Hands Off Our Forest
A campaign to keep the
Forest of Dean out of private hands
AGAIN

We believe that public ownership of the Public Forest Estate must be secured through new legislation.

The rich cultural, historical and natural diversity of our forests and woods, and full access to them, is best protected under the continued steward-ship of the Forestry Commission, fully resourced to sustainably manage and expand our multi-purpose public forest estate now and in the future

Statement from HOOF Fri 21st Nov 2014

Working together in our myriad ways we have had quite an impact in Westminster. Well done everyone who helped! While we will keep a watching brief on this Government,our task now is to ensure the next Government gives us proper protection in a charter and new law, as they've promised but so far failed to deliver. Our Forests aren't saved until we get lasting protection confirming genuine public ownership (and management). PEOPLE POWER WILL WIN THE DAY!

Sun 11th Jan 2015

 

Just to remind what this all about, here is our original submission to the Indepent Panel way back in June 2011. Read it and you will see why it is as relevant today as it was was then. It makes it all too clear that we are not out of the woods yet.

 

 

Incidentally, it makes a very good read, reminds us all what a wonderful place we live in and has some great photographs


 

Thurs 20th Nov 2014

HOOF success: Government confirms all forest land protected

 

HOOF has always asked that ALL the public forest estate - whether in use or not, whether afforested or not, whether designated waste or not, should be exempt from the infrastructure bill.

 

The Government has now stated unequivocally that none of our forest land is at risk from land transfer schemes in the Infrastructure Bill. Ministers bowed to tremendous pressure from Jan Royall and peers from all sides of the Lords Chamber, HOOF, Save Our Woods, 38 Degrees and others.

 

Baroness Kramer, Minister for Transport, told Parliament:

 

"The amendments prevent the transfer of any land held by the Secretary of State that has been acquired - remember, this is government owned land - or is treated as having been acquired under Section 39 of the Forestry Act 1967. As I said earlier, that covers all land that is under the management of the forestry commissioners at any given time—whether by freehold or leasehold—and includes any land that is not being used for afforestation but is still under the management of the forestry commissioners or is not being used for purposes connected with forestry.

 

"The provision is widely drawn. Not only does it include forest waste, it includes the kind of ancillary facilities that many noble Lords have pointed out are necessary. Indeed, there is not even a necessary test: it simply has to be under the management of the Forestry Commissioners. I am sure that that is exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the various campaigners were attempting to achieve."


"This was a quiet revolution by men who knew their rights and were determined to get them legally acknowledged and preserved in written evidence so that they could not be overturned again. They were... securing their future, and they knew that had to be done in writing"

 

These quotes sound as if they were written about the HOOF campaign. In fact they appear in a book by Juliet Barker about the Peasants revolt of 1381. Some things never change!

 

Wednesday 1st January 2014 2013

Here we go again!

 

When HOOF, back in February, broadly welcomed the Government's response to the Forestry Panel Report, we said at the time that the devil would be in the detail.

 

We now know that the detail is very devilish indeed.

 

Far from embracing the forestry panel's recommendation to put the English forests into the hands of a body of independent, non-political guardians, thus safeguarding them for the foreseeable future, the Government proposals make it clear they want a minister to have total control. How is this different from the original ill-fated Public Bodies bill that we all helped smash?

 

Not only will this unleash the spectre of privatisation once again, but it will leave the forests, and the Forest of Dean, prey to the whim of whatever government is in power.

 

The Government has a chance to do the decent, fair and moral thing by putting our forests out of the reach of the greedy and unscrupulous, but I'm afraid it has blown it.

 

That is why HOOF is meeting as a matter of urgency and why we must all keep up the pressure on the government to abide by their word and do the right thing.

 

Wednesday 6th February 2013

Seeing The Woods For The Trees

An opinion piece by

Robin Maynard

Writing about how the Government was forced into its historic U turn, Robin Maynard says:

 

"It was 'Big Society' ...those half a million people who signed 38 Degrees ‘Save Our Forests’ on-line petition; the dog-walkers, horse-riders, mountain-bikers, fresh-air seeking families; the former mining communities fighting for reforested spoil-heaps, local saw mills dependent on the timber from well-managed FC woods - and especially, the communities living within and working amidst them , the various ‘friends of forests’ groups, amplified by the efforts of Save Our Wood , HOOF and Our Forests."

 

Read the full article here


Tuesday 15th January 2013

Politics and the Panel

An opinion piece by

Roderick Leslie

As the Government’s response to the Independent Panel approaches it’s clear there is only one way out of the political mess the Conservatives landed themselves in. That is to understand, accept and take action to turn the panel’s views into policy ...

