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Forest report is a big step forward
A REPORT by a panel set up to look into the future of England’s woodlands which recommends keeping the New Forest in public ownership has been broadly welcomed.
The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA), The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the Open Spaces Society all hailed the report.
But the New Forest Association (NFA) said the report “does not go far enough” and says the area should be made a “special case”, a “heritage asset” set apart from the other publically-owned forests in the new Forestry Panel’s remit.
NPA chairman Julian Johnson said: “The panel has recognised that woodlands are not only vital for nature, but bring great value to people in terms of providing jobs and skills and supporting the economy – which is particularly relevant with our Commoning system in the New Forest – as well as benefiting people’s health and wellbeing.”
The 72-page report also recommends that the Forestry Commission evolves into a new organisation which will cham-pion woodlands. It would have guardians and trustees who would be accountable to Parliament and the organisation would be more independent from Government with greater financial freedom.
The Government launched a consultation on the future of the public forest estate managed by the Forestry Commission in January 2011, including the Crown land in the New Forest National Park.
The panel, chaired by The Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, was then set up to advise the Government on the future of England’s forests and woods.
The Government now has six months to consider the report and publish its response to the recommendations.
NFA chairman Peter Roberts said the report is “a major step forward” but was “disappointed that the opportunity for improving the New Forest management appears to have been missed”.
He added: “We appreciate that there has been much hard work and thought gone into the overall benefits of forests to the nation. Recognition of their value in terms of recreation capability and the eco-services they provide as well as timber is long overdue and very welcome.
“However, the overall recommendation of planting more trees is just not appropriate for the New Forest as only a small percentage is actually covered by woodland.”
Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust said it “has consistently argued the case that the Government has an inescapable responsibility to continue to care for the New Forest”.
It said it wants “to see a shift in the Forestry Commission so that its primary focus is on nature and the provision of other public benefits. The Public Forest Estate should be an exemplar of sustainable management.”
And it called for “better protection for existing woods, especially ancient woodlands”.