Thursday, February 17, 2011

UK's forestry sell-off: public and political opposition forced a 'yew turn'

Michael White, Fiona Harvey and Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK) give a spirited account of how the dunderheaded British plan to sell off national forests was stopped: In the best traditions of chaos theory the storm which engulfed the coalition's forestry sell-off began last summer with little more than the fluttering of a butterfly's wings when new ministers warned the Forestry Commission that modest in-year savings would have to be made in its current budget.

Officials who routinely buy and sell forestry land are used to making sales in hard times. They set about finding some, only to be overtaken by far bigger demands from Defra HQ in Whitehall. Caroline Spelman, the new secretary of state, was keen to impress David Cameron and George Osborne by her zeal for the kind of cuts, deep and urgent, which the chancellor's tight fiscal strategy now demanded.

But by declaring her willingness to sacrifice 30% of Defra's already modest £2.8bn budget she made a classic Whitehall error. She alienated many of her own officials (she had already declared the department "flabby") without winning admiration or gratitude in Downing St. Fatefully, a 15% sale of the Forestry Commission's assets - theoretically worth £100m to the government - was suddenly on the table, as well as a new rationale in the chance to scale down or abolish another quango, the 90-year-old commission.

…Establishment bodies like the National Trust and Woodland Trust were slow off the mark. But radical groups, most conspicuously the 38 Degrees website, started petitions which are now approaching the 1 million signature mark. The campaigners made effective use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and gathered a wide range of supporters who included some unusual bedfellows, ranging from Tory MPs to the Socialist Worker's Party. Jubilant posters on the campaign's Facebook page toasted policy re-think as a result of"people power" that had mobilised such an unlikely army.

Government advisers confessed they were "shocked" by the depth of the opposition…

A path in Carnock Moor Forest, shot by Paul McIlroy, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

1 comment:

stock trading said...

One group that didn't say a word against this, yet claims to be for the countryside -is the Countryside alliance. Go to their web site and all you see is a bit of "we are watching this" in between the stuff complaining about the RSPB and saying cameron is going to repeal the hunting laws.

This shows what kind of countryside they support: not one for the people, but one where the rich can go hunting.