Today at about 4pm MPs will debate the coalitions plans for our Forests. Earlier today David Cameron said that the plan (selling the remaining 18% of our woodlands that are still publicly owned) is better for public access and woodland management. It may well be, but that is not the reason they want to do it.
By campaigning on public access and sustaining woodlands, we are doing Caroline Spelman, David Cameron and all their cronies a massive favour, this is exactly what they want us to do. Why? Because it will give them room to make 'compromises' in the shape of grants to the new landowners that 'help' them to maintain the woodlands and improve public access. As Private Eye recently reported, the government will give back nearly all the money they make from sales in grants to the new landowners. The landowners will therefore make a very tidy profit, by essentially not having to pay anything to maintain and enhance their asset. This represents yet another gradual transfer of wealth from the tax payer to the rich elite.
A dangerous and hidden knock on effect of this policy is that to make up for these expenditures (either from the grants, or, if campaigners are successful in changing the policy over the selling of the forests) is that there will be even more job losses at Natural England and the Forestry Commission. The jobs of wardens, ecologists, scientists and so on are already under threat, losing the key employees will be devastating for the long term sustainability of all our wild places.
The £400m saving deriving from these cuts is a laughable drop in the ocean, its impact on the deficit is minuscule, yet the impact on our natural environment, inequality and environmental education will be very tangible and devastating.
Do visit 38 Degrees and ask your MP to vote for a re-think on DEFRA's plans. But, make sure they know what the true motivation for the plans are and that in the debate they highlight this.
Oh yeah, and it is also a sweet tax relief move for corporations and wealthy individuals!!
Please also see my post on Pam Warhurst, chair of the Forestry Commission