The Green Party has issued a fresh warning about the perils of privatising UK national forests, following concerns expressed by conservation groups.
Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Show, deputy leader Adrian Ramsay commented: “There is a real danger there will be a slippery slope if our forests are sold off. Even if we see the actual forests maintained themselves, will there be proper maintenance of the signs, the visitor centres or the tracks? Will they be commercially used for biomass production, for example?"
Ramsay continued: “The RSPB has highlighted that if [the forests are] owned by lots of different owners, then will they be able to be used for wildlife in quite the same ways that they are at the moment? There is a real concern here.”
When questioned about the impact of the sell-off on the environment, Ramsay replied: “Of course it’s going to have an impact on the environment and climate change if we’re losing forests, especially if they’re going to be commercially managed for biomass. These are important crucial natural assets for East Anglia and the whole country, and that’s why so many people have signed the national petition to protect them for the future.”
Responding to claims that the selloff was happening for cost reasons, the Green Party deputy leader added: “The 80,000 people who have signed the petition on this can see that the 30p a year it costs each taxpayer per year to maintain our forests at the moment is really good value for money, and if they do go into private hands, will we actually see them maintained in the way that we need to or will the profit margin mean that our forests are threatened in the future?”
Meanwhile, Green MP and leader of the party in England and Wales, Dr Caroline Lucas, has warned that existing laws will not safeguard biodiversity or public access to forests under private ownership.
She wrote in the Guardian newspaper last month: “[N]ew owners wouldn’t be allowed to put up a ‘keep out’ sign. But they wouldn’t be required to maintain the tracks, signage, or visitor centres that make visiting the forests an easy pursuit for millions. The Forestry Commission currently manages all our forests to FSC standards, well above and beyond the standards required by law. If the forests are sold off, nothing in the law would require future owners to maintain these same high standards of stewardship.”
In questioning the additional revenue that would actually be raised by selling the forests, Dr Lucas also said she suspects that “the government’s enthusiasm for the selling of the forests may be rather more ideological than that. Our forests are a huge publicly owned asset. Publicly owned assets, even much-loved ones delivering clear social and environmental benefits, have never been something Conservatives are particularly keen on. This is a classic case of ‘selling off the family silver’, and one which we should oppose.”
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon, leader of the opposition in the House of Lords, has also been highly critical of the sell-off proposals from the coalition government. "An exciting opportunity to own the Forest? We don’t need it because we already own it," she declared