Read the complete piece here

 

Friday 11th January 2013

COMMENT

A drop in the ocean - but a green world of difference

 

£22 million per year. That's what it costs to keep the Forestry Commission and all the English public forests going. It sounds a lot to you and me, but in the rarified world of government finance it is nothing. It works out at just 30p per year per taxpayer! This is stunning value for money when compared to other important and life-enhancing facilities such as opera, the arts, sport, etc, all of which cost far more.

 

It is a win win situation for the government and for all of us. For a mere 30p a year, which the public has demonstrated they are more than happy to pay, we get free access to our glorious forests, the lungs of the world, the emerald spaces that calm and revive. Compare that to what you spend a year on, say, TV, cinema, books, or beer and it looks like a no-brainer.

 

In fact, there is evidence that people would pay more if it meant having an effective and properly funded Forestry Commission who could conduct research into, and prevent, some of the tree diseases that have caused so much devastation recently.

 

If, as has been rumoured, the government is thinking of running down the Forestry Commission even further and cutting the public funding to our forests by passing on the costs to charities or private concerns - an unacceptable strategy that will seriously jeopardising the future of our forests - it will be guilty of letting down the English people for countless generations to come.

 

And if, as is also rumoured, the Government makes no provision to recognise the special and unique situation of the Forest of Dean and protect its status by legislation, they will find they have misjudged the mood of the people once again.

 

Saturday 28th August 2012

Foresters celebrate their victory

- but speakers sound warning note

 

"This Government cannot be trusted one inch", said keynote speaker Jonathon Porritt

 

On Saturday 28th July Foresters from all walks of life celebrated the independent panel's report at Speech House with local musicians, invited speakers and a hog roast and bar.

 

Forester editor Viv Hargreaves introduced the speakers, HOOF chairman Rich Daniels, Baroness Jan Royall, campaigner Jonathon Porritt and Sir Harry Studholme, one of the members of the independent panel who's report backed HOOF's stance to keep the English Forests out of private hands.

 

Rich Daniels           Jonathon Porritt

 

Jan Royall             Harry Studholme

 

Local musicians Bob Smith, Forest of Dean Brass, Asha Faria-Vare, Max, Gorg n Zola, Muddy Summers, Mike Edwards, and Folklaw performed, and Keith Morgan entertained us with his stories.

 

Mike Smith

 

Asha Faria-Fare        Max

 

-----------------------------------

 

NEWS...

Wednesday 27th June 2012

ENGLAND'S FOREST COMMUNITIES WARN GOVERNMENT

 

In a strongly worded statement, a consortium of Our Forests, HOOF and many other forest community groups has warned the Government to expect "...a conflagration in constituencies across England." if they do not listen to the public, and press ahead with their original plans to take our woodlands out of public ownership.

 

For further details see our lead article, centre column, this page

 

You can read or download the full document here

 

Wednesday 27th June 2012

38 DEGREES LAUNCHES EMERGENCY PETITION

 

38 Degrees, whose online petition raised many thousands of signatures in support of keeping our woodland in public ownership, have just launched a new emergency petition on the eve of the Independent Panels report, due out on the 4th July.

 

You can add your name to the new petition here:

 

Tuesday 22nd May 2012

WOODLANDS CAN BE SOLD OFF FROM 4th JULY SAYS GOVERNMENT

 

On July 4, when the Government-appointed panel is due to publish its final report, the suspension of woodland sales is also due to be lifted. Outlying woods in the Forest of Dean could be among those of the 40,000ha, or 15 per cent, of woodland the Government has said it intends to sell.

 

Monday 21st May 2012

FORESTRY PANEL FINAL REPORT DUE OUT
4th JULY

 

The proposed date for the final report is 4th July

 

Whatever the panel's conclusions, we must be vigilant. Even if they give us everything we hope for, there is no obligation on Government to accept its findings, so we must be prepared to continue the battle to save our forests for future generations.

 

The latest Forestry Panel newsletter can be downloaded in PDF format here.

 

------------------------------------------------

 

11th August 2011

Excellent response to HOOF's request for your views to the Independent Panel

 

The Independent Forestry Panel (see main article lower down on right) made it clear they wanted YOUR views and WILL take them into account.

 

The deadline for submissions ended on the 31st July and indications are that many hundreds of Foresters have written to the panel, many using the HOOF website's form.

