Britain’s Forests for Sale

In Australia the general trend is for governments to lock-up more and more forest often through the conversion of land managed as forest reserve into national park.   The conversion of land into national park is often accompanied by a reduction in the level of active management of the area.

Australia has vast areas of both forest reserve and forest in national parks.    Not so in the United Kingdom where there are only 15 national parks and a relatively small area of state owned forest commission. 

Now, in the UK, the new conservative government is planning to sell-off the state-owned forest commission estate and apparently without placing caveats on how this land is used after its sale.

According to The Guardian’s environment blog late last year:

“We now know, thanks to the junior environment minister Jim Paice’s frank evidence to a recent House of Lords select committee, that the government is considering the sale of not just “some”, or even “substantial”, amounts of woodland as the public was originally led to believe, but of all state-owned English trees across the commission’s 635,000-acre Forestry Commission estate. This includes many royal forests, state-owned ancient woodlands, sites of special scientific interest, heathland, campsites, farms and sporting estates.”

Various campaigns have sprung up and it was recently report that the National Trust is planning to buy much or the forest:

“The initiative, says the trust’s director, Dame Fiona Reynolds, could protect in perpetuity not just large areas of heritage areas such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest, but other woodland expected to be offered for sale to communities and commercial enterprises in the biggest change in land ownership for more than 80 years.”

What is it that governments in Australia and the UK no longer want a part in forestry – they don’t want to be involved in active land management – perhaps reflecting the popular mood which sees such areas as either wilderness or with commercial potential – but not able to reconcile that they can be a source of income and recreation and wildlife refuges and have historically been successfully managed as such by government forestry services?



18 Responses to Britain’s Forests for Sale

  1. val majkus February 4, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Hi Jen; I’ve been waiting for someone to comment first on this post – it hasn’t happened yet so I’ll go first
    But your question as to why Govts are ‘not able to reconcile that they can be a source of income and recreation and wildlife refuges’ comes down in my view to a question of economics
    Of latter years politicians of all colours have had to pander to the greens and that means in my view that there is more expenditure (viz exp on green energy subsidies v fossil fuel) as every political party turns ‘green’ and panders to the ‘green’ vote
    and that means less money in state and in Aust’s case Federal coffers; the UK is even worse off
    to cover this deficit (and in Australia’s case) the deficits and/or debt left and/or incurred by Fed and State Labor Govts the Govts look to sell Fed and/or State assets – whether that be farm land or energy supplies to foreign interests to get capital to balance the budget
    The sale of state forests are going to be of much less to any Govt worth than an operational airport or energy supplier or farm property
    So the question really is ‘how does a political party prioritise its interests’ and unfortunately it’s not usually in the interests of the State or Country it purports to serve; a political party’s interests seems to be in being re-elected
    Nothing to do with wildlife and nothing to do with the electorate at least in my view of recent times; the job of being reelected has nothing to do with the national interest (or wildlife interests)
    that’s a pretty sad indictment of my view of the political scene in recent times – and I add that all my life I’ve been a swinging voter

  2. cinders February 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Recently three millionaire environmentalists tipped in to buy a small chunk of Tasmania’s native forests from Gunns limited, see
    Wotif’s Graeme Wood who recently made the largest individual political donation to the Greens, Rob Purves, of WWF funder and Wentworth Hotel lunch host to a group of concerned scientists joined Kathmandu clothing founder Jan Cameron to buy land previously managed for timber production and conservation by Gunns and formerly by Boral, North Forest Products and other timber companies.
    They bought 27,390 ha for $23 million to be managed or onsold by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy who have agreed to a ‘loan’, the mob that bought the Recherche Bay private forest with the help of Dick Smith.
    According to my calculator this is $840 per hectare.
    Currently the Green groups are demanding that a further 600,000 ha of what they call High conservation value forest is locked up, added to the existing 1.4 million ha forest reserve and removed from sustainable timber harvesting. At the calculated rate this is just over $0.5 billion. Yet it could be argued that the ‘HCV forest’ with its tall trees and special timbers is far more valuable than Gunns ‘fire’ sale, and is likely to be worth double this amount.
    Will the Greens find a $1 billion from their supporters or do they expect the Federal government (taxpayer) to pay. Who then pays for the closure of the State’s native forest sawmilling sector and the thousands of jobs that process the timber???

  3. Another Ian February 4, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    Does this mean that the ghost of Robin Hood will be looking for new quarters?

  4. val majkus February 4, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    and cinders I think I read somewhere (someone might be able to comment) that 40% of Tasmanians are in receipt of welfare payments

  5. val majkus February 5, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    ref to my last comment here it is ‘Meanwhile the number of Tasmanians receiving some form of welfare remains stubbornly high at close to 40 per cent, a figure that has changed little even in the recent economic boom times.’

