As a child at school in the early 70s my delight could never be contained if it was announced we were going on a school trip to Cannock Chase or if on a bank holiday, we were treated to a day there. The Chase was a wondrous place to me then; tall trees, open heathland, stepping stones over streams and the chance to see deer, birds and even the dreaded adder! Many happy days were spent following trails, on the look out for animal tracks, spotting birds, hearing woodpeckers and joy of joys, a picnic. My imagination knew no bounds making up stories in my head of the magical things and beings that lived in the dense woodland, that one day I would discover.
I spent 20 years in London and yet on visits home, friends that accompanied me were always taken to visit the jewel that is The Chase. Having returned to Aldridge nearly ten years ago I've taken pleasure in The Chase once again, introducing my children to its delights. My love of nature and the outdoors has also taken me to many woodlands and forests in this country apart from The Chase and all hold a special place in my heart for their beauty and peace and they remain magical places for me.
Back in 1919 The Forestry Act was enacted by parliament and The Forestry Commission was born. Britain had lost much of its natural woodland due to deforestation particularly during the industrial revolution and matters had come to a head during World War 1 when imports of wood were severally curtailed and it was realised that we just didn't have enough woodland left. The Forestry Commission got to work and at a time when there was an agricultural depression and a demise in the wealth of landowners who didn't have the money available to invest in forestry and planting, they effectively saved huge swathes of woodland and forest in Britain. They purchased land that at the time was cheap and then over the years concentrated on conservation, planting, opening up woodlands and forests for leisure purposes , research such as on Dutch Elm disease and latterly the environment has been a big factor for them. The Forestry Commission has done a magnificent job in arresting the wholesale decline of Britain's woodland and have even managed to reverse the decline.
The problem for the Forestry Commission is they are (apparently and depending upon which log you sit upon) one of those money wasting, non-accountable QUANGOs that Tories hate so much and so the man who promised that his government would be the greenest in history, David Cameron, has ordered its demise and the sale of its assets. Sorry? Government assets? These forests and woodlands do not belong to the government, they belong to us, the people who live in Britain. They are our free leisure activities, our chance to wander and roam freely, to admire our beautiful countryside and woodlands, to catch a breath of fresh air, to escape the modern world and its stresses and strains and to remember that there is something other than concrete jungles and motorways on this small isle.
There would be lots of breaks for people who would like to purchase their own little wood or forest. Zero inheritance tax for starters, carbon credits, grants and of course the biggest break would be to make lots of money from them. This could be done in many ways. Charging for roaming or parking or mountain biking and of course, building. You can see how it would pan out; tiny little parcels to begin with that few could really complain about but gradually the tiny erosion of the woodland would become a chainsaw massacre and these woodlands would be lost with not a thought as to why the Forestry Commission became a necessity in the first place. The foresight of those in power nearly a hundred years ago is being desecrated by the god of money once again.
We are about to lose so much. Who is stop these private landowners from enclosing their land and withdrawing the free leisure that so many of us currently enjoy? Who will stop the new landowners from withdrawing rights hundreds of years old in so many cases to allow their animals to graze or for people to forage. How many 'Private Woodland - no trespassing' signs will prevent access to what is there for us now? Who will do the research into woodland diseases that threaten so many of our native species? Will private landowners deal with such events as the 1987 hurricane that destroyed so much woodland in South East England that is was pitiful by replanting and restocking or will they take such events as free land clearance prior to a sale? And then there are the jobs of those who are employed by the Forestry Commission.
Our forests and woodlands should be brought under the umbrella of National Parks, so that they cannot be taken away from us and then destroyed. They are far too important to be looked at through such short term spectacles by a government that just wants to make a quick quid and walk away from their responsibilities that previous governments have understood. They will be cursed by our Grandchildren when there is no native woodland or a forest left in Britain that they can access.
This isn't just something that concerns the wellied middle class as I heard on the radio this morning. It concerns everyone whatever their wealth, status or class. We all benefit from a decent environment and a respect for the land and for nature. I urge everyone to start making a noise about this proposed sale; this week the government will set out details on how they propose selling off the 85% of woodlands that has not already been detailed and earmarked for sale. We need to let our representatives and the government know that they just cannot do this.