Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Woodlands of England

Well I'm not especially middle class, and especially not a member of the 'Volvo driving class' as suggested by some idiot politician about protesters recently but I do enjoy woodlands for walking and I think the sell-off plan was an appallingly poor scheme,  potentially extremely damaging, and to make matters worse introduced as a fait accompli with the subtlety of a flying mallet.
So why do I feel that way?
Because the public owned woodland is just that, it may fall under the Forestry Commission but to many people it does not belong to the 'government'.  Rather people see open access woodlands as a part of 'their' country, to enjoy like village greens or common lands, not as commercial assets to be privately developed. The plans failed totally to even consider that aspect. Having 150 year leases is meaningless to people of normal lifespan, unlikely to help me, or even my great grandchildren.
The government also spectacularly failed to take early advice from any of the outside bodies or people who have an interest, only saying afterwards, as their first concession to protests, that charities and public groups would be considered.
Then the, to me, big spectacular public relations mistake, was that they even failed to differentiate between commercial (pine) plantations and older and diverse forests.
Those issues demonstrate for me just how little they had considered people's opinions or thought about the reality. It's not that the plan is necessarily wrong, but given the circumstances of its conception and the prescriptive 'it will be sold' aspect it had to be stopped dead because it precluded other and possibly better alternatives.
Had they started with a discussion then I'm sure sensible alternatives would have been suggested. Maybe overhauling the (mostly useless) forrestry Commission to do the job better. Or just selling, or licensing commercial interests to harvest and replant plantations, for which most people have less emotional affinity.
The news that the scheme has been dropped is excellent. What would have been much better would have been a government that was in touch with the people’s feelings and wishes. This political debacle simply underlines how completely out of touch Westminster has become. Or maybe Dave is seriously frightened by a rural revolt and doesn’t want to waken the sleeping Countryside Alliance?

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