 

It would also appear that the vast majority of people writing to the panel from the Forest of Dean expressed their confidence in the Forestry Commission and actually wanted the amount of forest land owned by the public and managed by the FC to increase.

 

A huge thank you to everyone who wrote in. The Panel were very impressed with the depth of feeling here in the Forest when they visited in June and will be even more impressed with the submissions.

--------------------------------------

For all this and more go to our News section

 

And now you can visit our Archives page for all those stories you may have missed.

 

 

HOOF CD NOW AVAILABLE!

BUY ONE NOW AS A MUST-HAVE MEMENTO OF OUR STRUGGLE

But be quick - they will soon be a collectors item!

click image to BUY NOW  

HANDS OFF features songs by:

Billy Bragg & Heathens All;

Forest Brass; Dick Bryce;

Mike Edwards; Bob Smith; Max;

Asha Faria-Vare; Ghost of a Dog and Roger Drury & Friends

 

This CD specially made for HOOF can be bought, priced £5, from the Forest Bookshop in Coleford, Forester office in Cinderford, Forest Review office in Lydney, Brierley Service Station, the Miners' Arms in Whitecroft and at various events.

It can also be ordered online, priced £6 including post and packaging, from the Poet Pilot web site here

The site also includes detailed information about the CD

 

£4 from each CD will go to the HOOF fighting fund

 

Many thanks to Mike Edwards who produced the CD, all the Forest artists who play on it and Billy Bragg, who kindly allowed us to use the song This Land from his latest album.

 

 

HOOF Rally 3rd Jan

Images, text and links to other reports about the rally have now moved to the Archives page

 

Remember that everything that has appeared on this website can be found on the News, Information or Archives pages.

 

 

 

"Tuftorn - A Million Miles From Westminster"

By Doug Eaton. Click to enlarge


Sun 11th Jan 2015

THE HISTORY OF A PROTEST

 

A timeline to remind us all of the struggle, setbacks and successes of HOOF and others opposed to the privatisation of our forests, with links to key documents.

 

A fascinating read as well as an important historical document. Click here


Wed 12th Nov 2014

MP's claim he supported Forest campaign is nonsense, says HOOF

 

In a strongly worded letter to the press, HOOF have refuted Forest MP Mark Harper's claim that he supported HOOF, and was instrumental in getting the public forests exempted from last week's infrastructure bill.

 

We reproduce the complete press release from HOOF below

 

"Response to our MP's statement that he understands concerns raised by HOOF and his many constituents regarding land transfer proposals within the Infrastructure Bill and personally intervened:

 

"At no point in any correspondence or meetings with Hands Off Our Forest did Mark Harper address our concerns that, whatever this Government's intention, the Bill would enable any future government to transfer our Forest land without any Parliamentary scrutiny.

 

"Mr Harper did not respond publicly or privately to the open letter addressed to him and printed in the local press. In replies to letters sent by parish and town councils, at no point did he address their concerns about the Infrastructure Bill. All he did was repeat statements ministers had already made in public, indicating there was no need for an amendment as the Government's assurances were sufficient. When we said it needed to be written on the face of the Bill, he failed to support us.

 

"The Government's position remained unchanged until the day before the amendment was debated, as demonstrated in Lord Ahmad's Ministerial Statement. This shows how ineffective our MP was if he did raise the issue with his fellow ministers.

 

"Our success in persuading the Government to amend the Bill, and the support received from Labour, Crossbench, Bishops, Liberal Democrats and Conservative peers is due to a combination of hard work by Baroness Royall and her colleagues, 38 Degrees, and letters and representations written and made by people in the Forest of Dean and elsewhere, following encouragement by HOOF.

 

"In the past four years, Mr Harper has given HOOF no support. He could have demonstrated his understanding of his constituents' concerns by arranging an audience with the minister to allow us to voice our concerns without compromising the integrity of his position within the Government. He has never offered to do so."


Posters of the torchlight procession event for downloading as a souvenir of a great night

 

Tom Cousins has been busy creating some amazing infrastructure bill murals around the Forest.

Click an image to enlarge.

 

 


Now incorporating
OUR FORESTS and FOREST CAMPAIGNS NETWORK

 

 

 

 

FOREST CAMPAIGNS NETWORK

 

Sunday 4th August 2013

 

Three vital documents to read to understand the latest developments in the campaign to save our forests

 

New Government draft proposals

Our Forests statement

Ou Forests Stop Press statement

 

See below and middle column for what the latest proposals by Government are all about, and HOOF's and Our Forest's reaction to them

 

Sunday 4th August 2013

LATEST DRAFT REPORT MAKES CONCESSIONS BUT SHOWS DANGERS TO FORESTS REMAIN

Government blackmailing pressure groups to "sign up" or legislation will be postponed

 

The Forestry Commission/Defra has just released their latest outline for the management structures and governance of the Public Forest Estate management body.


