Kent Ramblers

Forest Access Must Be Saved

This article from the September 1993 issue of Kent Area News, read in the context of the 2011 failed attempt by the Government to sell off Forestry Commission woodlands, is fascinating evidence of how history repeats itself.

Forest Access Must Be Saved

In what has been described as "the biggest sell-off of land since Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries", the Government is seriously thinking about privatisation of the Forestry Commission.

As long ago as 1981, the Government instructed the Forestry Commission to start selling off its land and, by 1989, 140,000 hectares had gone into private ownership.  The Commission was then told to sell a further 100,000 hectares by the year 2000 just 7 years away - without any provision for the protection of public access.  Two years ago, following pressure from the RA, provisions were made for access agreements with local authorities but, in over 100 sales, only ONE such agreement was entered into.

The Forestry Commission has always adopted a freedom to roam policy in their woodlands, giving pleasure to thousands of people all over the country. Once the land goes into private hands, experience shows that access is almost always denied.  Up goes the barbed wire and the KEEP OUT notices.  When rumours began to circulate about the Government's intention to privatise, questions were asked in the House.  In May last year, Sir Hector Munro in a Commons debate stated unequivocally, "we have made it clear on a number of occasions that we have no intention of privatising the Forestry Commission.  That remains the position.  We have given a firm commitment".

So it came as something of a bombshell when in March this year, the Scottish Secretary of State Ian Lang announced the existence of a hitherto unknown inter-departmental committee of civil servants charged with reviewing the 'options for the ownership and management of Forestry Commission woodlands'. The RA quickly discovered the secretary of what is called the Forestry Review Group, and immediately sent him an eight point submission stating why privatisau'on should not take place. The results of their deliberations, which have taken place behind closed doors, are not yet known.

That is the history.  The practical results are starkly described in recent circulars sent to all members from National Office.  It is a serious issue which, if it were to take place, could deny the public access to over 2 million acres of woodlands throughout the British Isles.  It just HAS to be stopped.

You will have an opportunity to help send a strong message back to Government about our feelings in Kent by supporting one of our Woodland Walks Day events on SUNDAY, 26TH, SEPTEMBER.  Details are given below and on the next page.  Please join one of them if you possibly can.


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