Monday, 25 October 2010

Roll up, roll up. UK countryside for sale - everything must go.

The UK government, in the person of Secretary of State for DEFRA Caroline Spelman, has announced plans to sell up to 150,000 hectares of state owned forest lands to private interests... This strikes me as a terrible idea. With the exception of nature conservation charities, who are unlikely to have the money, the only bodies willing to pay for this will be those that think they can make a return on investment. I.e. people who think they can make the land work harder. In a country like Britain, with its urgent need for more natural forest cover this is a bad idea. If not properly safeguarded it could lead to increased tacky tourist infrastructure, more commercial pine plantations, housing developments and other industrial activities.

Selling off assets of the forestry commission is expected to raise a mere £250 million, according to a report in the Guardian. This is a pretty poor amount of money to raise, particularly when it is estimated that the Forestry Commission brings in £63 million a year - a 100% return on its annual subsidy of £30 million. Put another way, the amount of money to government will make from a one-off sale is what the Commission could generate for the State in 7.5 years. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the £30 million 'subsidy' will no longer be necessary. Industry is likely to pick the most profitable land to purchase... so the taxpayer will continue to provide support for the rest (as it should) but without the payback.... This just seems like bad economics.

Okay, so the Forestry Commission has hardly been a benign ecological presence over the decades. It's mononculture pine plantations have caused terrible scarring to the countryside and have little value to wildlife. In recent years though it seems to have changed, with much more emphasis on conservation, mixed native forests (even if they are still commercially worked) and a reduction in the dreaded Norwegian Spruce. It now seems that the government want to go back to the bad old days. And for what?

UPDATE!!! The nice people over at 38 Degrees have started a petition on this. Please go to and sign.

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