The structures and governance outlined in this latest draft appear to address some, but not ALL of Our Forests concerns or those voiced by other grassroots groups and activists who have been campaigning for a secure and sustainable future for our public woods and forests from the outset.

 

Our Forests specific comments to the draft document are:

 

Point 1, reiterates the Government’s promise “that England’s Public Forest Estate will remain secured in public ownership”. Good to see that upfront, but the details of how that public ownership will be secured remain vague.

 

Point 3, “Nothing in this document is fixed”. Good, because there still appear to be omissions from and dilutions some of the Panel’s key recommendations as set out below and in the Our Forests press release.

 

Point 6, “revenue generation and self-sufficiency” are prioritised above the new body’s duty to balance those “with generating positive impacts for people and nature.”

 

Point 8, The Guardians – as per the concerns Our Forests rises in our press release, as proposed in the document the Guardians appear to have a weaker, woollier role than envisaged by the Panel. They are described as “the conscience of the Public Forest Estate”, not the managers and sitting outside the Board of Executive and Non-Executive directors (who will be appointed by the Secretary of State).

 

Point 9, there is a veiled threat that time is pressing for securing the parliamentary time for the new primary legislation necessary to establish the new structures. This threat has been made obliquely several times to various campaigners and grassroots groups concerned about the future of the PFE – along the lines of, ‘don’t hold things up or you may lose everything.’  The Government shouldn’t need reminding that it was its own actions in proposing to dispose of the whole 100% of the 1,500 public woods and forests that make-up the PFE that got it into this situation in the first place and it is its job, responding to the protests by 100s of 1000s of people across the political and social spectrums, to enable a positive solution. It is the Government and its officials that to date have taken nearly 3 and a half years to reach this point!

 

Point 15, the document refers to the organisation’s objectives and duties being “reflected in a public-facing “charter”, setting the body’s remit for a long period, for example 10 years.”  That is not as definite or legally-binding as the Parliamentary Charter the Panel proposed – hence our concerns raised in the press release as to the absence of a real Charter hold.

 

Point 17, Ownership “The organisation would take over ownership of the estate ownership would be vested in the new body rather than its Board.”   As the Panel recommended, the PFE should ‘be held in trust for the Nation’ set down in a legally-binding Charter.  The Guardians should be an integral part of the new management body (not a separate repository for the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff) and be the part which represents and guards ‘public ownership’.


 

Wednesday 6th February 2013

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO INPEPENDENT REPORT IS BROADLY WELCOMED

But concerns remain over lack of funding

In a statement released today, Forest Campaigns Network say:

 

We welcome the commitments given by Government:

However, we do have concerns about the statement:

 

On funding

 

 

 

Wednesday 23rd January 2013

GET THE ECONOMICS RIGHT!

Our Forests warns Government on Public Forest Estate

 

As the Government is poised to set out its policy on the future of England’s public woods and forests - and on the Forestry Commission which manages them - an economic analysis carried out for Our Forests confirms that both the Public Forest Estate and the Forestry Commission represent excellent value for public money.

A financial review by the independent consultancy Eunomia of the costs and benefits provided by the Public Forest Estate (PFE) shows that the Government’s original rationale for disposing of our public woods and forest and altering their management arrangements was completely flawed.

 

The stated rationale behind the Government’s proposed disposal of England’s Public Forest Estate (PFE) in 2010/11 was to:
- reduce the burden on taxpayers;
- raise revenue by selling assets;
- withdraw from activities that (in the Government’s view) would be better done by others – be those ‘Big Society’, charitable bodies or private commercial interests.

 

But Eunomia’s analysis is that none of the Government’s stated objectives would have been achieved by those plans.

 

You can read the full document from Our Forests here

 

Thursday 10th January 2013

Forest campaign groups demand properly funded public forests in England.

 

In an open letter to DEFRA ministers Owen Paterson and David Heath and to Chancellor George Osborne, Forest Campaigns Network have expressed concern that there has not been any commitment from Government departments regarding adequate funding of the Independent Panel's recommendations.

 

They ask for a firm assurance that the Government will ensure a properly funded future for our public English forests.

