April 15, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Everything must go!

Please, please, please handle with care.

Given the disappointing economic growth figures announced on Tuesday, it is perhaps understandable that the coalition government is resorting to desperate measures in order to save some cash. However, there are many who believe – regardless of how austere times may be –there are certain resources which must be protected at all costs.

Understandably, all parties know that it would be tantamount to political suicide to advocate cutting health or education funding and therefore, investment in these areas is protected. So, why do the government think they can get away with selling off England’s woodlands? Despite the current vogue for making markets out of absolutely everything, surely we cannot commoditise woodlands? Can we?

As it stands, the government plans to transfer power from the Forestry Commission, which currently owns 18% of woodlands, to the private sector. The rationale behind this is that it will actually increase the level of public control over this natural resource. Despite this claim, a recent YouGov poll, commissioned by the pressure group 38 degrees, has shown that three quarters of people are against the proposal.

Next week, the bill to enable the sale of the woodlands is set to go before the House of Lords. A public consultation will also be launched to debate the terms of the sale. However, David Babbs, executive director of 38 degrees, has accused the government’s planned consultation of “asking the wrong question”. “They are asking us how the forests should be privatised, but most of us don’t want our forests privatised at all”.

The Lake District could be one of the areas hardest hit by the sale of England’s woodlands                     Andrew Purcell

Although it is only 18% of woodland which is currently owned by the Forestry Commission, this actually amounts to almost half of the woodland which is readily accessible to the public. Its sale is likely to generate less than £1bn of up front revenue and the administration costs of the woodland only amount to around 30p per person per year. So, the savings made by selling off these forests are hardly going to single-handedly revitalise the UK economy.

If the forests are sold, there will be no going back. England’s forests contain 1.4 billion trees, which are vital in fighting rising CO2 levels and keeping the air in our cities breathable. Not only this, but we must not kid ourselves into thinking that the sale of our woodlands will not inevitably result in reduced public access. Without access to our country’s woodlands, future generations will not have the opportunity to learn about the value of the biodiversity they hold within, nor the desperate need to protect this biodiversity.

If you want to save England’s woodlands, you can sign the 38 degrees petition here:


You can also sign the Woodland Trust’s petition here:


This Sunday on Countryfile,  Jack Ellerby, policy officer for Friends of the Lake District, will be talking about why the government shouldn’t be selling off England’s woodlands.

Andrew Purcell.