A leading academic from Birmingham City University has expressed his concern over the Government’s plans to sell off the Forestry Commission Woodlands.

Dr Alister Scott, a reader in Spatial Planning at the School of Property, Construction and Planning at Birmingham City University, said: “At a time when we should be thinking of maximising sustainable economic development opportunities the government plans are seen as short term and as a retrograde step.

“Woodlands are an incredible resource within England. They are key to biodiversity, recreation and development and are valued and used across urban and rural populations. This use is as a direct result of Forestry Commission diversifying their internal structures to address the woodland production, conservation, community, recreation and health agendas with huge success. The current proposals threaten that joined up approach to management of the forestry resource in the name of short term cuts.”

Dr Alister Scott sees the need for the Government to think strategically and join agendas across Defra, the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation (BIS) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) rather than each pursuing their own agendas.

“Clearly savings must be made where necessary but in his view the national forest estate represents one model area where good integrated planning is already happening.
As a spatial planner I see resources needing to be planned and managed across traditional sectoral boundaries. Woodlands through their expanding initiatives with support staff have facilitated community forestry in deprived urban areas; raised huge revenues from mountain biking and other recreational activities but also secured important biodiversity outcomes. Here we see a virtuous circle which exemplifies what good spatial planning is all about. A sell off will segregate bits of woodland and lead to specialisation which was the very reason that the forestry plantations got into trouble in the late 90’s as the price of timber plummeted.”

“The case of mountain biking is really illuminating here in seeing this virtuous circle. The development of mountain biking trails in Southern Scotland in woodlands close to some extreme pockets  of rural and urban deprivation has generated 205 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs in southern Scotland with visitor spend  over £9 million in 2007(1) . Further IMBA the Global Body on mountain biking has consistently placed Scotland at the top of its ratings. Such publicity is key to unlocking economic development. Without the input of the Forestry Commission (through their recreational services) in partnership with other agencies these kinds of win-win situations would never have arisen.

 

“However, I am not simply advocating the status quo. Under the Land reform act in Scotland communities with wholesale support can purchase woodlands from the government to manage as community resources. Surely this represents a Big Society ethos which puts the woodlands in the hands of those communities who have the vision and plans to support their long term sustainable use.  I fear we have a lot to learn from our Scottish friends but we rarely look over the border to see and learn from their innovative approaches.”

1 Forestry Commission 2007 7 Stanes Phase 2, Evaluation. Report by Ekos and Tourism Resources Company. Forestry Commission: Edinburgh
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Alister Scott

Alister Scott

School of Property, Construction and Planning at Birmingham City University