 

The full letter can be viewed here

 

Forest Campaigns Network have also released a briefing document that looks at the spending review cuts and the very real impact that they are already having on our public forests and the consequences if cuts continue to be imposed. Click here to view


Monday 17th September 2012

A new document, explaining how the Forest Campaigns Network (FCN) engages with DEFRA and the Forestry Commission, has been published today.

 

It begins "FCN welcomes the engagement we have had with the DEFRA/FC working group to date and look forward to working with them further as part of the crucial process in determining how our woods and forests will sustainably deliver the triple bottom line (good for our economy, good for our communities and good for our environment)".

 

Read the full document here

 

OUR FORESTS

Friday 17th February 2012

 

"In our opinion, there is little likelihood of this Government ‘doing the right thing’ by way of the Public Forest Estate unless it is strenuously encouraged so to do by all and sundry"

 

This is the conclusion of an OUR FORESTS meeting held on 6 February 2012 at Forum for the Future, London

 

Read the complete notes of the meeting here

 


"...get our public woods and forests out of the hands of distant, detached ministers only interested in short-term asset-stripping and protect them for everyone, for ever".

 

Rich Daniels, HOOF Chairman and member of Our Forests, writing in Our Forests latest publication

 

Reaction from Jonathon Porritt on the The Independent Panel on Forestry's interim report

 

Jonathon Porritt, founder member of Our Forests, talking at the HOOF rally.


Jonathon Porritt of Our Forests said,
“It’s good to see the Panel acknowledge openly what was obvious to anyone who looked at the figures – the Forestry Commission delivers very good value for money for all the public benefits it provides from the woods and forests of the public forest estate.
Defra’s own internal impacts study of the proposed disposal made that clear, but that fact didn’t suit the political agenda of the Government. This welcome acknowledgement by the Panel confirms it was politics not economics that drove the disposal proposal - there isn’t and never was a convincing financial case for disposing of our public woods and forests. Their benefits far outweigh their costs.
As an ‘interim report’, the Panel doesn’t put forward any concrete recommendations, but Our Forests is concerned at the apparent havering over the future role of the Forestry Commission. The majority of people who responded to the Panel and the hundreds of thousands more who forced the Government to halt its plans in the first place, see the Public Forest Estate and the Forestry Commission as indivisible. As far as most people are concerned, the Forestry Commission is part of ‘Big Society’ - accountable to local people, not the distant, detached ‘Quango’ ministers sought to caricature it as.
One immediate action that the Government must take in response to its own Panel's report is to state unequivocally that no disposal of any public woodland will proceed until a final forward plan for the Public Forest Estate has been set out and accepted by the public.
Our Forests is producing its own future Vision and long-term strategy for our public woods and forests, as well as looking beyond those. This will be published shortly and made available for people’s input.”

 

DEFRA turns down Freedom of Information request!

 

Our Forests to make formal complaint against a ruling that is seen as "A manifest abuse of both the broad principles and the specific guidelines under the Freedom of Information Act".

 

 

HOOF chairman, Rich Daniels, is an
Our Forests committee member

 

The full text of this and other issues raised at their last meeting can be read here in the Our Forests minutes.

 

7th November 2011

HOOF is One Year Old!

 

Hard to believe but it is a year ago today that HOOF was first formed to fight the forest privatisation menace.

 

Much has happened in that year but there is still much to do.

 

To mark the event, Ian Standing, HOOF Secretary, has written a marvellous account of our turbulent campaign which you can read here.

 

 

Legendary Forest cartoonist BAZ has drawn this cartoon specially for HOOF

Click on image to enlarge.

 

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HOOF are founder members of the Forest Campaigns Network

 

HOOF Hands off our forest

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"Maybe this is the defining moment, the point when people say ' This is not right, this is not the way to proceed' ".

Jonathon Porrit, talking at the HOOF rally earlier this year

 

CLICK THE ICONS AT THE FOOT OF THIS PAGE TO SEE US IN THE FORESTER AND THE REVEIW AND ON FACEBOOK AND YOUTUBE

 

We are now on Wikipedia

 

FOLLOW US ON hands off our forest @handsoffdean

 

Click here to see the long long list of people and organisations who have pledged to support HOOF.

 

NEW Thursday 9th April 2015

Election Candidates to face grilling from Foresters

 

Click on the poster image to download and print out.

 

This is YOUR chance to ask the prospective parliamentary candidates for the Forest of Dean what they intend to do to keep our precious Forest out of the clutches of property developers and charities.

