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.
Posted by Chris Townsend