Seeing The Wood For The Trees

A remark on the News Quiz today regarding the proposed selling off of publicly owned Forestry Commision woodlands intrigued me. The comment was made by show host Sandy Toksvig:

“…the first tranche of the forests, if they sell them off, is going to raise a hundred million pounds; that is exactly the amount of money that Defra and the brilliant Caroline Spelman, who is the Secretary of State in charge, gave to an international fund devoted to prevent deforestation.”

Apparently true. From a Defra press release of 27 October 2010:

http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/detail.aspx?NewsAreaId=2&ReleaseID=416197&SubjectId=2

“The Government has today committed £100 million to international forestry projects which provide specific benefits for biodiversity. The money comes from the new international climate finance included in the Comprehensive Spending Review, which will include new money for the UK’s contribution to REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), a programme which aims to prevent the loss of forests in developing countries.”

Another Defra press release, 27 January 2011:

http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/detail.aspx?NewsAreaId=2&ReleaseID=417633&SubjectId=2

“The Government has already committed to taking 15% of the public forest estate out of state control over the course of this parliament, generating up to £100million of receipts.”

Am I missing something?

6 Comments

  1. January 30, 2011

    Selling off boring old British forests to pay for fancier, more high-profile ones in more glamourous climes? Or… possibly selling off relatively inefficient CO2 capture engines in Britain to finance the continued operation of more efficient ones elsewhere? Left hand keeps just missing the right hand as they flounce independantly about in the corridors of power? Hmm… So many possibilities.

    • chris
      January 30, 2011

      Perhaps, except – in this case – the left hand and right hand are both headed by the same minister, Caroline Spelman.

      • chris
        January 30, 2011

        Sent to my local MP, John Hayes.

        Dear Sir,

        I am writing to you with regard to the current proposals to sell
        publicly own forests to a mixture of commercial operations, charities
        and trusts.

        As a great user of Forestry Commission land (Bourne Woods and
        Rockingham Forest), I am particularly concerned about this issue.

        My understanding is that the first tranche of Forestry Commission
        woodlands, representing 15% of the total holdings, can be sold off
        without consultation or further legistlation. The sale is expected to
        bring in 100 million pounds.

        By coincedence, this is the same amount that the government has
        committed “to international forestry projects which provide specific
        benefits for biodiversity.”

        Quoting Caroline Spelman’s press release of 27 October 2010:

        “The money comes from the new international climate finance included in
        the Comprehensive Spending Review, which will include new money for the
        UK’s contribution to REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and
        Forest Degradation), a programme which aims to prevent the loss of
        forests in developing countries.””

        So from this, I conclude that the government considers it more
        important to protect forests in developing countries than forests and
        woodlands in the UK. I know which I would prefer my taxes to support.

        Yours sincerely,

        Chris Malme

      • January 30, 2011

        Ah… Two hands forever separated by a torso. =:o}

        It could be that Amazonian forests are a lot cheaper per hectare than British ones, and thus the more worthwhile investment.

        Or it could be a case of “well, you *made* the damn silly commitment; you’d better find some to pay for it, quick!”

        I’d definitely be interested to see anything she has to say in interviews about this.

        I’d also be interested to know who’s thinking of buying the forests, and what they intend to do with them… And whether they have the sense to put some clause in about the buyer having to preserve the forest as a forest, and/or the govt having first dibs on buying the land back if/when it next goes up for sale.

      • chris
        January 30, 2011

        There are quite a few issues involved, but these are the ones that occur to me.

        • Some woods are planned to be sold outright to commercial timber companies. Others will be sold as a lease only. Either way there will be conditions – i.e. planting must match harvesting, public access must be protected. However, this relies on us trusting companies to put their public obligations before their shareholders. I can’t imagine why I am worried, that has always worked out before. What happens when the company goes bust and their assets are sold to someone else – of course, the restrictions should be passed on, but I can see in a few year time a decision being made that perhaps these restrictions are onerous and not commerically viable.
        • Other woods will be sold to charities and trusts. It looks like the National Trust may step in here. A worthy organisation, and to be trusted, but (a) I would rather they spend their money on saving something not already owned by the public (b) I can see NT-own woodlands and forests eventually coming under their usual operating conditions – i.e. no longer completely free to use
        • By selling off the commercially viable woods to commercial companies, the government is actually diverting revenue streams from the Forestry Commission. That is, the Forestry Commission uses its profitable woods to support all of the woods under its remit. Strip out the profitable woods, and the FC is then 100% dependant on government funding, and – a few years down the road – will be unsustainable.

        Basically all of this alarmist theorising can be summed up in one sentance: “This is simply the thin end of the wedge.” By the time this is obvious to everyone, it will be too late.

  2. chris
    February 4, 2011

    The latest news is that now approximately 450 people are going to be laid off in the next 4 years by the Forestry Commission. This being made necessary by their annual budget being reduced by the goverment by 26%.

    This makes for an easy circular argument by the government.

    a) Budget/Job cuts are not a problem, as much of the work of the Forestry Commission is going to be transferred to private companies, charities or trusts.

    b) It is necessary to sell off the woods/forests currently managed by the Forestry Commission, due to the budget/job cuts.

    Meanwhile the latest report on the subject – from DEFRA itself, and signed off by minister Jim Paice – suggests that the selloff will actually cost the taxpayer money, rather than bring in the millions of pounds Caroline Spelman has been talking about.

    Because the government will lose significant revenue streams in timber sales (as I predicted earlier) and also have to pay millions in compensation and redundancies, it is estimated that the total cost of the selloff to be £679m over 20 years compared to short term benefits of only be £655m.

    Note that these aren’t figures created by tree-hugging, sandal-wearing, Guardian-reading beardy types such as myself, but from DEFRA’s own report.

    Priceless.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/feb/02/forest-sell-off-loss-government

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