 

On the 22nd April, HOOF are holding a HOOF Hustings, "Our Forest, My Vote!", to allow the public to quiz their election candidates about their plans for safeguarding the Forest of Dean.

 

It will be held at the Forest Theatre, Five Acres College, Coleford, starting at 6.30pm and will be chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the chair of the original independent report of the public forests.

 

So far, all of the prospective parliamentary candidates for the Forest of Dean have confirmed to us that the will take part, with the exception of our incumbent MP, Mark Harper.

 

Visit https://hoofelection2015.wordpress.com for up-to-date details

 

This is your chance to ask the candidates how they intend to keep the Forest of Dean, and all the other public forests, safe for the public.

 

Thursday 6th November 2014

TORCHLIGHT PROTEST ENDS IN VICTORY!

 

Photo by Tina Dorner

400 in protest walk round Mallards Pike lake

Jan Royall's amendment wins concession from Government

Government promises exemption for public forests to be included in infrastructure bill.

 

View a video of the night, full screen and in HD if you wish.

And another great video of the evening from Ivan Noke and Mike Thomas can be seen here

 

What a great night! And what a great result! A huge "well done" to everyone involved. It was an amazing spectacle. Your emails to Peers, your petition signings, your lobbying and all the other things you, the powerful people of the Forest of Dean, have done, have secured a famous victory.

 

ITV news called it a "Victory for Forest of Dean campaigners"

Read about it here.

 

A transcript of the debate in the House of Lords, in which Jan Royall made an impassioned speech, can be downloaded here.

 

However - we are not there yet. We must keep up the pressure and be vigilant. We must wait and see exactly what the Government's amendment looks like and keep them to their word.

 

And of course, they still have not brought in legislation to protect and expand the public forests as recommended by the Bishop of Liverpool's independent panel's report. Watch this space!

 

Mon 8th Sept 2014

 

HOOF challenges MP to protect the Forest

 

Mark Harper MP (right) talks to a HOOF supporter

HOOF have today published an open letter to Mark Harper MP, challenging him to support HOOF, and the people of the Forest of Dean, in their efforts to exempt the Forest from a new privatisation threat.

 

The Government is introducing legislation that will extend the power of Ministers to transfer ‘surplus’ public land to the Homes and Communities Agency for development. Baroness Jan Royall and other members of the House of Lord's have tabled an amendment that will exempt the Forest of Dean and other public forests from the bill. HOOF is asking our MP to support this.

(See column on left for how YOU can help)

 

The full text of the letter is reproduced here:

 

An open letter to Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean (September 8, 2014)

 

Dear Mr Harper You work hard for your MP's salary. Since your party came to power in 2010 you have had three ministerial jobs, and have rolled up your sleeves and worked tirelessly for the Government.

 

You and your staff have a good reputation for addressing issues brought to you by individuals at your Friday surgeries. In Parliament, you have intervened at least 10 times regarding cross-border NHS arrangements, an issue which affects 6,000 of your constituents; you have also intervened on behalf of Forest businesses who may have unfair disadvantages compared to incentives offered by the Welsh Assembly to businesses in Monmouthshire; on several occasions you have called for a third Severn Bridge (while arguing that high tolls on the existing crossings are inevitable); you have supported farmers on the issue of bovine TB and culling badgers; you have supported a boar cull; used your Parliamentary position to criticise the Co-op in Cinderford; and also lambasted the elected independent Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner, Martin Surl, on two occasions, for raising council tax by two per cent.

 

But – and this is a huge But – you have failed consistently to address the most fundamental concern of your constituents, the threat to our Forest from sell-off, disposal, transfer or whatever jargon is being used in Government policy and legal documents.

 

Hands Off Our Forest represents the broadest swathe of your constituents. HOOF is a completely non-party-political organisation, and we would be writing this letter to any MP, of any party, who we felt was letting down his or her constituents by failing to protect the Forest of Dean.

 

We have had numerous meetings and correspondence with you, calling on you to get behind us all. All we receive in reply from you is a parroting of Government assurances – assurances that our Forest is safe from sell-off, disposal or the 'transfer schemes' involving the Homes and Communities Agency, when you are well aware that these assurances do not measure up to the safeguards identified by the Independent Panel for Forestry as necessary to secure the long-term future of the Public Forest Estate.

 

You have told us there is no need for an exemption from the Infrastructure Bill as it is not this Government's intention to dispose of the Public Forest Estate in any way. The former forestry minister Jim Paice told the European Union's Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment Sub-Committee's Inquiry on Forestry on November 24, 2010, that the Government had a “clearly established” policy “to proceed with... very substantial disposal of the Public Forest Estate, which could go to the extent of all of it”. Bearing this in mind, the assurances given by Baronesses Kramer and Stowell, and you, are insufficient.