  6. John Sayers February 5, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    A CANADIAN investment fund manager has paid $415 million for the rural land assets from collapsed company Great Southern Plantations.

    Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) said it had bought more than 2500 square kilometres in prime forestry and agricultural regions across six states, with partner Australia New Zealand Forest Fund (ANZFF).

  7. spangled drongo February 5, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    It’s true that the degree of wilderness care is an indication of the economic state of the state. IOW it is a luxury that is often only indulged when every other claim on the public purse has been satisfied.

    So greenies need to remember that for serious long-term sustainability, the economy rules OK?

    Getting the balance a little better through sustainable silviculture [unfashionable word these days] incorporating jobs and wildlife habitat, seems to be beyond the modern ethos.

    For a country like Britain to flog off these areas of great tradition seems incredibly desperate and indicates a serious lack of care and respect as well as money.

    In Australia where they are going in the opposite direction but as Jen says, leaving these areas mostly poorly looked after, is not the answer either.

    If you want wilderness in this feral world you have to have us ferals heavily involved.

  8. Louis Hissink February 5, 2011 at 8:44 pm #


    Tasmania is like Greece and Portugal, living beyond its means. This is simply socialism where wealth creation is a fantasy. Apposite that Senator Bob Brown is a Tasmanian as well.

    Some comments in the Catallaxy blog suggest that Tasmania be incorporated into Victoria, but that is no solution either.

    However the problem is the belief, and it’s widespread, of a free lunch that Tasmanians seem to hold dear. Unfortunately it is also a core belief of the ALP and the Greens, as well as some of the Coalition.

    But the sell off of the “forests” to private ownership is simply Fascism (the cooperation of big business and big government for reaching common goals) and a sly means of getting more revenue than had the forests remained purely state owned.

    Being state owned means that to increase revenue from those sources would require increasing fees which would then be resisted by the masses by not going to those areas, which would then reduce revenue.

    Selling off the estate but imposing conditions is simply a smokescreen to have the private sector run those natural assets, but to then tax them for the privelilge, which is shown by Treasury modelling one assumes. (Remember that this sell off is being driven by the bureaucrats, not the politicians, since none of our present political incumbents have the intellectual wherewithall to think these abjectivities).

    But you are right – the sell of is for short term revenue purposes.

  9. cinders February 5, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Tasmania could be selling, at premium prices, a bucket load of green power to all the environmentally aware greenies who want to reduce their carbon foot print, if it wasn’t for that NSW born Bob Brown who campaigned to stop the Franklin Dam. He was helped by the Federal Government that used the World heritage convention to convince the High court to over ride the state’s constitutional rights. Tassie was left with a massive World Heritage Area covering 20% of the State that includes wild rivers, mountains, button grass plains and “magnificent ancient awe inspiring” forest .

    Currently, due to more Federal intervention in the last 25 years, 47% of its Native forest is locked up in reserves, that in most, also exclude mining and even beekeeping. So it is little wonder about a third of Tasmanian households (according to the ABS) receive over 50% of their income from the welfare system.

    Now the greens want more and are prepared to use their partnership with the ALP to get it. To put this in perspective the UK has a 635,000-acre Forestry Commission estate, according to the calculator, this is 257,000 hectares about the same amount the Mark Latham wanted to trade for $800 million in the 2004 election.

    Now we have a Canadian investment firm buying 252,000 ha at about $1,600 per ha for land only for planted forest across three states. The trees on the land are owned by MIS investors and managed for a fee. The Canadians considered they got a bargain as the previous owner was in receivership and they estimated the sale was at a 40% discount.

    So just how much should the greens pay for the 600,000 ha of high political value forest they want to add to the existing 1,465,000 ha already reserved in Tasmania, or should Tasmania be allowed to start looking after itself by winding back its forests reserves to the international benchmark of 10%, opening up new mines and building more hydro dams. After all wood and water are the state’s abundant renewable assets.

  10. rwfoh February 6, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I’m sure this will all end splendidly. What could possibly go wrong with private management/ownership of state forests?

    Perhaps they could tap into Australian expertise? After the roaring success of MIS’s we have plenty of people with the appropriate skills in this area.

    The financial wizards behind MIS’s are probably ahead of the curve on this and will be flying over with their suitcases bulging with the massive amounts of cash they were rewarded with by grateful Aussie investors and taxpayers. The economic fundamentalists of British Conservatism will be instantly smitten with them.

    Counting down to scandal in 5,4,3,2,1….

