Sunday 6 February 2011

Forests and Backpacking

The massive reaction to the Westminster government's proposals to sell off England's state-owned forests shows that many people feel a close connection to woods and trees. There is much coverage of the protests and campaigns, both online and in traditional media. Behind it all our deep emotional bond to forests should always be remembered. Last year, long before the forest sell-off was a consideration (before the general election in fact, during which the coalition parties didn't mention it anyway - would they be in power if they had?), I wrote a piece for my TGO backpacking column on my delight in backpacking and camping in forests called "A night in the forest". It's available on the TGO website here.

Now that the future of forests is being debated I would like to see the discussion moving beyond ownership to the issues of regeneration and restoration of a more natural forest and how this can be achieved. This involves looking at what ownership means - the campaign against the sell-off shows that many people feel they own the forests and that the state in the form of the Forestry Commission manages them on their behalf. However no real control comes with state ownership. Community ownership and control would give people a real say in how their local woods were managed. Andy Wightman, the expert on land ownership in Scotland, has written on this well here.

This is the UN International Year of Forests. How ironic that the London government should want to dispose of forests to celebrate this. Forests are essential for the health of the earth's ecosystem and for the health of humanity. The last thing they should be is a disposable asset for the government to hand over for tax breaks and exploitation. Some form of ownsership that means forests are held in trust and can't be sold or developed is needed. Then we could move on to improving them.

The picture shows frosted woodland near Hebden Bridge in the Pennines.


  1. 'A night in a forest' is a great piece Chris.

    last week we went for a walk on the North downs way - it was disconcerting to see so much of the woodland cordoned off by farmers...but what was there does contain some variety at least. Our nearest very old woods is the New Forest, which is an amazingly various landscape - we go there every year at least once. The woods in the Cairngorms were completely bewitching recently.

    Whats good about this campaign is that people are starting to see what we've taken for granted up till now, as having real value. Its a good point though, that's just the beginning, and a good place to start talking about the real job of creating woodland not just for timber but also for harmonious living.

  2. You just need to look at the forestry commission's policy towards wild camping. On FC land in England it is illegal, whilst on FC land in Scotland it is completed accepted.

    English people are upset about the public forests being sold because we have never really been free to enjoy our countryside because the rights of the private landowner rein supreme. If the individual had greater rights to enjoy the English countryside like they have in other European countries I don't think the public ownership would be such a massive issue.

  3. It's not just accepted in Scotland - wild camping is a legal right so the FC can't object.

    When there was a proposal to sell Scotland's forests a few years there was a great deal of opposition and it was quickly withdrawn.

    It's not just about access it's also about the quality of the land to which you have access. A clear-cut forest isn't somewhere you want to walk.