Sunday, 13 February 2011

Berkshire save our woods

I got the following from Berkshire Save Our Woods:

Who are we and what are our aims?

We are "Berkshire Save Our Woods " a grassroots movement formed from an objection to the Government's proposals to dispose of all of England's public forests. As well as campaigning against the Government proposals in general, we have a specific focus Sulham Woods. We have a Facebook campaign that has attracted plenty of members within the first few days and are organising a peaceful protest to take place at Sulham Forest Carpark just next to the woods, Saturday 5th March 2011.

Why was the group formed?

Like many people, woodland is close to our hearts and we have a desire to protect it. Local woods are a wonderful place for people of all ages to enjoy and the Forestry Commission land is very accessible and allows people to pursue many different activities, including walking, cycling, riding, running and is a great place for children to play and learn about our environment. Woodland is an important natural resource, wildlife habitat and carbon sink. We want to keep this within the public domain so we have a real say in what happens to it.

What are our concerns?

For the purposes of the Government sell-off, woodland will be categorised into 4 types -
- heritage woods (such as the Forest of Dean and New Forest) which will be gifted to a charity with initial Government funding which will eventually be reduced and the charity will be expected to become self-sufficient
- mixed woodland, where there is a mixture of commercial forestry and leisure interests(Sulham Woods fits this category).
- large commercial forests which are predominantly for timber production
- small commercial forests, mainly timber on a smaller scale.
-Mixed woodland and large and small commercial forests will be offered for sale, and the Government proposes that they should be offered to community groups to buy first. This sounds good in theory but in reality, the window of opportunity for community groups to buy these areas would be 28 days before they are offered up to commercial buyers and with the market value of a wood such as Sulham Woods being around £2million, it is pretty unlikely that a community group could find this sort of money within a month. Inevitably the woods will end up in the hands of commercial buyers such as leisure operators, logging firms, etc, or perhaps bought by individuals seeking a tax break, known as woodlands relief, where inheritance tax can be avoided if the money is sunk into woodland. Once sold off, access rights for walkers would remain, under the CRoW Act (Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000), although the new owners may neglect footpaths and close down car parks making access more difficult. Horse riders and cyclist currently enjoy a permissive arrangement with the Forestry Commission allowing them to use the land, however there is no obligation for a new land owner to continue this so cyclists and horse riders would only be allowed access if a bridleway or byway crosses the land.

Another concern is that the new owners may have no interest in managing the woodland well, and despite vague references by the Government that safeguards would be put in place to maintain biodiversity, it is unclear how this would be monitored and enforced once individual tracts of land are sold off.

What about the current halt on some woodland sales, what does this mean?

The Government have temporarily halted the sale of 15% of the public forest, although they are still going ahead with the consultation to sell off the rest of our woodland, so the fight is by no means over. They are clearly feeling the pressure from the numerous opposition groups and need to hear our voices louder than ever at this time. Please come along tomorrow to the protest at 11am and let them know we won't back down!

I hope to hear back from you with ANY HELP you can provide to inform the community of Berkshire\Reading about this issue?

I have the backing of The Reading Post and we are to be featured in next weeks newspaper, we have just been featured on BBC SURREY and am hoping to the interest now for BBC BERKSHIRE.

This is the link to the facebook group.

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