  11. neil swallow February 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    hi im from england .the sale of the forests in england is the subject of much debate here at the moment but in reality this is just a consultation at the moment.if it does come to a sell off there will be caveats attached .all the usual interests are voicing an opinion but the forestry commission only actually owns about 18% of our forests.the problem is it is also the regulator for all forest management and so has a monopoly on setting prices for timber.some of their ancient woodlands already charge for carparks and restrict some many respects the forestry commission is a dinosaur and like all nationalised industries is slow to innovate and in my area east anglia their plantations are nearly all sitka spruce a non native species planted in straight lines an absolute eyesore.this also holds for vast areas across england.if you own land and wish to return it to natural woodland they nitpick over everything and lack commonsense.there are many private woodlands and locally owned ones that have far greater diversity and better habitats for wildlife than most F.C. sites and are successful commercial enterprises.the commission was set up to ensure we always had enough wood after tha first world war and the sitka was chosen for its quick growth and high yeild plus its ability to grow almost anywhere .so there is no need for the most ardent greens to get heated about that type of forest .its fear for their jobs from the commissions workers thats driving much of the campaigning and i can understand that .in this recession though nobodies job can be guaranteed.54% of the british workforce is employed by the state they have to take their share of the pain aswell regards neil

  12. neil swallow February 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    i forgot to add it doesnt looklike the government will make any money out of this as the national trust and local authorities seem to be buyers they want step in and they are strapped for cash .its about breaking the monopoly id guess but unbelieveably the forestry commission runs at a heavy loss i dont think its ever made a profit.maybe it is time for a change .it was set up when people rode horses for the most part

  13. gavin February 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Cinders; a little history.

    All that hydro power was in part if not fully funded by special grants and loans from our federal treasury. That in turn allowed heavily subsidized power and infrastructure such as roads for industry. It also allowed me to indirectly put the screws on wild development for the sake of.

    BTW cinders; its time to take note where commercial and domestic funds are coming from. You could soon be a tenant in some wholly owned Asian enterprise

  14. cinders February 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    I always thought history writers quoted facts or contemporary evidence rather than personal opinion. Hydro in Tasmania was and is a state owned enterprise e.g. owned by the taxpayer, so a bit hard to claim that it is also subsidised by the taxpayer.

    Or did you mean it sells power to big consumers at a subsidised rate as recently claimed by the greenies when they attacked the hedge contract negotiated with the aluminum smelter operating for the last 50 years at Bell Bay.
    You might recall from your time in Tassie that the smelter is just a few kilometers from the site of the approved pulp mill, a location the greenies describe as pristine. Such a claim is as accurate as your opinion on subsidies.

    Next you will be like your hero Bob Brown and claim that the forest industry is subsidised as the Federal Government paid the State Government inadequate compensation after the over turning of the Helsham inquiry, for the massive reservation under the Regional forest agreement in the mid 1990s and lock up of the ‘pristine’ forest icons in the Styx valley and the Tarkine in 2005.

  15. val majkus February 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Neil, interesting comment from the source country (of the article); are you able to tell us what sort of caveats are being proposed or envisaged?

  16. neil swallow February 7, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    @ val majkus .hi as i said its a consultation and its scheduled to run for at least 12 months so nobody actually knows what will happen the government are saying that standing access agreements will remain .from the public point of view thats a big issue .any thing else will be up for debate .people are worried about costs around parking facilities and responsible management etc.its debateable whether the national trust or local authorities can even afford to take it there any interest from private buyers, there doesnt seem to be a rush .so if they give it away to the N.T. or Local Authorities its still publically owned so as many critics point out whats the observation is as i stated before, to break the monopoly of F.C.the sitka forests are commercial anyway or supposed to be.nice places to walk the dogs away from traffic but not particularly diverse in terms of wildlife.the ancient woodlands is where the fight will be fought .the forestry comission has done some good work in places .but the Woodland Trust our largest conservation charity would be a good model to follow,again it comes down to the end nothing may happen but i have a worrying itch in the back of my mind.i am a carpenter and i notice as have many others that timber prices at woodyards have been rising for a while some of which is due to inflation but some powerplants can burn wood as part of green initiatives .these plants claim generous subsidies to do this so they can now afford to out compete the construction industry for the purchase of timber thus creating a shortfall again sending prices up .this is something i need to look into as this problem has only recently been noticed.another case of green energy policies distorting markets regards to all downunder .neil

  17. neil swallow February 7, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    hi again just found this article that discusses this issue in much more depth and greater eloquence than i .certainly reinforces my views anyway

  18. val majkus February 8, 2011 at 5:49 am #

    thanks Neil; perhaps you could keep Jennifer informed of any developments

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