 

We understand the Government's assertion that Parliament cannot bind a future parliament, but the axiom has not prevented the Government from including an exemption for Crown lands within the proposed Section 53A of the Infrastructure Bill. Additionally, this inability to bind future parliaments is no reason to facilitate future actions – including disposals of Public Forest Estate assets – to which your Government is now opposed. In the hands of a future government Clause 21 can be used without the need for primary legislation and proper Parliamentary scrutiny to undermine the Government's stated policy of January 31, 2013 entirely, particularly in the absence of the promised forestry legislation.

 

It is not just a few of us on the HOOF steering group demanding an exemption in Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill for the Public Forest Estate – it is the bulk of your electorate, including people who voted for you in 2010. In the past few months, representatives from HOOF have visited parish and town councils and received overwhelming support. We have handed out thousands of leaflets and again the support has been near universal. From St Briavels to Kempley, Lydney to Ruardean, Coleford to Cinderford, the response has been the same.

 

There is no excuse for you not to take up this call for an exemption on our behalf – the Forest of Dean Conservatives website clearly states: “Our local MP, Mark Harper, believes that as your elected representative, it is his job to be the voice of the Forest of Dean in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in the Forest of Dean.”

 

And yet you have failed to support us all every step of the way – unlike your Conservative counterpart in the New Forest, you did not speak in the February 2011 debate on Forestry in Parliament, and you voted for a sell-off, not against as the New Forest MPs did. In 2012, you – like HOOF – welcomed the recommendations of the Independent Panel for Forestry, but you failed to support us in getting these same recommendations implemented in a Forestry Bill. You said nothing when, to our great disappointment, no draft legislation was announced in the Queen's Speech on June 4 this year.

 

The Infrastructure Bill was introduced to Parliament on the following day. Clauses 21 and 22 – as the Bill is currently written – will allow any public land to be transferred to the Homes & Communities Agency and then passed on to developers, with all rights of access suspended. There are also no given parameters within the legislation detailing which type of developments can take place on 'transferred' public land, and also no distinctions between which types of public land will be included or excluded.

 

In 1981, when our Forest was under threat of privatisation from Mrs Thatcher's government, our Conservative MP Paul Marland threw his weight behind concerned Foresters. He told Parliament: “We want more than a gentleman's agreement that the Forest of Dean will not be sold off. It is a sad fact that Ministers... come and go, Forestry Commission officials come and go, and Members of Parliament... undoubtedly come and go, so more than a gentleman's agreement is needed to ensure the freedom of the Forest of Dean for future generations.”

 

Mr Marland helped gain an exemption in the Forestry Act, as he was asked to do by his constitutents. In other words, he did his job as an MP. In 2011, it was revealed how vital it is that definitions of what can and can't be disposed of are written into law when Bircham Wood, near Coleford, was sold to a faceless investment trust fund because the extent of the Forest of Dean was not defined in this same Act.

 

Therefore it is absolutely essential that the Public Forest Estate as a whole is exempted from Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill to ensure all our forest, its outlying woodlands and other public forests in England are protected.

 

If Baroness Royall can back us – as she is doing so, with help from the Bishop of St Albans and all the support among Lords they can muster, why can't you, as our elected Parliamentary representative, strive to build similar cross-party support for an exemption in the House of Commons?

 

Do your job, Mr Harper – represent us, your constituents.

 

Yours sincerely, Hands Off Our Forest Steering Group

 

Thursday 10th April 2014

 

Shadow Minister meets HOOF

 

 

Right to left: Maria Eagle, Shadow environment minister;Rich Daniels, HOOF; Steve Parry-Hearn, prospective Labour parliamentary candidate for the Forest of Dean; Jackie Fraser and Cheryl Mayo, HOOF

 

Shadow environment minister, Maria Eagle, hears HOOF's case detailing why the Government's latest proposals for the public forest estate in England are inadequte.

 

On Thursday 10th April, the shadow environment minister Maria Eagle met at Beechenhurst with representatives of HOOF and with Steve Parry-Hearn, the Forest of Dean's Labour parliamentary candidate, who supports HOOF in their campaign.

 

Ms Eagle listened attentively to HOOF's case for why the Government's proposed new forestry bill will still leave England's public woodlands under threat.

