valuable and biodiverse forests”. Also, the Government has emphasised that “full measures will remain in place to preserve the public benefits of woods and forests under any new ownership arrangements” and “public rights of way and access will be unaffected, statutory protection for wildlife will remain in force and there will be grant incentives for new planting”.

Based upon the Minister’s letter I can assure you that all the things the public values about the Forest of Dean including the ones you’ve written to me about will be protected under the Government’s new approach to the ownership and management of woodlands and forests. However, the Government will be consulting on its plans later this year and I would encourage you to respond to that consultation, copying me, as Ministers are keen to make sure that they listen to the views of the public.

The Goverrnment is trying to shift the balance of power from “Big Government” to “Big Society” by giving individuals, businesses, civil society organisations and local authorities a bigger role in protecting the natural environment and a much bigger say about our priorities for it. Instead of bureaucrats based in London telling us how to run the Forest the Government’s plans open the door for local people to take charge of our Forest and make the day to day decisions on how it’s managed.

There have been, for example, claims that the Forest is about to be cut down to make way for recreation parks. This is, of course, false. Not one tree can be felled without DEFRA giving a license for it and there are various legal safeguards such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act as well as tough planning controls which will prevent our Forest being at risk. I have also seen speculation about what the Government’s plans could mean for some of the Forest’s ancient traditions but these, like the trees themselves, are protected by law.

All the things we enjoy about the Forest are safe and it is the Government’s view that our woodlands and forests will be better off in the hands of the communities and groups that treasure them rather than in the hands of central Government. I think that the opportunity to own and control our Forest locally is not one we should give up lightly.

Yours Sincerely,

Mark Harper

(..then handwritten..)

P.S. The Points West report wasn’t quite right – I am not steering this bill through Parliament. As you know I live here and love this place, there really is no threat to all the things we value. I really think that it’s worth looking at a local solution where local people are in control.

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