 

HOOF had also invited the Defra secretary Owen Paterson and Forestry minister Dan Rogerson to the Forest of Dean, but so far they have not taken up our invitation.

 

HOOF is pleased that our cause has been championed by the Forest of Dean Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Steve Parry-Hearn, and Maria Eagle. HOOF has also received full backing from the Green Party.

 

Now HOOF calls on our MP, Mark Harper, to back our campaign aims: These aims are:

 

1. Guaranteed £22 million in funding from the Treasury for the English Public Forest Estate per annum (or 38p per annum, per taxpayer) to ensure public benefits, plant health and conservation are protected.

 

2. To follow in full the Independent Panel for Forestry's recommendation of a board of Guardians (with its members balanced between community, conservation and business representatives) delivering and bound by the terms of a statutory Charter, and answerable to Parliament.

 

3. To introduce draft legislation in the June 4 Queen's Speech, and not delay it any longer.

 

4. For the legislation to include a safeguard ensuring that the new Public Forest Estate Management Body cannot be privatised during the lifetime of the Act of Parliament.

 

5. For the cessation of biodiversity offsetting schemes, backdoor privatisation of public facilities, and land sales, swaps, leasings and other forms of piecemeal disposal and change of use of land within the Public Forest Estate.

 

Hands Off Our Forest has been giving presentations at public events and parish and town meetings across the Forest of Dean explaining our concerns and we have received universal support and positive feedback at all of them.

 

Monday 17th March 2014

 

"Why we must keep fighting"

 

 

HOOF has produced a document explaining why our Forest is still under threat.

 

Download it here. Read it, print it out, send it to everyone you know. This leaflet will make it clear why we have not yet won the battle to keep our forests out of the hands of property developers and charities

 

Over the next few weeks HOOF will be campaigning vigourously to make everyone aware of why we cannot accept the Government's new proposals. They will be holding community/council consultations,starting with a presentation to Newent Council on Monday 17th March at 8pm.

 

We will also be at the Transitions Spring Fair at Cinderford Miners' Welfare Hall, from 11am-4pm, so come along and find out what's going on and ask questions.

 

Monday 23rd September 2013

HOOF submits its document of disquiet to Secretary of State

 

 

Government falling short on its promise to implement the Independent Forestry Panel's report.

 

Toothless Guardians, opening up our forests to commercial interests and lack of funding particular worries

 

HOOF today has submitted to the Secretary of State its response to the Government's proposals for England's forests. It singles out for particular criticism the changed role of the Guardians from that of powerful control to toothless watchdog; the lack of adequate funding from the public purse; and the hazy rules about disposal of parts of the estate which HOOF feels do not adequately safeguard the forests, especially the Forest of Dean.

 

In the 8 page document, HOOF argues that on these and other issues, the Government's proposals fall far short of the Independent Panel's vision of a strengthened and expanded forest estate, kept safe in perpetuity for the people.

 

To read the full document, click here or on the image above

 

The two recently published Government documents to which the above refers can be seen here and here

 

Sunday 4th August2013

 

Bishop James unhappy with Government palns for Forests

Head of independent report tells HOOF of fears that draft government proposals contradict the panel’s main recommendations

 

 

The Bishop of Liverpool (left) with members of the panel

visiting a working mine with Rich Daniels

 

Government “unwise to provoke a public reaction” by failing to follow the panel’s key points.

 

In an exclusive interview with HOOF’s Rich Daniels, the Bishop of Liverpool expressed his fears that the government may not be planning to implement the key recommendations of the report that he and the rest of the Independent Panel published, following the government’s U-turn over privatising the English public forests.

 

Bishop James said he would not be content with any proposals about the future of forestry which contradicted the recommendations of the Independent Panel.

 

In particular he said he would be unhappy if:

- The Government abandoned the proposal to establish a Parliamentary Charter

 

- If it marginalised the proposed Guardians to the point that they become ineffectual

 

- If it failed to establish a distance between the Government and the management and development of the Public Forest Estate.

These were all key elements of the Panel’s report and recommendations. 

He said the Government would be unwise to provoke a public reaction by failing to follow through on the Panel’s recommendations.

 

Rich Daniels, HOOF chair and Our Forests member, said,

 

“The latest arrangements appear to minimise the direct and real influence of the public and forest communities in the management of the public forest estate. And the emphasis for the new body seems to be primarily on developing commercial enterprises that can exploit and extract cash from our forests and woods, rather than maximising their less readily monetised and marketable, but nonetheless hugely valuable, public and environmental goods and services”

 

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